Very lightweight; EPUB compatible; Physical stores exist for tech support; Bright, sharp display
Uneven backlight; Poor search; No physical page turn buttons
The new Barnes & Noble Nook GlowLight offers a brighter and sharper display for a lower price, but it's no Kindle killer.
In the "who knew they were still in business?" category, Barnes & Noble updated its touch-screen E Ink e-reader. The new Nook GlowLight is now the lightest e-reader on market, has a snazzy new look and costs $119, the same as the Amazon Kindle Paperwhite. But before we judge the Nook by its cover, has Barnes & Noble kept pace with the competition's reading innovations?
Gone is the black and gray color scheme of last year's Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight. The new Nook GlowLight E Ink display is wrapped in white plastic with light gray silicone edging. Sadly, the trim isn't glued on, but simply snapped into place, which results in a visible gap. However, we do appreciate the bounce protection this offers the device, for those that are accident-prone. We also like the soft-touch feel of the backside.
The 6.5 x 5 x 0.42-inch Nook GlowLight is strikingly lightweight at 6.2 ounces. By comparison, the more rectangular, 6.7 x 4.6 x 0.4-inch Kindle Paperwhite 2013 weighs 7.3 ounces.
There are two buttons on the Nook GlowLight: the power button on the right edge, and the N button beneath the display. The N button can be used to turn the GlowLight on and off, wake the device from sleep or return to the Home screen.
The E Ink display, which is slightly inset, features an infrared-controlled touch screen that is generally responsive. Barnes & Noble's e-reader comes with a built-in anti-glare screen protector. We expected it to feel gritty, but we couldn't discern any difference when compared with the E Ink screen on the Kindle Paperwhite.
When viewing "The Casual Vacancy" on the new Kindle Paperwhite and Nook GlowLight with the backlights at 100 percent, we preferred the uniform light of the new Kindle, but the Nook's type appeared slightly sharper. Also, when viewing a picture of Kate Hudson on the Paperwhite, her skin tone looked much more natural and better defined than on the Nook GlowLight.
Barnes & Noble built in a glare-free screen protection layer for better reading in direct light. However, when compared in bright light with a Kindle Paperwhite, we didn't notice a difference.
Page turns were swift and smooth. In a side-by-side comparison with the Kindle Paperwhite, the Nook was a hair slower. However, gone is the traditional full-page flash that used to accompany every third page turn.
Inside the books are six font face options (half serif and half sans-serif) and seven text sizes from which to choose. Users can also adjust line spacing and margins or choose to use the publisher's defaults for each book.
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The GlowLight still runs Android 2.1 with a Barnes & Noble skin. However, once you're on the home page, you may notice that Barnes & Noble has simplified the interface a bit. A "New on Nook" section below recently opened content offers readers access to a curated list of content suggestions. However, we found it odd that only one suggestion is shown on the main page. Amazon shows a similar layout on the Paperwhite, but shows three book suggestions at the bottom of the page.
A persistent navigation bar at the bottom of the page is also new. It offers one-touch access to your library, the Barnes & Noble shop or a search bar. At the top right sits the time, a battery icon, a Wi-Fi icon, a gear for settings and a little light bulb icon that, when pressed, opens a control panel for toggling the GlowLight and for adjusting the brightness.
You will not find games, music, audiobooks or a Web browser on this e-reader. But assuming you're using an e-reader to read, this isn't a big tradeoff.
While there are no physical page turn buttons on the Nook GlowLight, you can turn the pages on the device with a touch or a swipe.
There aren't a ton of bells and whistles inside a book. You won't find anything like Amazon's special features, which include X-Ray, In-Line Footnotes or Vocabulary Builder. These features are nice to have, particularly for students. However, you can highlight sections and leave notes for yourself. You can also jump to any point in a book through the pop-up panel that appears at the bottom of pages in a book.
We were also disappointed that Barnes & Noble hasn't jumped on the parental controls bandwagon. From iPhones to tablets, to now even the Kindle Paperwhite, parents should feel safe in handing off their devices to kids. Kindle is bringing its FreeTime service to the Paperwhite, which means not only will parents be able to determine what content is safe for their children to read, but also how long they read. The Paperwhite parental controls will also offer badges for reading comprehension and sending parents report cards. You'll find none of that on the Nook GlowLight.
The on-screen keyboard of the Nook GlowLight features small square keys. Tapping one causes it to blink black for a second. We would have appreciated Barnes & Noble adding predictive typing, as Amazon did. But hopefully, you won't need to type that often on this device. It's just a tiny bit too large for one-handed typing. There is a bit of a lag, which makes it frustrating for typing more than a word or so into a search bar.
Books, Newspapers and Magazines
The Nook Newsstand has more than 2,080 magazines and 515 newspapers available for digital subscription that start at around $1. By comparison, the Kindle store offers 172 magazines and 172 newspapers.
Barnes & Noble, like Amazon, lets users lend some books to other Nook owners. Eligible books -- those marked as LendMe -- can be borrowed by your Nook Friends. New friends can be added through your social contacts, which are set up through the Social section of the Settings Menu. A loan lasts 14 days.
Downloading books proved as painless as ever, as we were able to download "A Dance with Dragons" by George R.R. Martin in less than 20 seconds. In addition to Wi-Fi, Barnes & Noble offers free in-store Wi-Fi to all Nook users, plus free Wi-Fi at AT&T hotspots across the United States (more than 24,000 so far).
Unfortunately, the Nook search function is still flawed. No matter the section from which you're browsing, searching for a phrase brings up results from the entire catalog, not just books or magazines. And the results you do get don't always make the most sense. For instance, we couldn't specify magazines when searching for "Time." And the well-known publication doesn't show up on the first page of results. Instead, the first result was for a magazine called "Tea Time."
We do like that Barnes & Noble has ported its Nook Channels over from the company's tablets. Channels are curated lists based on common personality/interest types. For instance, for the History Buff, you'll find a special list of current content that may interest you.
Since the Nook uses the EPUB file format, owners won't be limited to Barnes & Noble's store. Books from Google, Kobo and Sony will work, too. And you can borrow local library books for free. However, users won't be able to read Amazon e-books or Apple's iBooks here. Barnes & Noble's e-reader also only supports PDF-formatted documents. We were disappointed not to find RTF, DOC or TXT file support.
Notes and Sharing
On Facebook messages, the book's cover appears with a link to buy the book, along with the quote. Via Twitter, a select passage automatically carries a shortened link to buy the book and the hashtag #Nook. Although you can connect your Google+ contacts through the Nook GlowLight, you cannot share a passage easily to Google+. Instead, this connection is more useful for adding Nook Friends.
When you select Add Note, a pop-up text box and keyboard appear. Selecting Done closes this window and puts a small Post-it icon in the margin near the highlighted text.
Nook Friends connects users with Barnes & Noble accounts for social reading. Limited to Nook and Nook Color users (not those with just the mobile apps), this basic social network is meant to mirror the ways people share books and recommendations offline.
On the Nook, you can see a news feed of updates from your Nook Friends, including how far they are in books and the ones they've reviewed. You can also see which of their books are lendable and request a book from a friend. We didn't find this feature particularly useful because it offers such a limited user base. You can invite friends to join, but they'll still need to be Nook owners.
For the same price, though, the Amazon Kindle Paperwhite offers a dimmer, but more even backlight, and includes more features, such as X-Ray, parental controls and Vocabulary Builder. For Barnes & Noble bookworms, the new Nook GlowLight might be a nighttime page-turner. However, if you can live without a backlight and you're tied to Barnes & Noble content, we'd recommend you pick up the Nook Simple Touch for just $79.
|Operating System||Android 2.1|
|Electronic Paper Display Size||6 Inches|
|Electronic Paper Display Resolution||1024 x 768|
|LCD Display Size|
|Secondary Display Size|
|Secondary Display Resolution|
|Rated Battery Life||8 weeks, based on 1/2 hour reading, 1 page refresh per min., light on a default brightness|
|Size||6.5 x 5 x 0.42 inches|