The Barnes & Noble NOOK Simple Touch with GlowLight (hereinafter "NOOK GlowLight") is the latest addition to the eInk family of readers. An updated version of last year's Simple Touch Reader, the newest NOOK device is very similar to the original but has an industry-first illuminated eInk touchscreen display. The eInk screen is great for daytime reading, and the optional lighting enables reading in low light conditions.
It is offered by Barnes & Noble for $139.
Build & Design
The NOOK GlowLight is physically almost identical to its previous incarnation. The overall device measures 6.5-inches tall, 5.0-inches wide, and 0.47-inches thick. At just a shade under seven ounces, the newest NOOK is just over half an ounce lighter than its predecessor. You might not be able to tell a difference unless you were comparing them side by side, but when you're reading for extended periods of time, lighter is definitely better.
The front of the device is dominated by the 6-inch eInk touchscreen display. There are page forward and backward buttons on each side of the display, though you're more likely to just tap on the screen in order to advance your book. The "N" button just below the display is used to wake the device from sleep, bring up the menu while you're reading, or turn on the GlowLight when you're reading in low light conditions.
There are no other buttons or controls beyond the main power button on the top back side of the device, and a microSD card slot underneath a flap on the right side of the device that supports memory expansion cards up to 32GB in capacity.
That's important, because Barnes & Noble has intentionally limited your use of the internal memory of the device. It comes with 2GB of memory, 1GB of which you can use for content, but B&N has reserved 750MB of that limited space for NOOK books and other content you buy directly from B&N. If you're planning to use the NOOK GlowLight extensively for your own books, you'll need to purchase a memory card.
The NOOK GlowLight feels quite sturdy and solid in the hand, even though it's very light. The exterior casing is all plastic, with a rubberized coating that makes it soft and comfortable to hold. The corners are well rounded and won't poke you no matter how you position it in your hand, which is again important for long reading sessions.
There aren't any moving parts to speak of, and it doesn't creak or flex when I apply pressure to the case. You may want a silicone sleeve or a case to protect it from incidental or cosmetic damage when you toss it in your bag, or if you enjoy customizing your electronics to suit your personality. But the NOOK GlowLight is sturdy enough to take whatever you dish out, so long as you're not actively torture testing it or tossing it down a flight of stairs.
Screen and Speakers
The screen is of course the main attraction here, and this one is a real winner. The 6-inch touchscreen display is eInk, so it works great in bright conditions, such as outside on a sunny day or at the pool or the beach. Text is razor-sharp, and you can choose from six different fonts and seven type sizes, as well as the line spacing and margins. The screen is very responsive to touch, just like the NOOK GlowLight's predecessor.
Page turns are extremely fast, and while you do get something of a "flash" as the entire page of text changes at once, the screen does not turn black between every page, as you see on the Kindle and earlier eInk devices. You sometimes get the black flash, usually every five or six pages if you're an extremely fast reader and you're turning pages faster than the NOOK GlowLight can cache what's coming up next.
Some have reported that text isn't quite as sharp on the NOOK GlowLight as compared to the original NOOK Simple Touch Reader, but I couldn't tell much of a difference except that text on the original NOOK Simple Touch Reader is just a little lighter. There is a built-in pre-installed screen protector on the NOOK GlowLight (it is not removable or replaceable, however) that could account for a slight loss of clarity or sharpness.
Graphics are somewhat lackluster, which isn't too surprising for an eInk screen capable of display 16 levels of grayscale. I loaded some of my own photos to replace the default screensaver images and there are some harsh gradations in a few of them. There's nothing horrible here, but it does highlight the fact that this is a device designed to display text, not highly accurate reproductions of complicated images.
What you really want to know about is the GlowLight, and I won't keep you in suspense any longer: it's awesome. It works exactly as advertised, allowing you to read in bed just as easily as you would at the beach without having to use an expensive lighted case or a clunky clip-on light.
To activate the GlowLight feature, you just hold down the "N" button on the front of the device, just under the display. The light then comes on, illuminating the screen in an almost perfectly even fashion. There is a slightly brighter line at the very top of the screen, but it's something that you won't really notice after a while unless you're really looking for it. It's a cool blue glow, proving that the GlowLight technology is aptly named.
The GlowLight is adjustable from barely there to almost blinding brightness. I happen to like things fairly dim, so I have it adjusted almost as low as possible. Others might want the screen to be brighter, and at its highest levels the GlowLight easily serves as a flashlight if necessary. Even at the highest brightness settings, it won't disturb your sleeping partner, because only the screen is illuminated. Unlike an accessory reading light, the GlowLight feature does not throw excess glare or light out into the room.
There are no speakers on the NOOK GlowLight, so there is no music playback during reading, and there is no text-to-speech feature available for your eBooks.
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