After taking a beating with its Nook tablets, Barnes & Noble smartly retreated and stopped making its own hardware, opting instead to sell Samsung tablets with a custom Nook interface, plus full access to the Google Play Store.
Meanwhile, it kept selling its dedicated Nook GlowLight e-readers without updating them for two years. Badly in need of a refresh, it's finally here: The all-new Nook GlowLight Plus is now available for $130 with no ads. It's not sold outside of the US.
I got a chance to play around with the new e-reader, which was designed in-house by the bookseller, the day before it launched and while it retains the white front bezel of its predecessor, it's a sleeker looking unit. It features a 300 dots-per-inch E Ink display with enhanced contrast and twice as many pixels as the Nook GlowLight (text and images do pop a little more). Barnes & Noble says it's on par with the Amazon Kindle Paperwhite's screen.
Like Amazon, Barnes & Noble has moved from an infrared-based touchscreen to a more responsive capacitive touchscreen (Amazon's entry-level Kindle still uses infrared but both the Paperwhite and Voyage have more advanced touchscreens). It's also improved the built-in light so its splays across the screen with more uniformity and is brighter at its highest setting.
The back of the unit is made out of aluminum, not plastic, which gives the e-reader a more premium feel. However, the GlowLight Plus weighs slightly more than the GlowLight -- 6.9 versus 6.2 ounces.
I have a couple of small design gripes. First, the outside of the bezel (the aluminum part) has a little bit of an edge to it. I missed the grippy, soft-to-the-touch finish of the Nook GlowLight. And like the iPhone, the new Nook's aluminum chassis is so smooth it's a little slippery, although the border around the display is nicely textured (you're supposed to hold the device with your thumb on the border, but not everybody likes to hold their e-reader that way). Putting the GlowLight Plus in a case would probably be a good idea -- Barnes & Noble has a new line of them.
Along with the new hardware, Barnes & Noble has streamlined the Nook's software and, as a result, the new e-reader does feel zippier, with the capacitive touch also helping to improve its responsiveness. Its iOS and Android apps have been updated too.
From a hardware standpoint, the one competitive advantage the new Nook has over the Kindle Paperwhite is that it's waterproof and dustproof. Barnes & Noble asked for feedback from its customers and they said they wanted a more durable device that they could use "at the beach, in the bathtub or alongside the pool without worry." Kobo has a waterproof e-reader, the Aura H2O, but this is the first one to come from Barnes & Noble or Amazon.
It's IP67 rated, which means it can handle being submerged in up to 3 feet of water for 30 minutes. We put it in a kitchen sink at Barnes & Noble's office and ran water over it for a few minutes. It survived just fine.
I was told that you get 2.5GB of free space, which should allow you to store thousands of e-books. Battery life is rated at up to six weeks on a single charge, but you'll have to turn off the Wi-Fi to get that. And the processor gets a slight bump up, though company reps wouldn't say exactly what chip powered the device.
The company notes that the GlowLight Plus is its first e-reader to include B&N Readouts, a new feature that "leverages Barnes & Noble's vast content catalog and deep bookseller knowledge to deliver a daily selection of addictive and compelling quick reads that can be enjoyed anytime and anywhere."
And lest we forget, Barnes & Noble's still has nearly 650 brick-and-mortar stores across the country and you can take your Nook into any one of them for free lifetime in-store support, as well as connect to the free in-store Wi-Fi to read Nook Books for up to one hour a day at no cost.
The new Nook GlowLight probably isn't going to make any converts out of Amazon's Kindle customers, but at least Barnes & Noble now has an e-reader with competitive specs and performance to the Paperwhite. It also signals to its customers that it's still committed to the Nook platform. That may help the company reach existing Barnes & Noble customers who haven't bought an e-reader yet or are sitting on an older Nook and may now be interested in upgrading.
I'll have more in-depth comments and a full review of the Nook GlowLight as soon as we get a unit in-house and are able to compare it side-by-side to Amazon's Kindle e-readers.