Nook GlowLight e-ink e-reader review: The Kindle Paperwhite's close competitor

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The Good Barnes & Noble's second-generation Nook GlowLight improves on an already good e-reader, with a lighter design than the Kindle Paperwhite, improved lighting scheme, sharper text, and other enhancements, including the elimination of page flashing. You get 4GB of internal memory and there's a ring of silicone rubber around the frame to help protect the device in the event of a fall.

The Bad Lacks the expansion slot and page-turn buttons found on previous models. While the device is responsive, Barnes & Noble would have ideally equipped it with a faster processor. White finish can show some grime from your hands. Nook content ecosystem is good but can't match Kindle's.

The Bottom Line While it doesn't necessarily beat the Kindle Paperwhite, the $119 Nook GlowLight is an excellent e-reader that's strongly worth considering if you don't want to buy into the Amazon ecosystem.

8.1 Overall
  • Design 9
  • Ecosystem 7
  • Features 8
  • Performance 8
  • Value 8

Editors' note: Effective November 21, 2014, Barnes & Noble has dropped the price of the Nook GlowLight from $119 to $99.

Barnes & Noble's next-generation 6-inch e-ink e-reader, the Nook GlowLight, shares the same shape as the earlier Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight, but it sheds its carbon-colored shell for a warmer, off-white housing that has a rubberized gray trim around its border. The silicone rim helps you get a good grip on the device, and it's also supposed to help protect the device in the event of a drop. Just as importantly, the device as a whole has been trimmed down from the previous GlowLight model, dropping from 6.95 ounces to 6.2 ounces (175g), which works out to 15 percent lighter than Amazon's Kindle Paperwhite. (For those following the 6-inch e-reader weight standings, the Kobo Aura is the lightest, weighing 1 gram less than the Nook GlowLight.)

I liked the overall look and feel of the new Nook. The back has a soft-to-the-touch finish, and since it's white, it doesn't show fingerprints like the previous model did. However, it can pick up some grime from your hands, so don't expect it to stay totally white over the long haul (you can wipe it down, of course).

The GlowLight, which features an improved lighting scheme, is shipping now for $119 (click image to enlarge). Sarah Tew/CNET

While Barnes & Noble has thankfully eliminated the "Simple Touch" title from the device's name, this is a touch-screen e-reader that sports a display with the same resolution (1,024x758 pixels, 212ppi) as the Kindle Paperwhite and delivers similarly sharp text. It's nicely responsive, though I would have liked to have seen Barnes & Noble go with the 1GHz processor that's in the Paperwhite (and the Kobo Glo) instead of sticking with an 800MHz processor. The difference is very slight, but in comparing it to the Kindle Paperwhite, the Amazon e-reader is a touch zippier. We're talking fractions of a second, but page turns are ever so slightly faster on the Kindle.

Aside from improving the display and slimming the chassis, the biggest enhancement Barnes & Noble has made is to the integrated light -- the GlowLight is now significantly brighter at its highest setting, looks whiter, and displays more evenly across the screen. At its highest setting, the Nook's light is a bit brighter than the Kindle Paperwhite's, which has also been made brighter (it's a plus that it gets as bright as it does, but the majority of people keep the light at more of a medium setting, particularly for nighttime reading).

On top of all that, Barnes & Noble has completely eliminated the flashing you typically get from e-ink-based e-readers. With e-ink, the screen needs to refresh every so often, which is what causes the flash. When you go back to the home screen, the display does flash, but it seems less jarring because you're not in the middle of turning a page while reading.

The Kindle has no physical buttons on the device beyond an on/off button. The Nook's pretty minimalist now too, doing away with the physical page-turn buttons, which some people liked but others considered superfluous. But the Nook retains its "n" shaped hard home button at the bottom of the e-reader, which many people, including me, appreciate. Hold it down and the light comes on (or turns off if it's already on).

This model comes with 4GB of internal memory instead of the Paperwhite's 2GB; that said, "only" 2.5GB of that space is reserved for content. That's enough for 2,000 books on the Nook, versus 1,100 on the Paperwhite. Unlike previous Nooks, the GlowLight lacks a microSD expansion slot. I'm not sure who needs to carry around more than 2,000 books at a time, but dropping the expandable storage has certainly angered commenters on B&N's own site.

Based on 30 minutes of reading time per day, both the Paperwhite and the new Nook offer up to two months of battery life with wireless off and, in the case of the Nook, with the GlowLight at its default brightness setting (or set to "off"). In other words, they're both very energy-efficient.

Unsurprisingly, Barnes & Noble has matched the $119 price of the base Wi-Fi-only Kindle Paperwhite, which is known as the Kindle Paperwhite with Special Offers because it serves up some small ads at the bottom of the home page and as screensavers when the device is in sleep mode. Some people don't mind or even notice the Special Offers, while some people hate them. If you're willing to pay an extra $20, you can get the version of the Kindle that's ad-free. The Nook doesn't have any ads, though it does surface new books in its "Now on Nook" section in the lower half of the home screen. It's pretty low-key -- only one book appears as a promo -- and the interface as a whole is clean and uncluttered.

Barnes & Noble Nook GlowLight silicone trim
The device has a silicone trim around its edge to protect it in the event of a drop (click image to enlarge). Sarah Tew/CNET

It's worth noting that Barnes & Noble is offering an additional discount through the end of the year: new and existing Barnes & Noble members get a 10 percent discount on the Nook GlowLight. You could put that $11.90 toward one of the new Clip Covers, which attach to the left or right side of device and protect the screen while adding very little weight to your e-reader. The new covers are a tad pricey at $21.95 -- they feel like they're worth about $14.95 -- but they do give the device a bit of Apple flair (yes, they look like an Apple Smart Cover, although they don't feature a built-in magnet, which is too bad).

Why buy the Nook GlowLight over the Kindle Paperwhite?
Barnes & Noble was one of the first to market with an integrated light (Sony was first, but no one really remembers that), and when the Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight hit the market, Amazon was still several months away from releasing the first-generation Paperwhite.

But that was then and this is now. Amazon's Kindle Paperwhite 2013 is a very solid product that earned a CNET Editors' Choice Award. The new Nook GlowLight measures up well against it. It has a few advantages (it's a little lighter, has more memory, and for those who don't like ads, there aren't any). Barnes & Noble also likes to point out that you can get in-person assistance with your device by stepping into a Barnes & Noble brick and mortar store, where you can read any Nook book for free for one hour while connected to Wi-Fi at any location. Also, the company has improved the shopping experience on the device. And last but not least, there are new optimized fonts to choose from.

Unlike Amazon Kindles, the Nook can be used to read EPUB files purchased from third-party retailers beyond Barnes & Noble. It can also read PDFs (though anyone who's doing serious PDF reading should opt for a tablet instead). And Barnes & Noble also offers a wide variety of magazines and newspapers, too.

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