Barnes & Noble Nook Simple Touch with Glowlight e-reader review
Backlit screen casts Kindle into the shade?
Review It’s not hard to imagine how Barnes & Noble’s Nook Simple Touch initial design meeting went. Assorted hardware engineers, industrial designers and marketing types assemble to examine Amazon’s Kindle Touch and work out how they can make something better.
And they have. On almost all points, the Simple Touch - and the Simple Touch with Glowlight, which I have in front of me here - trumps its rival.
So what’s wrong with the Kindle Touch? Not a lot, to be honest. It’s a convenient size, there’s sufficient storage, it’s attractively priced, the screen is as good as e-ink gets, and there’s a decent catalogue of content you can buy to put on it. But for the Amazon tie-in - and that only applies to DRM’d material - it’s a fine e-book reader.
If you’re an Amazon customer already, there’s no reason not to buy one, unless you really feel the need to be able to buy e-books from multiple vendors. My various price comparisons have generally shown there’s not much of a saving to be made if you do want to shop around, but so much depends on which books you actually buy.
The matte back makes for a good grip; the micro USB port makes for good connectivity
The new Nook’s trick, then is to take all of the Kindle Touch’s already decent key features and improve on them just a little. The Kindle comes with 4GB of storage, for example, 3GB of which is available for book storage. The Simple Touch has only got 2GB, which is plenty for all but the most acquisitive of e-book collectors, but it also has a Micro SD slot good to take 32GB cards. The Simple Touch is lighter - 196g to the Kindle’s 213g - but not so you’d know it.
More importantly, the B&N offering is cheaper. The basic model retails for just £10 more than the touch-less Kindle - which also comes with 2GB of storage, but no memory card slot - while the version with the backlight costs the same as the un-illuminated Kindle Touch.
2GB insufficient storage for your needs? Add a Micro SD card
The Glowlight is what really puts the B&N product ahead. Now, I'm not a fan of touch-screen e-book readers. They add weight to an e-book reader and increase its thickness. They’re less responsive than phone or tablet capacitive sensors, and I feel constantly made aware not only of the need to press harder to trigger a scroll, a button press or a page turn, but notice the lag between the tap and the action. So much so that there’s always a moment’s uncertainty as to whether the touch was registered by the device, leading to many a multiple tap when one would have done.
Strike a light
I prefer physical keys with their immediate response, but I’m willing to put up with a touch screen if, in exchange, I get a display I can read when the lights are down low.
There are two physical page-turn keys on both sides of the touchscreen
Better still, there's no such trade-off here: the Nook has physical page-turn keys too. They're embedded in the face of the bezel, which makes for the wider, less pocket-friendly device - it’s a centimetre wider than the vanilla Kindle; 5mm wider than the Kindle Touch - but there they are.
The Glowlight isn’t really a backlight. It actually directs the rays from six LEDs down through the display and it’s the reflected light that provides the (almost) uniform illumination. It beats clip-on lights, or point light sources integrated into cases. And though initially brighter than it needs to be, the brightness can be turned down for a less harsh level of light that's good for nighttime reading while the lights are off and your bedfellow is snoozing.
Read in the dark...
The Nook provides a comparable reading experience to the Kindle - what differences there are a negligible. The Nook has a broader selection of fonts, for example, but there's little real difference between them. However, I like the fact that you can drag-and-drop your own screensaver pictures onto the desktop-mounted Nook.
B&N claims the Simple Touch will run for a couple of months on a single charge, and I see no reason to dispute that. Using Glowlight will knock that down to 30 days, but I see the Glowlight as an occasional use feature rather than something you’ll be running day in, day out.
...or in the light
It’s hard then not to recommend the Simple Touch with Glowlight, and if you’re after your first e-book reader or you’re buying for someone who hasn’t got one yet, it’s ideal. B&N claims its UK online bookstore - which opens for business later this month - will have 2.5 million items available, more than double the one million items Amazon claims to offer.
A large catalogue is all very well, but not helpful if it doesn’t include what you’re after. Fortunately, since the Nook uses Adobe’s DRM system and ePub format, the reader will happily present books bought from others suppliers who support these technologies: Sony, Waterstones, Blackwell's, Kobo and its partners, for instance.
Kindle and Nook
B&N doesn’t expect Amazon customers to jump ship, but with Kindle apps available for Android and iOS phones and tablets, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t swap a Kindle e-book reader for a Nook, or have both, swapping between them according to what you happen to want to read. In any case, Amazon will have a Glowlight-style Kindle out soon enough - in the States it already has.
Barnes & Noble’s Nook Simple Touch with Glowlight is a darn fine e-book reader. But for the fact that the Kobo Glo delivers the same features for £10 less, I’d recommend the Nook unequivocally. The B&N offering is certainly better - and better value - than the Kindle Touch, but that’s of little concern to anyone already tied into the Amazon ecosystem. ®
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