I've spent a week (and some change) playing around with Barnes & Noble's latest. The Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight adds a feature that before was relegated to the side business of e-reader peripherals: a lit screen so you can read at night.
It's a simple change, but it makes all the difference.
If you're new to the Nook Simple Touch, it follows the same design methodology that informs the likes of Amazon's Kindle Touch: keep the user experience focused on the reading. Whereas the Kindle Touch is just a touchscreen and home button, the Nook Touch does a little more with its bezel, adding stealthy buttons to move the page count forwards and backwards. You can use the touchscreen, too, but the buttons mean you're not reaching over the bezel to tap the screen, which is nice.
If, on the other hand, you've ever picked up a Nook Simple Touch, you know what you're in for here (minus the light). The new unit is lighter (at 7 ounces, B&N says it's 5% lighter) and has faster page turns (we're talking in milliseconds). Even using the GlowLight regularly you won't have to charge it for something like a month. Of course, the batteries last so long on e-readers now anyway that it's more or less a moot feature.
Reading With GlowLight
Yes, we're really just talking about a lit screen here as what's substantially new. Front-lit, actually. There's a film over the E Ink display, and an array of what looks like eight LEDs sets it aglow from above. It's a soft light, and one that emulates the same reading experience you'd have anywhere with the Nook Simple Touch as the effect of GlowLight is uniform and not at all harsh. Combined with the Nook's anti-glare screen, reading indoors, outside and in the dark all feels just as comfortable.
The Nook design team has really played it smart here. GlowLight is easy to turn on and off without looking (you hold down the Nook's "N" home button for two seconds and there it is), and even a low level of brightness is more than plenty for literary sojourns at night. GlowLight is an essential, useful feature that doesn't add any needless complexity to the Nook Simple Touch.
The Best E-Reader On Shelves Right Now
That right there is a big statement, I know, and it's one I'm comfortable making for three reasons:
1) The GlowLight feature seamlessly integrated into my time reading in a way that felt essential. While peripherals can achieve the same effect, the built-in experience can't get much better than what GlowLight offers.
2) Barnes & Noble is the first out of the gate with a built-in screen lighting solution and it works really well. So well, in fact, that any e-reader that comes out now without an answer to the GlowLight will feel like it's missing a feature.
3) Until other e-readers catch up, the Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight is what I'll be recommending to anyone in the market for an e-reader.
Ultimately what e-reader you buy has a lot to do with what ecosystem you've bought into. Both Kindle and Nook have apps on any platform you fancy, so you don't need either e-reader to enjoy e-books offered in either store.
To enjoy Kindle's titles on dedicated hardware, I'd say that the $139 Kindle Touch (discounted to $99 if you don't mind seeing some ads, which are largely unobtrusive) is the way to go. Likewise, to access Barnes & Noble's e-books on the company's hardware, I'd recommend the Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight. Between the two, it used to be a wash if one has no e-store allegiance, but now I'd tell you to take a look at the Nook.
When I approach an e-reader I'm looking for the best reading experience possible. I don't care about apps or games or what kind of complex media is supported. I want text that I can read for hours. With that in mind, the best-in-class e-readers are the ones I've mentioned above — Nook Touch and Kindle Touch — and not something like the Nook Color, which, in trying to meet tablets halfway, becomes something I'm not interested in at all.
As a reader and reviewer: the Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight — currently available for a $139 pre-order and shipping May 22 — is the best buy for your buck.
All photos by Kevin Hall for DVICE. Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight provided by Barnes & Noble for review purposes; the unit has been returned.