Computers

Barnes & Noble’s new Nook is latest evolution in ebook readers

correspondentMay 7, 2012 

Barnes & Noble has just introduced a new ebook reader that may well be, at least for now, the best in the market. Does that mean you should rush out today to buy the Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight ($140) at the earliest opportunity? Possibly, but so much depends on your circumstances that it’s hardly a no-brainer. When you buy an ebook reader, you’re buying into a store, and the two big options are Amazon with its Kindle and Barnes & Noble with its Nook. The formats are incompatible – buy one and you can’t read books from the other store on your device. So if you already have an ebook reader, stay with the same brand.

Ebook readers have come a long way. They came into their own with the introduction of electronic ink (E Ink), which involves moving tiny particles around on the screen in response to electrical charges to give you something that looks like printed letters on paper. You need a light to read by but that’s true of printed books too, and because E Ink readers do not use bright LCD screens, you avoid eye fatigue. After E Ink, the next big step was touch. With it, you could tap the screen to move to the next page or touch a single word to get a dictionary definition or highlight it.

The new Barnes & Noble model now changes the equation on light. Hold down the N button below the screen and the light comes on, a warm glow supplied from within the screen bezel itself. The light is adjustable through a software slider, though the default setting is perfectly adequate for most low-light situations, such as when you want to read in bed with other lights off.

Background glow

The new Nook is a twin of the older Nook Simple Touch, even sporting the same dimensions, though it’s a bit lighter. I’ve heard it described as a cross between a tablet and an E Ink reader, but the comparison won’t wash. Tablets like the iPad and Amazon Fire are more responsive to the touch, offering full color, multimedia and gaming. By contrast, E Ink readers were never designed to be anything but single-purpose devices. They do one thing and do it well.

The Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight does just that, offering a background glow that completes the spectrum of reading options. Now you can read anywhere from full sunlight to complete darkness, with a battery life of a month or even more depending on how much you use the light.

The buying question comes down to this: Do you already have an e-book reader? If not, the Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight is an outstanding choice, offering all the features of the Kindle and packing in the GlowLight at essentially no charge, because if you buy a Kindle Touch without advertising, you’ll pay the same $140 (an ad-supported version is $100). The Nook leaves out the ads and offers the memory card slot (up to 32 GB) the Kindle lacks. Unlike the Kindle, it offers no 3G option, only WiFi. Amazon is said to be working on a Kindle Touch with self-illumination, and it’s a safe bet the new Kindle will appear some time this fall.

Consumers benefit

Amazon and Barnes & Noble are trying to out-duel each other and are producing devices that take E Ink about as far as it can go until we get the introduction of color E Ink, which may happen this year as well. So you’re safe with either company’s device, and if having the latest technology is your thing, you’ll get it soon from Amazon as well. The real choice, then, comes down to which online store you want to buy from. Both are huge and offer comparable pricing, and as long as both are viable, consumers are the beneficiaries as these companies slug it out atop the electronic book business.

Paul A. Gilster is the author of several books on technology. Reach him at gilster@mindspring.com.

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