Nook GlowLight review

It's been almost two years since Barnes & Nobile released its last Nook eBook reader in the UK, but is ready to take a second crack at carving a niche for itself in a market dominated by Amazon.

The Nook GlowLight is essentially an update to the Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight released back in 2012 and improves on the earlier experience in almost every way. The first thing that strikes you though is that it is aesthetically different to the vast majority of readers out there because it is white.

The standard edition comes with a white surround with a grey silicon bumper. This can then be customised to suit more flamboyant tastes with an optional other-coloured bumper, either in red or blue. It's a simple design change, but is refreshing considering most of the competition, previous Nooks included, are either black or dark grey. It gives the impression that this latest Nook is fun, and that continues throughout the rest of the device's features.

But in a world where Sony has ditched eBook readers altogether, and with the might of Amazon pressing on its back, is the Barnes & Noble GlowLight a fresh enough release to stand out?

See the light

The GlowLight is extremely light, making it perhaps feel a bit toy-like, but you'll appreciate its 175 grammes weight when holding it for a prolonged period.

The small "n" for Nook button at the bottom switches it on but also doubles as the switch for the GlowLight LED lighting, so it has an advantage over, say, the Kindle Paperwhite because you don't necessarily need to enter the menu to turn the light on or off.

The light itself is described by Barnes & Noble as its most even yet. It still suffers from a little patchiness, but not so it matters to reading comfort. There are five LED lights across the top and they beam down the entire E Ink Pearl display.

There is a wide variation in degree of illumination that can be set and having it switched on doesn't seem to hamper battery life too much. It is claimed to last up to eight weeks on a single charge if used around half an hour a day and we found that to be accurate in our tests.

Crisp text

Other new features include a higher definition look in the text, with multiple fonts available from the off to suit your preferences. Seven different font sizes are available too, although we have to admit that any over the second smallest didn't really fit many words on screen.

E Ink's new Regal waveform technology is utilised in the display, so pages refresh more smoothly. Black page refreshes have been eliminated and there's now no full-page flashing when turning pages. It is super quick and the touch controls seem more responsive than in earlier models.

Shop 'til you drop

Perhaps our favourite element of Nook devices has always been the user interface and shop experiences - and this is certainly true of the Nook GlowLight. The main menu system is prettier than rivals, Kindle included, and much effort has gone into a new "Shop" feature to help you quickly discover content more easily.

There are more curated lists and Nook Channels than ever before, meaning you don't have to wade through countless pages to find popular titles. The search functionality has been improved too, making it more intuitive, as it searches for keywords as you type them.

On board storage has also been improved, with a bump in capacity. There is now 4GB built-in, meaning the GlowLight has enough space for "up to 2,000 Nook books". Unfortunately, though, there is no microSD card slot this time around - unlike the Simple Touch with GlowLight - so that cannot be increased further.

However, that's still plenty of space - double that offered by its biggest rival, the Kindle Paperwhite. And Barnes & Noble comes in at £20 cheaper to boot.

Verdict

Thar's the rub. While it offers a lighter shell, is cheaper, more funky looking and has considerably more storage, the latest Nook isn't a Kindle.

By that we mean that although its Store offers an excellent experience and has every book we wanted to get our hands on, as we have previously owned Kindle devices before our existing DRM'ed eBook library is locked to Amazon's ecosystem. For good or bad.

That unfortunately means that Barnes & Noble continues to have a tough task on its hands to get Kindle owners to upgrade to a device that, while worthy in its own right, is not compatible with their existing bought books.

You can head down the Calibre PC route of converting titles on desktop software but what to do about the DRM? And can people really be that bothered?

In many respects, that is perhaps why Barnes & Noble has opted for a very different looking device, hoping to entice a different or new audience. And in that we think it has succeeded. The Nook GlowLight is a fun and friendly eBook reader that, thanks to its super lightweight build, will sit happily inside any handbag or pocket.

Add Sony's complete withdrawal from the eBook market and it will surely help the Nook be seen as a credible alternative. There are limited choices, so the GlowLight is a worthy consideration, especially if you've never owned an eBook reader before.