Barnes & Noble today launched a new $139 version of its Nook Simple Touch e-book reader with a lighted E Ink screen that promises to allow you to read while your sleeping spouse lies undisturbed.
After looking at the device in a darkened press-preview room (see our video above), along with Consumer Reports test engineer Rich Fisco, I think the new Nook promises to offer the most elegant solution yet to the night-time e-reading dilemma in many marriage beds—including my own.
The new Nook can be pre-ordered now and will ship in time to arrive by Mother's Day on May 13, B&N says. The device resembles the regular (and high-scoring, in our e-book reader Ratings) Nook Simple Touch in almost all respects, including having the same-size (6-inch) screen and being about the same in depth and weight: In fact, at 6.95 ounces, it's about a half-ounce lighter than its unlighted sibling.
Yet despite keeping those specs the same for the new device, B&N has managed to string LED lights inside the e-reader's case that radiate ample light from the top of the screen down onto the virtual page below. Since the lights are located only at the top of the screen, the GlowLight's illumination isn't perfect; there appears to be a slightly darker area just below the top edge of the screen, for example. But, overall, the light level is remarkably uniform—far more so than on the only other major e-book reader that has featured a lighted E Ink screen, a now-discontinued Sony model.
To create that even glow, B&N engineers told me, they had to insert an additional, light-diffusing layer into the screen of the new Nook. While such layers usually introduce compromises in sharpness and readability, the new Nook's type seemed to be as crisp as that of the regular Nook Touch—which is to say, it looked very good indeed to my eyes.
The screen lighting is an optional feature that you turn on by holding down the device's home key, with a page appearing on the screen. You can adjust the brightness of the lighting using a pull-down menu that appears when you tap a light-bulb icon along the top of the screen.
Use of the lighting does cut battery life in half. But B&N still claims the GlowLight Nook will still run for a more than a month, at half an hour of reading per day, with the lights on.
The GlowLight Nook's $139 price tag is $40 higher than that of the regular Nook Simple Touch, which will remain available at $99. However, B&N says it's bundling the device with two accessories that cost extra with that regular version (and, they point out, with Amazon's Kindle Touch as well) : a screen protector kit ($20) and power adapter ($10), so you can charge the Nook via a wall outlet rather than a USB cord to a computer.
We expect this lighted Nook, like its sibling, will perform very well in our tests, and offer a welcome addition to the e-book reader market. One tantalizing question is how Amazon, B&N's arch-competitor, may respond to the new device. Some websites today were reporting rumors of a Kindle e-book reader with a lighted screen coming soon. Failing that, look for the price of Kindle accessories such as its $60 case/light and $20 clip-on light to drop—since Amazon has never let B&N retain any advantage for long, and vice-versa, in the long battle of the booksellers over e-book readers.