The final frontier in e-reader technology is reading in the dark. E-book readers do their best to mimic the experience of reading paper books as far as what your eyes see, but that also means needing external light for the best experience. In the past, anyway. Now the first e-readers with their own lighting have joined us.
This year saw the introduction of the Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight and then, a few months later, the Kindle Paperwhite. Both of these e-readers keep the traditional e-paper (E Ink) display and add gentle light into the screen for reading in dark or low-light situations. Both devices start at $120 and seem evenly matched at first blush. So, which one should you choose?
Read our in-depth comparison below to figure out the strong points and flaws of the Nook and Kindle to help you decide which is better for you.
Design and feel
The Kindle Paperwhite and Nook GlowLight both have 6-inch E Ink displays and are about the same overall size and weight. They’re each light enough to hold for hours when reading, and small enough to fit in a purse or a jacket pocket. At first glance, they’re not too different.
However, one key design element makes the Nook stand out: page turn buttons. Amazon ditched physical page turn buttons with the Kindle Touch, so now owners must tap or swipe on the display to go forward or back. The Nook offers this same functionality in addition to hardware buttons that flank the screen. These are well-positioned to fit under the thumbs whether you cradle the eReader with two hands or one. Plus, B&N allows users to decide which button (top or bottom) advances the pages or turns back, giving users more freedom and flexibility.
We do like the Kindle’s EasyReach tap zones that allow most people to swipe and tap to go to the next page on the touchscreen using either hand without having to stretch. It’s not as natural as Nook’s buttons, but we’re glad that Amazon addressed the issue of one-handed use when taking away the Kindle’s physical buttons.
The Nook also has a hardware Home button under the screen where the Kindle again does not. This is not absolutely necessary, but having an ever-present button for this function (plus turning the GlowLight on or off) is better than having to pull up an on-screen menu.
Both e-readers have soft-touch backs, but the Nook’s is curved to fit more comfortably in the hand.
Overall, the Nook’s design has an edge over the Kindle’s as it offers users more options and comfort.
E Ink display and frontlight
The 6-inch e-paper displays on these e-readers utilize the same base technology, but there are important differences between them.
With the light off, it’s easy to see that the contrast of the Nook’s display is not as deep as the Kindle’s. This means that the background on the Kindle is lighter in comparison with the text, and the text is darker and more print-like. This has always been the case with Nook and Kindle models, but on the GlowLight version the difference is even more pronounced because the text is less contrasty (more gray on gray) than on the Nook without the light due to an anti-glare coating on the screen.
The Kindle Paperwhite’s light is brighter and whiter than the Nook’s when turned up to 100 percent brightness; that doesn’t make it vastly superior, though. The Nook’s GlowLight has a more bluish cast and doesn’t get super bright, but does get bright enough for comfortable reading in dark or low-light situations. The cast of the light is easier on the eyes than the white of the Kindle, which feels more like the light that emanates from an LCD screen, which most people are trying to get away from with an E Ink device. The brightness is adjustable on both, but even at a low level the Kindle’s light isn’t as comfortable and natural as the Nook’s.
Kindle PaperWhite owners have noted unevenness in the device’s light, particularly at the bottom of the display. A significant portion of users have also noticed differing colors or cones of colors across the whole display that do not appear when the light is off and can be very distracting. Amazon has acknowledged some of these issues, but a fix for them is not forthcoming.
The Nook’s GlowLight is has similar issues with uneven lighting. However, about a quarter of the reviews on the product page mention a hole or small tear that can develop on or under the display that leaks light and ruins the reading experience. When asked for a statement about this issue, a spokesperson for the company simply advised better protection, but this problem doesn’t appear to manifest entirely due to mistreatment and has happened to devices protected by B&N’s own covers.
With the light off, the Kindle Paperwhite offers a superior experience. Turn the light on and the Nook GlowLight has the edge.
Reading experience and notes
Inside e-books, the basic experience is very similar. The Nook offers a few more font, text size, and line/margin spacing options than the Kindle, but the latter’s font choices are better. Turning pages via swipe, tap, or button press (on the Nook) is fast on both devices and these is little to no flickering when those page turns happen.
Both devices have built-in dictionaries for looking up unfamiliar words. Kindle’s X-Ray function goes a step further by offering in-depth information about characters, settings, and historical information related to the title at hand — a good resource for students.
There are some seemingly minor details that could impact your choice to go with one system or another, especially if you’re looking for an e-reader for school instead of just pleasure reading. The biggest of these is how each device handles notes and highlights. Both the Nook and Kindle allow users to create these inside of books as well as add highlights. They will also sync these notes to other devices and apps connected to your account.
However, the Nook will not allow you to export notes or see them on all apps. Right now, notes made on the GlowLight can’t be accessed on the desktop app or the web reader and vice-versa. Though you can see a list of all notes and highlights and jump to them, copy/pasting that text isn’t possible. Kindle owners can not only export their notes and highlights as a text file, which is easily transferable to a computer, they can also browse and copy/paste from them via kindle.amazon.com.
At a basic level, the reading experience on both the Nook and Kindle are similar and good. But go beyond that and the Kindle offers extra functionality that puts it ahead for some types of users.
Content and DRM
Barnes & Noble and Amazon can both boast access to millions of books, many of which are free or cost $10 or less. Amazon has a larger catalog of modern titles because it’s been in the e-book business longer. Plus, there are almost 200,000 Kindle-exclusive e-books, some from bestselling authors and even more from indie authors publishing direct through Amazon.
It’s possible to buy e-books for the Kindle from a few other online stores or free book depositories on the web, but there aren’t many choices. The Nook works with the ePub file format, thus it’s possible to load e-books from many other stores (including Kobo, Google Books, and Sony) if you want to step outside of B&N’s selection.
Purchased books are stored in the cloud and available to all devices and apps connected to your account. This allows users to only keep local copies of the books they’re reading and never have to worry about space. Unfortunately, this can also cause problems.
Recently, the story of an Amazon user who lost access to her account and all of her books when Amazon irrevocably closed her account called attention to how the company’s DRM (Digital Rights Management, a way of controlling where you can read your books) scheme and control over Kindle devices is both a convenience and a major flaw in the system. Technically, B&N has the ability to do the same thing, it just hasn’t done so yet (or it hasn’t been publicized as well).
But because Nook books are in the ePub format, it’s much easier for users to keep backup copies on their own computers and transfer them to different e-readers without breaking the DRM. People worried about losing access to the e-books they buy should steer clear of Amazon unless they plan to break the DRM and backup all of their titles to be safe.
Both systems allow users to lend a book they own to a friend once for a 14-day period. Amazon adds to this with the Kindle Lending Library, available to Amazon Prime Subscribers. Via this service, Kindle owners can borrow certain books and read them without buying. The catalog here isn’t very big, but is growing.
Kindle and Nook owners are also able to read e-books loaned by public libraries. The process for getting the loaded books onto the eReader is far simpler on Kindle than on Nook. On the Kindle, books transfer wirelessly through WhisperSync (a 3G connection powered by AT&T). On Nook, users have to download the e-book to their computers, then transfer using third-party software.
Overall, the Kindle offers convenience and ease of use, but it comes with a price. Buying and lending e-books on the Nook is just as easy, but doing anything extra requires a bit more tech-savvy and work.
Models and pricing
There is only one version of the Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight, and it costs $120. It includes Wi-Fi connectivity but no 3G. The Kindle PaperWhite starts at $120 for a model with Wi-Fi. A 3G model with unlimited data starts at $180.
Having the ability to search for, buy, or download books almost anywhere you are, even when there’s no Wi-Fi around, is really nice. Especially if you travel a great deal. Those who do most of their reading at home, or don’t mind downloading before they leave the house, will do just fine with the Wi-Fi-only models. We like that Amazon still offers the choice.
Though it may seem that the Kindle and Nook start out at the same price, the $120 Kindle is the “Special Offers” version. Special Offers is code for ads. They’re visible on the screensaver/lock screen and on the Home screen at the bottom. They do not appear in books themselves. Still, some people find even this level of intrusion unacceptable. To get rid of them forever users will have to buy the $140 version without Special Offers or pay Amazon the $20 difference. The same with the 3G version. The $180 price goes up to $200 if you don’t want ads.
Barnes & Noble prominently states that the Nook is $120 without ads, so is technically less expensive than the Kindle. The Nook also comes with a power adapter for connecting the USB charging cord to an outlet. Amazon only bundles the Kindle with the USB cord. If you need an adapter, it costs $10.
Overall, the Nook is the least expensive option between the two, but the Kindle has more models available.
So which lighted e-reader is better overall?
The Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight has a more versatile and comfortable design, a better light, access to a wider variety of e-book stores, and no ads. It’s easier to back up your e-books to protect them from meddling from Barnes & Noble as well. The contrast on the screen could be better, we wish transferring books from public libraries was a simpler process, and the half-baked notes functionality will put off anyone but casual readers. We’re also concerned with how many units develop the tear/flaw and the company’s lack of active movement on fixing that issue.
The Kindle Paperwhite has a better E Ink display, a better notes and highlights system, more in-book features, a book larger catalog, easier library lending, overall simpler system, and both 3G and Wi-Fi versions. The overall design isn’t as good as Nook’s, but the light is on par, and may be preferable if you like white light. The company’s propensity toward abusing its control over users’ Kindles and purchased e-books is a big worry, and the inclusion of ads in the lowest price model means that it’s not as inexpensive as it seems.
Each has strong pros and cons, but given the Nook’s better lighting and the lower price without ads gives it an edge over the Kindle. Still, students and prolific note-takers or users who need the simplest system possible should look seriously at the Kindle.