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Kindle Paperwhite vs. Nook GlowLight: Battle of the light-up ebook readers

The two ebook reader giants are at it again. Both Amazon and Barnes & Noble released updates to their popular light-up ebook readers this winter and they are once again ready to battle. The Nook GlowLight underwent a dramatic change on the hardware size, slimming down and losing most of it’s buttons. The Kindle Paperwhite looks the same on the outside, but there are significant upgrades if you look closely.

Last year when these two e-readers went head-to-head the Nook GlowLight won the day. Can it keep the title of best ebook reader or will the Kindle Paperwhite snatch victory away? Read our in-depth comparison to find out.

Updated by Jeffrey Van Camp: This article has been rewritten to compare the 2013 Nook GlowLight and Kindle Paperwhite. It’s updated annually with the new readers.

E Ink Display and Light

Nook vs Kindle screens

The heart of any ebook reader is its display, and both the Nook and the Kindle have great ones. Unlike tablets, these readers have screens that replicate the look of ink on paper, and help them get extremely good battery life (weeks instead of hours). The keys to good e-paper are deep contrast between the text and the background, crisp text at small font sizes, and a speedy refresh with as little flashing as possible. You can find this on either e-reader’s screen.

The Paperwhite has a small advantage in that it uses the newest display technology from E Ink while the Nook is a generation behind. Looking at the two side-by-side it’s evident that the Kindle has a bit more contrast and the background is lighter. The difference is slight and not the deciding factor in this contest. That honor goes to the light.

Nook vs Kindle lights

Both B&N and Amazon improved the lighting experience on their devices. The Kindle’s is far better than the first generation; it’s even across the whole screen and really makes text pop. The Nook’s light wasn’t as problematic as the Kindle’s was last year, so the improvement in this new generation isn’t as dramatic. This GlowLight is far brighter. It’s not as even as the Kindle’s light, though.

The Nook’s light is also bluer than the Kindle’s. During testing our eyes didn’t get as tired reading with the GlowLight on as the PaperWhite’s light. However, this varies person to person. In the end, the Kindle’s display and light are superior.

Winner: Kindle Paperwhite

Design and Usability

Nook vs Kindle Reading Options

Last year we praised the Nook for keeping physical page turn buttons since they give ebook lovers more freedom and flexibility in how they read. Plus, it’s more comfortable, especially when switching between left and right hands. This year’s Nook loses the buttons along with a little weight and girth. It’s about the same size as the Paperwhite with both having just enough bezel to rest thumbs on while you read.

The two are evenly matched in the looks and design department – the weight and shape make them easy to hold for long reading sessions.

However, because B&N took away the buttons without adjusting the software to make turning pages just as easy with the left or right hand, the Kindle once again comes out the better choice. The Paperwhite’s EasyReach tap zones are designed so that the left thumb can tap to turn and doesn’t have to swipe, a move we found awkward when using the Nook.

Winner: Kindle Paperwhite

Performance

Placed side-by-side when turning pages, we noted that the Kindle Paperwhite responded a hair faster than the Nook most of the time and up to a second faster on some occasions. While navigating the interfaces and shopping we didn’t notice a huge difference. Neither is a speed demon due to the low refresh rate of E Ink displays. Each responded to taps and keyboard input as fast as we’d expect and downloaded books quickly while on Wi-Fi.

Winner: Kindle Paperwhite

Reading Extras

Nook vs Kindle Page Preview

One of the things that disappointed us the most about the new Nook GlowLight is Barnes & Noble’s lack of extra features for readers, especially in comparison with what Amazon offers for Kindle owners. Both platforms offer notes and highlights that sync across devices and apps, dictionary lookup, and the ability to lend books to friends for two weeks. The Nook only offers a few other extras beyond this, but the Paperwhite has a long list of them.

One big feature missing from the Nook ecosystem is the ability to export notes and highlights or access and copy/paste them from a Web interface like you can on Kindle. This is something Nook owners have been asking about for years.

Nook vs Kindle X-Ray

Kindle readers can go deeper into a book using X-Ray or the new Wikipedia integration while Nook still has simple dictionary lookup. This combined with the better access to notes makes the Paperwhite a better choice for students.

And even though B&N introduced Nook Friends back when the Nook Color tablet came out, the company doesn’t integrate it into its dedicated ebook reader. Amazon just integrated GoodReads into the Paperwhite, launching it ahead of the Nook in social interaction.

We’ve heard from Barnes & Noble that more software features are on the way, which we’re glad to know. Right now, any reader looking to go beyond just reading is better served by the Kindle.

Winner: Kindle Paperwhite

Buying/Loading Ebooks and DRM

Nook vs Kindle shopping

Shopping for books on the Nook is a more enjoyable experience than on the Kindle. Amazon’s E Ink store interface is barebones and not very enticing. Plus, you can’t see a book’s price in a category or search listing the way you can in the Nook store. It’s much easier browsing and finding ebooks on Nook.

Amazon has a far larger library of books to choose from because the company has been selling them digitally for longer than Barnes & Noble. For books released in the past four years, the two are almost evenly matched in selection and availability. Kindle owners get access to some exclusive content, the majority of which is self-published by authors via Amazon. There is similar content available to Nook owners as well, just not from B&N for the most part.

From the beginning the Kindle has always used its own proprietary ebook file format where the Nook uses EPub, an open and more universal format. Both companies use DRM on the ebooks you buy, but there is a big difference in what the DRM schemes allow you to do.

Since Epub files are compatible with several ebook readers and can be bought at many ebook stores (Sony, Kobo, Google Books) it’s possible to transfer an existing library to or from the Nook with the right software and without breaking DRM or any rules. That gives Nook users some freedom and protection from losing access to all the books they’ve bought as has happened with Amazon in the recent past.

If this is a major concern and you don’t know how or don’t want to break the DRM on the books you buy, the Nook is a safer choice.

Winner: Nook GlowLight

Public Library Lending

Checking out an ebook from your local library isn’t a smooth or easy experience no matter what e-reader you have. Once you get everything set up on the library side you don’t want to deal with hassle when checking out books. Amazon made the process much easier for Kindle owners by making the delivery of library books as simple as it is for buying books. Once you check out a book it wirelessly transfers to your Kindle or any other device connected to your account.

With the Nook, you have to manually transfer books via third-party software that requires a setup separate from the one you go through with the library. Once you’ve done it the process isn’t that daunting, but if you’re not tech-savvy it may get confusing. And it’s a pain to have to connect your ebook reader every time you want to transfer a book. Hopefully the process will get easier over time.

Winner: Kindle Paperwhite

Models, Pricing, and Ads

Nook vs Kindle ads

There is only one Nook GlowLight model which costs $120 and is Wi-Fi connectable only.

The Kindle Paperwhite’s base cost is the same for the Wi-Fi model and is $180 for the 3G model. The 3G is free, though it only works for browsing and downloading books, not for accessing the Web or GoodReads.

The base cost for both includes “Special Offers,” i.e. advertisements on the lock screen and in the interface. To remove the ads you have to pay an extra $20. That makes the Wi-Fi model more expensive than the Nook, which has no ads. We still find this system somewhat obnoxious, though there are people who don’t mind the ads and offers since they do get access to good discounts.

Winner: Tie

Winner: Kindle Paperwhite

Last year when the Nook and Kindle went head-to-head, the Nook eeked out a victory thanks to a stronger design, better light, and lack of ads. This year the Amazon Kindle Paperwhite’s improvements gave it a small edge in several rounds, earning it a near perfect sweep. As much as we like the GlowLight and prefer Nook’s ebook format and DRM scheme to Amazon’s, there is no denying that the Kindle is a superior ebook reader both in terms of hardware and software.