Barnes & Noble steps up with one of the very few features that standard E Ink e-readers have lacked for, well, too long. With the Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight, the Simple Touch reader gains an LED light so you can easily read the E Ink screen in dark environments, like a bedroom or airplane, without needing an annoying overhead light. The new model goes on pre-order today, ships in early May, and will cost $139, to the existing Nook Simple Touch's $99.
This isn't the first time that we've seen an integrated light in an e-reader. Sony tried it four years ago, with its Reader PRS-700. But this model's LED lighting, while useful in a pinch, had issues. As I'd noted in my review at the time, even at its brightest setting, the light barely reached the center of the page.
Barnes & Noble's Simple Touch with GlowLight doesn't have that problem. The LED light guide is inside the Nook's bezel, at the top of the 600 by 800 pixel 6-inch display. The lights shine down on the display, creating an evenly lit surface as seen on the demo unit shown off today. The lighting is a little hotter at the top of the screen, but not distractingly so. The Nook's display now has an anti-glare coating, too, which helps mitigate any glare from the light.
Accessing the GlowLight is easy and requires no fumbling in the dark. Just tap and hold the "n" button at the bottom of the screen, and the light comes on; the longer you hold, the brighter it gets. You can also adjust the light directly from an on-screen slider control.
According to Barnes & Noble, the GlowLight can be on for up to one-half hour a day, and it will still only require a battery charge once a month. And if you fall asleep, no problem: The light will time out automatically after five minutes of inactivity.
This new model retains the same dimensions as the original Nook Simple Touch e-reader, which remains in B&N's lineup and currently sits at the number one spot on our Top E-Readers chart. The new GlowLight e-reader adds a decorative gray trim around the outer edge of the front bezel, but that doesn't detract from the readability of the screen. And it actually weighs ever-so-slightly less than before, in spite of the addition of the GlowLight, shaving 15 grams, or 0.03 of a pound, off of the Simple Touch's 0.47 weight.
Barnes & Noble might be first to market with this round of integrated lighting, but I expect its competitors to follow in the company's footsteps soon enough with their own 2012 refreshes. Already, rumors have surfaced about Amazon having an illuminated screen, and it's not like Sony hasn't been down this road before, just at a time when e-readers were more expensive to make and first gaining traction.
Ultimately, e-reader manufacturers need to do something to keep up interest in dedicated e-readers, given the growing challenge from multipurpose tablets. Tablets like Amazon's Kindle Fire, Samsung's Galaxy Tab 2, and even Barnes & Noble's own Nook Tablet all entice shoppers with their brightly lit, color displays. And then there's the seemingly unstoppable Apple iPad and its deep app universe. Meanwhile, dedicated appear to be struggling: Digitimes Research recently reported that it expects global shipments of e-book readers to reach only two million units in the first quarter of 2012, a 78 percent decrease from shipments in the fourth quarter of 2011.