After taking a beating with its Nook tablets, Barnes & Noble smartly retreated and stopped making its own hardware, opting instead to sell Samsung tablets with a custom Nook interface, plus full access to the Google Play Store.
Meanwhile, it kept selling its dedicated Nook GlowLight e-readers without updating them for two years. Badly in need of a refresh, it’s finally here,. The all-new waterproof Nook GlowLight Plus is now available for $130 with no ads.
Designed in-house by the bookseller, it retains the white front bezel of its predecessor, but it’s a sleeker looking unit. It features a 300 dots-per-inch E Ink display with enhanced contrast and twice as many pixels as the Nook GlowLight (text and images do pop a little more); Barnes & Noble says it’s on par with the Amazon Kindle Paperwhite’s screen.
Like Amazon, Barnes & Noble has moved from an infrared-based touchscreen to a more responsive capacitive touchscreen (Amazon’s entry-level Kindle still uses infrared but both the Paperwhite andVoyage have more advanced touchscreens.) It’s also improved the built-in light so it splays across the screen with more uniformity and is brighter at its highest setting.
The back of the unit is made out of aluminum, not plastic, which gives the e-reader a more premium feel. However, the GlowLight Plus weighs slightly more than the GlowLight — 6.9 versus 6.2 ounces.
I have a couple of small design gripes. First, the outside of the bezel (the aluminum part) has a little bit of an edge to it. I missed the grippy, soft-to-the-touch finish of the Nook GlowLight. And like the iPhone, the new Nook’s aluminum chassis is so smooth it’s a little slippery, although the border around the display is nicely textured (you’re supposed to hold the device with your thumb on the border, but not everybody likes to hold their e-reader that way).
Putting the GlowLight Plus in a case is probably a good idea — Barnes & Noble has a new line of them. I tried out a straightforward navy blue case; it didn’t add much weight and I felt comfortable holding the Nook in hand, though I did still catch a little bit of the edge of the chassis that I was talking about.
The Kindle Paperwhite has no physical buttons on the device beyond an on/off button. The Nook’s pretty minimalist too, and like the earlier GlowLight, has no physical page-turn buttons, which some people like but others consider superfluous (the Kindle Voyage has touch-sensitive page-turn buttons on the bezel).
The Nook retains its “n” shaped home button at the bottom of the e-reader, but it’s now become a touch-sensitive button rather than a mechanical button you press down. It’s worth noting that on the earlier GlowLight you could hold the button down to turn on the light — or turn it off if it was already on. This “n” button appears to be strictly a home button (you control the light by touching the light icon at the top of the screen and adjust the light’s level with a slider).
Along with the new hardware, Barnes & Noble has streamlined the Nook’s software and, as a result, the new e-reader does feel zippier, with the capacitive touch also helping to improve its responsiveness. Its iOS and Android apps have been updated too.
From a hardware standpoint, the one competitive advantage the new Nook has over the Kindle Paperwhite is that it’s waterproof and dust-proof. Barnes & Noble asked for feedback from its customers and they said they wanted a more durable device that they could use “at the beach, in the bathtub or alongside the pool without worry.” Kobo has a waterproof e-reader, the Aura H2O , but this is the first one to come from Barnes & Noble or Amazon.