Barnes and Noble has been developing e-readers since 2010, the bookseller has been leveraging their 600 retail stores to drive sales. The company tends to release new hardware every couple of years and in December, 2021, they unveiled the Nook Glowlight 4. This new device has redesigned manual page turn buttons and packs more LED lights into the six-inch reader. The company primarily markets the Nook in the United States, with Kindle and Kobo both being sold through many big box retailers, should you buy the Nook Glowlight 4?
The Barnes and Noble Nook Glowlight 4 features a 6-inch E INK Carta HD display with a resolution of 1072×1404 and 300 PPI. The screen is not flush with the bezel and instead has a sunken screen. There is an all-new screen protector installed on the factory level, which helps protect the plastic e-paper display. This was a good move by B&N because it absorbs light and does not reflect it like glass based screens. When you are reading ebooks, the text looks crisper than the Kobo Sage or Kindle Paperwhite 11th Generation. The overall color scheme is jet black on the front and the sides.
There are series of white and amber LED lights, so you can control the front-lit display and color temperature system. This will be customized with a two slider bars in the settings menu. The front-lit display can only be tuned to automatically turn on, at specific time of day. It does not have an ambient light sensor, instead it relies on the time of day. There are physical page turn buttons on both sides of the screen, and they curl inwards, towards the back. At the bottom of the unit, is the home button, this is denoted by the N. If you press it, you will go back to the home screen, if you hold it for a couple of seconds, the front-lit display will turn on.
Underneath the hood is an Allwinner B300 quadcore 1.5 GHZ CPU processor, 2GB of RAM and 32GB of internal storage. You will be able to charge the reader with a USB-C cable, this is the first time B&N has ever employed a modern port on any of their E INK devices. It has Bluetooth 5.1 and WIFI 802.11 b/g/n to connect to the online bookstore, to purchase and download ebooks. Barnes and Noble has hotspots in all of their bookstores, which you can also connect to. The Nook has the ability to sideload in your own personal collection of digital content. It officially supports EPUB and PDF, you can also buy ebooks from other bookstores in these two formats and load them in via Adobe Digital Editions, since both formats handle digital rights management (DRM.) You can also borrow books from the public library with Overdrive, you would download them from the Overdrive website to your computer and then use Adobe Digital Editions to then sideload them to the Nook. Since this is a dedicated e-reader with no note taking functionality, this helps with battery life. You should get around four weeks of usage, thanks to the 1400 mAh battery.
The Nook does not really break any new ground with the hardware design. The bezels are still big and chunky. The home button still does all of the normal things it has done in the past and the device continues to have manual page turn buttons. There was a time when B&N innovated like crazy, they were the first modern company to use a front-lit display and then a color temperature system, they did it before Amazon and Kobo. When they got into the tablet game, the Nook Color and then Nook HD and HD+ had breathtaking design, that made them stand out from the crowd. I am at least happy that B&N hasn’t forgot about e-readers, the company told me that they will continue to support this model for the next 4-5 years with updates. They also intend on releasing a new model next year, likely refreshing their 7.8-inch model.
Barnes and Noble has always run Google Android as their primary operating system, but they are running a heavily skinned version of it, so many customers would never even know it. One of the benefits of Android, is the hacking and rooting community, that tends to unlock the e-reader and get new features, such as being able to install apps on it. Since this is so new, none exist yet, but there should be a few solutions over time. This model is using Android 8.1, the previous generation Nook Glowlight 3 is using Android 4.4.
The main home screen displays the last 3-4 books you have added to your device, have purchased or sideloaded. Beneath that are recommended ebooks from B&N, based on the content in your library. The button navigation includes a link to your library, shop, the book you are currently reading, Nook Readouts and Search.
Let’s talk about the major navigation elements. The library button will take you to the main screen where all of your content is listed. By default, it shows everything you have ever downloaded. This will include ebooks, magazines, newspapers and PDF files. You can just have it display specific content or establish collections. Collections are important if you have a huge collection. You can make genre-based ones, or books by a particular author. When you make a collection, it will bring you back to the library screen where you can tap on all of the books you want moved to the collection. You can also sort by cover art or list view.
The Store looks really good on the 6 inch screen, nothing is condensed and it is organized properly. There is an image carousel near the top of the screens, which shows cover art based on ebooks the Nook editors are showcasing. Beneath that are a bunch of text-based bars that will take you to dedicated sub-sections. This includes New York Times Best Sellers, Nook Bestsellers, Nook editors’ picks, and others like Romance, Erotica and Autobiographical. When you click on a book to find out more information there are options to purchase, download a sample, or place a pre-order. By default, it lists the book data by the publisher and also has a few tabs that show reviews written by readers, recommended reads based on the book and book details, such as the number of pages.
Barnes and Noble Nook Readouts is a digital news platform, where everyday a series of interviews and book reviews are made available. There is a section in the platform called Serial Reads, which is basically serialized fiction, available to be read for free. Every Friday there are a few ebooks given away for free. The Search feature basically allows you to type in an author’s name, or book title and it either loads it in your library if you own it, or calls up the store listing.
On the top right corner of the Nook is an illumination icon, WIFI and battery life. If you click on it, it will engage in a dropdown menu. Here, you can establish your wireless network and also get a percentage of the battery life remaining. There are 2 slider bars for the front-lit display with white LED lights and another for the color temperature system with amber LED lights. You can just use the white ones, amber ones or do a blend of the two. E-Readers do not emit blue light, from behind the screen like your smartphone or tablet. The lights are positioned alongside the sides of the bezel to project evenly across the screen. The warm light is ideal for reading at night, where you don’t want to disturb your sleeping partner.
The software system overall is polished. Somethings when you hit a software driven key, like the store, it is easy to accidentally hit the library or Nook Readouts, this is because there is not a big space between the UI elements. I also have fat fingers, so this might contribute to it. Navigating between screens or hitting various setting options load quickly.
When it comes to reading ebooks, this device has a number of preloaded fonts to choose from. They are Mundo Sans, Baskerville, Georgia, Ascender Sans, Malabar and Joanna Sans. You can also select Publisher Default, which displays the font selected by the publisher, but not all publishers have a recommend font in their metadata. Line Spacing has three different selections; Single, 1.5 and Double Spacing. The margins also have three options – Narrow, Medium and Wide.
Next to the font adjustment button there is a catchall setting. It lists the table of contents, displays all of the words or paragraphs you have highlighted, view multiple bookmarks or checkout all of the various words you have looked up in the internal dictionary. If you are reading an ebook and highlight a single word, it will list the definition of the word in the bottom of the screen. There is a more button, which launches the dictionary and provides a few pages on definition and how it is used in a sentence.
You can also highlight a word, or a paraph, add a note, which launches the standard Android QWERTY keyboard, which I think is better laid out than Kobo keyboards. You can also share a word or paragraph via social media.
The Nook Glowlight 4 does a really good job when reading ebooks. Page turns are really fast, and you can hold down on the page turn buttons to rapidly turn pages forward or backwards. You can use swipes or taps to turn the pages of a ebook or just hit the manual buttons. The page turn buttons are both on the right and left side, which appeals to right and lefthanded users.
There are only two formats the Nook can read, EPUB and PDF. They also read the DRM versions of these files too. If you want to sideload in your own ebooks, there is only 5GB allocated for this type of content, the rest is partitioned for purchases or downloads from the Nook Bookstore. You can shop at other online retailers, as long as they sell their content in EPUB, which is the most popular book format. All you need to do, is visit the settings menu and enter your Adobe Digital Editions login and password, if you do not have a login and password, you can visit the website to register. You need to download the free software and then you can use this to transfer DRM content to your Nook, you can do the exact same thing with library books from Overdrive.
Barnes and Noble sells manga in EPUB and look really good on the six-inch display, taking up almost the entire screen, with very few boarders. Manga is a huge seller, so they have all of the popular and bestselling stuff, but also fringe material, so you will always discover something new. You get the same options as books, in terms of being able to adjust fonts, and line spacing, but there are a few extra options. You can pinch and zoom if some of the text boxes are too small.
A beautifully built little tiny e-reader. In this day and age 6 inch screens just feel so small, as they’ve been dwarfed by these bigger batter tablet. Nook delivers their reading experience very simplistically. There’s no bells and whistles, and nothing to distract you from getting immersed in your book. The glow light is on point, the contrast is really high, and the physical page turn buttons are a welcomed addition. The Nook Glowlight 4 isn’t going to change the e-reader game, but it is certainly nice to see Barnes & Noble back in action.
Barnes and Noble Nook Glowlight 4$149.99
Michael Kozlowski has written about audiobooks and e-readers for the past twelve years. Newspapers and websites such as the CBC, CNET, Engadget, Huffington Post and the New York Times have picked up his articles. He Lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.