Barnes and Noble has released their first large screen e-reader, in the past the bookseller has only issued 6 inch devices. The Nook Glowlight Plus 2019 edition has a giant 7.8 inch screen, which provides more real estate for reading ebooks, magazines, newspapers and PDF files. How does the new Nook stack up against the competition and is it enough to keep existing readers in the fold and bring back people who fled the Nook ecosystem?
The Nook features a E Ink Carta HD 7.8 inch display with a resolution of 1404×1872 with 300 PPI. It does not have a capacitive touchscreen display, instead it is employing Neonode zForce IR. You will be able to read at night via the front-lit display and it also has a color temperature system to help defuse the bright white light. There is an auto mode for the brightness, but the device does not have an ambient light sensor. Instead, it uses the clock to change the brightness, depending on the time.
There are 19 LED lights on the top of the bezel and project light downwards, evenly across the screen. There are 10 white LED lights and 9 orange ones. The vast majority of e-readers on the market have the LED lights on the bottom of the screen, Nook does things a bit differently. Overall, the lighting system is really polished. I noticed if you just have the normal front-light on, the screen has a bluish hue. If you engage in the color temperature system to the 30% mark, you get a glorious white screen, that is on par with the Kindle Paperwhite 4 and the Kobo Forma.
The new Nook is waterproof with IPx7 certification, which allows the device to be submerged in 3ft. of water up to 30 minutes. On a general level, it will be immune to spills from tea or coffee and can be used in the bathtub. If there are water droplets on the screen, it can still be used with the manual page turn buttons, but the touchscreen tends not to work. If it completely submerged in water, again the touchscreen doesn’t work, but the manual page turn keys do.
Underneath the hood is a Freescale Solo Lite IMX6 1GHZ single core processor, 1 GB of RAM and 8GB of internal storage. When you turn it on the for the first time there is around 6.9GB available, the rest is allocated towards the Android OS. It does not have an SD card, so this will prevent people from loading in a massive collection of content. I think it is important to note that this version of the Nook does not have any restrictions on sideloaded content and the internal drive does not have more than 1 partition, you can basically sideload in as much as you want.
The Glowlight Plus 7.8 has an 3.5mm headphone jack, but it is not for audiobooks. Although B&N does have an audiobook store for Android, they made the call not to include it on an e-reader. Instead it will be used to access the various Podcasts that Barnes and Noble produces. They tend to interview famous authors and literary figures every week or two. During out review, I could not find where the podcasts are located, maybe the system isn’t live yet. If this is the case, it should be solved with a firmware update.
The Nook has two page turn buttons on the left and right side of the screen. There is a very small area between the two buttons. There is a settings option that reverse the buttons, so the top can be page back and the bottom page forward. This will make sense towards people who read manga, although B&N doesn’t really have a large selection. When you are reading an ebook, you can rapidly turn pages forward by holding the top button and rapidly go backwards, by holding down the bottom one.
There is also a N button on the bottom of the Nook, this acts as as button that will always take you back to the homescreen. This is useful if you are deep within the Nook store, or in the settings menu and it doesn’t make sense to hit the software driven back button.
You can connect up to the internet to access the Nook bookstore and also access your content in the cloud by connecting up to your home WIFI via Wi-Fi (802.11 b/g/n). Free WIFI is available in all Barnes & Noble stores and at 30 000 AT&T hotspots in the US.
One of the things I like about the Nook is that the overall design is minimalist. It is pure black, without any weird accents like previous Nook products. The back is made of rubber, so it will not be a fingerprint magnet. I believe this might be the best Nook e-reader ever made, it only costs $199 and provides a ton of value if you are an existing or previous Nook customer.
Barnes and Noble is using Google Android for the OS and this is the way it has been since the very first Nook. They heavily skin it, so there is nothing to really give you an indication that you are using Android, aside from the legal and licensing section in the settings menu. Some of the sections have hyperlinks, but when you click on them, it doesn’t launch an internet browser.
The main home screen shows 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 Nook navigation menu is at very bottom of the screen and are listed as icons, instead of text. This includes Library, Shop, Current Read, Nook Readouts and Search. On the left of the screen is a profile picture that has your Nook account settings. You can establish a credit card to buy digital content and also redeem gift cards. There are also sub-profiles that you can create if there are kids in the family. You can create custom collections that only they can access and the parental controls allow you to deny or enable access for the Store, Nook Kids, Library and Collections. You can also put a passcode for the store, so no unauthorized purchases can be made. This is a nice little feature, although I don’t have kids, if I did, allowing them to purchase books and develop a passion for reading is way better than letting them play with the iPad and rack up thousands in microtransactions.
On the right side is a clock that shows you the current time, a light bulb icon to control the brightness of the screen, WIFI symbol and how much battery life is remaining. There is also a quick link to the settings menu. This is where you customize your reading windows, change what the buttons do, screen timeout settings and more! One of the features I liked was auto hiding all of the samples loaded on the Nook and uploading sideloaded content to the Nook Cloud and being able to delete them from the e-reader.
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 7.8 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 sealized 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.
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 varius setting options load quickly. Ebooks and other content also loads up fairly snappy.
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 Plus 7.8 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.
I feel the Nook really lacks with PDF file support. You cannot pinch and zoom, which makes it not ideal for technical documents, replica or anything with small text. There is no option to increase the size of the words or adjust the font size. I recommend if you are going to load in PDF files, make sure they are readable on a larger screen, maybe manga or webtoons are ideal.
Many of the newspapers we tested are not replica editions, but have been formatted for the Nook. I feel that many publications are not taking advantage of the 7.8 inch screen, they have been optimized for 6 inch ones. This creates a bunch of white space, between the article titles and where the text stops, almost the whole bottom of the screen is negative space.
I believe the Nook Glowlight Plus 2019 edition is a worthy upgrade, from any other Nook ever released. The E Ink 300 PPI screen and 7.8 inch display is easy on the eyes and really excels are reading books. The system plays nicely with sideloaded content, but if you are loading in a bunch of files all at once, maybe sure to hit the sync button at the top of your library screen.
The front-light system is designed really well, but the first batch of e-readers from the manufacturing line all suffer from defects. We had 3 small tears on the screen when the light was turned on, we have heard multiple reports that others have dead pixels that are always there. I heard from a contact within the company that the next batch shouldn’t have a problem.
Barnes and Noble really didn’t make enough Nooks to satisfy demand. Each store received on average of 5 e-readers, larger locations that in big cities had around 10. When the Nook went on sale online, it was sold out within 24 hours and one week later, they are still sold out. I think it is very likely the bookseller did not anticipate the demand.
The Nook makes the most sense for people in the US, that can simply drive down to their local bookstore and play with one for awhile, before they buy. If anything goes wrong, it is quite easy to return it for a refund or if it is defective, to swap it out. International users might find buying one is hard to do, but Good e-Reader has them in stock. If you live outside the US, you can use your local credit card to buy ebooks from the online bookstore, right on the device and get reading right away. B&N simply doesn’t ship outside of the US.
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Michael Kozlowski is the Editor in Chief of Good e-Reader. He has been writing about audiobooks and e-readers for the past ten years. His articles have been picked up by major and local news sources and websites such as the CBC, CNET, Engadget, Huffington Post and the New York Times.