Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Nook GlowLight reviews and the Contrast question. Microsoft invests in new Nook books subsidiary.

When I've been quiet for awhile, some will brace themselves for another wordy piece on the way.

Oldtimers to this blog may remember that I did a few blog articles about the lack of sufficient contrast in the Kindle 2 screen display for many, and although my own Kindle 2 was okay, the Kindle 1 and the Kindle 3 were quite superior to it in darkness of font and contrast perceived.  At one point, I talked about Kindle 2 screen contrast in connection with a Wired.com article, so I'm sensitive to a relative lack of contrast and had a problem with the original Nook Touch for that reason although I had bought the NookColor on sight and enjoyed that mode.

All reviews on the new GlowLight are very positive.  More than a few mention, though, that some will see less contrast in the screen display relative to the older Nook Touch and the current Kindle.  But you never need to add a light attachment and many have been looking for that feature with E-Ink.

(I use the Beam N Read 3-Led light, as that works well with everything and not just e-readers.)

A fairly detailed review posted by Gotta Be Mobile's K. T. Bradford include many photos plus a video also
The positives presented include:
  Lights up screen evenly, doesn't drain battery too much, responsive touchscreen,
  speedy performance
The negatives include:
  eInk display contrast not as good as original Nook, doesn’t support documents other than PDF.

  [Note that the Kindle supports WORD docs, HTML, txt, Mobi, and Prc, as well.]
  Bradford writes:
' If you place them side by side, you can tell that the GlowLight version is a shade or two lighter.  Same with the Kindle Touch.  Even without the comparison, I noticed that the new Nook’s text isn’t as dark as I’m used to.  The lighter contrast isn’t as noticeable with the GlowLight on.

 It looks like Barnes and Noble made a choice to sacrifice the level of contrast in order for the best performance with GlowLight.  They also claim that the anti-glare screen protector is a best-selling accessory, so many Nook users already experience this.  The resulting quality isn’t a dealbreaker, but will be a consideration for buyers.
. . .
 It comes down to which is more important: the darkest text or the lighted screen?  If the latter is a bigger deal, then the Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight is for you. '

Some reviewers consider the Nook GlowLight the best e-reader, for the one feature, the built-in front lighting, as well as its being easy to hold.

  I've noticed that those who do this omit from the article the many other features that have become important to Kindle Touch owners such as audio, music, a very decent web browser, annotations kept for for each book on the owner's personal Amazon web page, very effective sync'g of reading between devices, and the ability to send Word Doc, Text, Mobi, Prc books or documents AND web pages direct to the Kindle for reading offline, while none of the above is doable with the Nook.  With the Nook, attempted sync'g between devices is notably weaker, per reviews.

  So, the oddly one-feature reviews concentrate only on the Nook light, although a few also mention the Nook never having ads (even though the Nook home page has 'recommended for you' books (which I personally consider ads and I often don't want to see those on my personal e-reader home screen).

  I haven't included a couple of those when they ignore (for the person reading) other important features in favor of just one feature while not informing readers of differences.

  I also saw that a CNN reviewer compared the current Nook to his Kindle 2 (from 2009!, from fully 3 years ago, and wished the old Kindle 2 were a Touch device ! and then said the Nook is definitely better than that.  That stood out.

TIME Techland's Harry McCracken at least mentions that Kindle has other features even if he minimizes them and he finds the Nook GlowLight the most useful for him.

  In their comments area, Adam Ritchie commenting via his Twitter ID, writes:
'just purchased a nook with glowlight, and am really hoping they do a firmware update that addresses the loss of text contrast.  it’s substantial.  it doesn’t have that “ink on a page” look you had with the basic nook, that made you forget you weren’t reading a real book.  i asked @NOOK_Care about this a few days ago and didn’t get a response. '

MacWorld/PCWorld's Melissa Perenson loves the new Nook, and it's definitely 'the one' she recommends alhough she doesn't compare features at all otherwise.  Many do just want an e-reader to read a book and don't want to have to deal with a night light, especially one that annoys a bed partner.  Features like audio (for podcasts or audiobooks or music) don't matter to many nor does fairly easy web access to news and email.

  Even then, Perenson does mention the following also:
' One other nitpick: The contrast is not as good on the GlowLight version as on the plain Nook Simple Touch.  This problem appears to result from the antiglare protector on the GlowLight model; the background of the display is a darker gray than on the plain Nook, and that in turn causes black text on the GlowLight version to lack the same omph as on the ordinary Nook.

  I hold out hope that the contrast might be adjustable via a future firmware update.'

Digital Trends's Jeffrey Van Camp roots for the Nook ("Keep it up, B&N") while going for balance in his review although, like many, he believes the B&N marketing which claims that access to the scanned Google Books makes B&N richer in number of books, but the latter is available in multiple ways for Kindle too as are now, literally, millions of other free books.

  He points out that both e-readers have their advantages and includes this about the contrast concern that some have:
' There are a few tiny downsides to having the light. The tablet appears to have ever so slightly less contrast and E Ink consistency than the last Nook, though only geeks like us are likely to notice.  However, a new anti-glare screen should help its readability ever so slightly outdoors.'

The Verge's David Pierce also really likes the new Nook and writes what commenters say is one of the more thorough reviews they've seen, with one commenter saying, "Reviews on the Verge are amazing.  Love the quality and detail of video reviews."

  So check out the video review there as well as the written one.  His 'bottom line' is that the GlowLight is "incredibly comfortable to hold and use, even in one hand, and even after hours of reading my arm didn't get tired."

  He also mentions, that the glowlight is "a wonderful addition to the device" and prefers the Nook's hardware to the Kindle's.

  On the contrast issue (which is not an issue for most who much prefer the convenience of an always-readable e-Ink reader), he has this to say:
' The GlowLight Nook has a screen protector on top of the display, though, which makes text appear slightly softer and lower-contrast than on last year's model.  I didn't notice until I held the GlowLight Nook next to last year's Nook and a Kindle, and even though all three use the same display technology the GlowLight Nook's text didn't look quite as sharp.  It's a fine screen, but it's nothing remarkable anymore, and I'm starting to wish for a slightly higher-res display that renders text a little more sharply.

  I wouldn't describe the light as uniform, though.  It's really bright at the top, right next to the LEDs, then there's a dark stripe right below.  It evens out considerably by the time it's illuminating any text, but it's still inconsistent enough to make certain lines of text look slighty darker or lighter than others.  None of it really impedes the reading experience, but it's not as nice-looking as a cool, even glow would be.

  Still, all things considered, the light works really well.  Rather than a backlit screen that seems to glare out at you, the Nook's screen really does glow a bluish white, which is both easier on your eyes and just generally a nice effect.  The light's intensity is customizable, and will go from just-barely-on to blind-you-immediately levels of brightness.  Reading in bed, I was able to use the Nook with the light only slightly above the minimum level, and still read comfortably. '

He also does point out out something which isn't mentioned by the other writers who are reviewing primarily one feature rather than looking at the feature-set of each -- and that's the ability of the Kindle to work with personal documents and information from websites:
' The really frustrating omission, though, was something I didn't even consider until I started using the GlowLight Nook and not my Kindle.  My Kindle has a dedicated email address, and services like Instapaper and Readability make it easy to send an article (or your whole queue) to your Kindle for reading.

  It's also easy to send PDFs, ebooks from other sources, and just about any other document you can think of.  You can sideload content onto your Nook, too, but it's a much harder and kludgier process involving a lot of ePub files and card readers.  My Kindle is basically my Instapaper reader, and the Nook's not nearly as good a device for that kind of use.'
  His wrap up:
"The Kindle does better with outside content and syncing, but if you're buying an ebook reader to replace your huge paperback collection, the Nook does a great job.  The Nook Simple Touch plus a good, useful light is a pretty great combination — but we've heard Amazon's working on something similar, if Bezos and company already have their hooks into your collection."

My own take:
One thing The Verge's Pierce didn't mention was that the Kindle, with WiFi AND a web browser, can directly download non-Amazon books - and again, we're talking more than a 2.5 million available.  Also, the refresh only every 6 page turns has been a Kindle feature also, for awhile.

Amazon tends to be behind B&N Nook when it comes to hardware features, but its effective work on the many complex and very useful software features and special server-assisted connectivity of these e-readers is what has kept Kindlers enthusiastic about their e-reader, including trading info with other owners on their more unique or creative uses of the Kindle.

And, as you've seen, I've had one particular bias, and that's the relative clarity of e-Ink screens.  If there's a trade-off with clarity as has been expressed even by the enthused quoted above who are hopeful, in the reviews, for a future fix for less sharpness of display, I'm still more likely, as I said on April 8 about the probably-coming Kindle 'lit' screen, to continue to use my Beam N Read light, which I just wear around my neck at night for convenience.  It's also helped me when out at night, during outside walks, where light isn't great.

For those still wondering about differences in connection with other features
I list the long-time differences between Nook and Kindle touch e-readers.

  Since that last features-comparison in late March, Amazon has released Kindle Touch software update v 5.1 with new features that:
  • allow web pages to be read on the Kindle with no website Ads or side-columns, showing instead just the article in readable fonts and with working hyperlinks
  • provide language translation of words in a book or a personal doc
  • added support for reading books or personal docs in landscape mode
      (especially good for PDFs on a small device)
and these new capabilities are gravy.

 Reviews don't mention (because almost all reviewers don't know) that
  • Amazon Kindle customers have 5 free gigs for their personal docs (the space is for NON-Amazon media not rights-protected)
  • have sync'g, between various devices, of even one's personal docs, and
  • are provided another 5 free gigs for other non-Amazon data files.
  However, if you don't care about the other features mentioned and just want to read e-books and read them comfortably at night without having to worry about getting a light, you'll definitely want to look at the Nook GlowLight.  Many have delayed getting an e-reader at all until there was some kind of built-in lighting that would work with an E-Ink device, and the new Nook has it.

  If the other features attract, then you can weigh the differences and decide.

Microsoft invests in new Nook subsdiary and doubles B&N stock as a result.
Microsoft just invested in B&N's new Nook digital book subsidiary (not named yet), to the tune of $300 million and will own 17.6 percent of the subsidiary, valued currently at $1.7 billion, says Venture Beat's Devindra Hardawar.  This subsidiary includes the company's college book business.  Also, Microsoft and B&N resolved an ongoing patent dispute between them.

  It's also interesting that while B&N stocks just about doubled, the new Nook subsidiary is valued "significantly higher than B&N itself"
  One focus will be the B&N's "Nook Study software to deliver digital education goods — which could potentially remove the need for expensive textbooks."

  As Phil Wahba, REUTERS put it (from the Toronto Star),
"Some on Wall Street see the Nook as a fast-growing technology asset trapped within a slower retail stock. They have theorized that Barnes & Noble would spin off the Nook business to give it a chance to trade at a higher valuation.

  The company did not say on Monday if it would take the new company public...
  Microsoft and Barnes & Noble will introduce an application for the Nook on Windows 8, the upcoming version of Microsoft's operating system."

Current Kindle Models for reference, plus free-ebook search links
Kindle Fire  7" tablet - $199
Kindle NoTouch ("Kindle") - $79/$109
Kindle Touch, WiFi
- $99/$139
Kindle Touch, 3G/WiFi - $149/$189
Kindle Keybd 3G - $189, Free, slow web
Kindle DX - $379, Free, slow web
Kindle Basic, NoTouch - £89
Kindle Touch WiFi, UK - £109
Kindle Touch 3G/WiFi, UK - £169
Kindle Keyboard 3G, UK - £149
  Keybd: w/ Free, slow 3G WEB
OTHER International
Kindle NoTouch Basic - $109
Kindle Touch WiFi - $139
Kindle Touch 3G/WiFi - $189
Kindle Keybd 3G - $189
  Keybd: w/ Free, slow 3G WEB

Check often: Temporarily-free recently published Kindle books
  Guide to finding Free Kindle books and Sources.  Top 100 free bestsellers.  Liked-books under $1
UK-Only: recently published free books, bestsellers, or £5 Max ones
    Also, UK customers should see the UK store's Top 100 free bestsellers.

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  1. Maybe it is just me, but a lighted screen that reduces contrast does not seem much of a 'win.' $40 seems a lot to pay for this feature, and apparently with no software enhancements (apart from a way to adjust the intensity of the light).

    The B&N/Microsoft partnership is interesting, but I have yet to see a good explanation for it (in particular what does MSFT get out of it?). But it seems that it has pretty much pushed the DoJ/agency stuff off the front page, and the Amazon bashing with it.

  2. Tom,
    For some people, a lighted e-Ink screen is everything, including in dim lighting in daylight. So, I think there'll be a good audience for it although I see people saying they're thinking twice about upgrading from earlier Nooks for the money involved, where they are no other changes, as you say.

    I don't think B&N has the web server or staff resources to provide the features that Amazon does, requiring strong networked support of many devices. Takes a lot to keep all those features working well. And then there's the customer-support thing.

    So, they'll concentrate on the hardware, and until Amazon releases what they have, they've chosen a good feature, I think.

    As I said, even the Kindle version said to be coming wasn't high on my own list, as screen contrast has been important to me for a long time. Some reviewers said they didn't notice until putting it next to other screens.

    Microsoft? They get into the e-book business, finally? And into the game at all, where Apple, Amazon, and Google rule right now, with Kobo and Sony having their own niche areas.

  3. You may have seen this:

    1. Nate references Gizmodo's Kyle Wagner, whose apology for the breakage at 6" from a remote-control drop is sort of embarrassing to read. But it makes sense. His "review" of it was the most uninformative I saw. He merely said it was "the best" e-reader and gave no reason except for the light and that the Nook already was "the best." He's being hard on himself now for having allowed himself to do something that would harm it.

      What he's saying now is that it's worth it and that you should treat it as precious glass :-)

      Actually, is a remote control that light? It's got edges and that's not gorilla glass. An iPad might also break. Samsung and Kindle Fire both use gorilla glass and it makes a big difference. I've dropped my Kindle Fire often, on its face, on a hard floor, and not a scratch, even though it's heavier. My e-Ink Kindles have had only very minor drops and they're light, but never a problem. I've not dropped things -on- them though.

  4. I received the Nook Touch yesterday and was able to compare side by side with the previous version. The difference in contrast is just bad enough to become quite upset about it. Especially in slightly dim lightning it becomes a real difference. The previous version has a paper-like crispness whereas the GlowLight version is just not as paper-like. It's a small difference but somehow goes over a contrast threshold that makes it annoying and noticeable. Still considering to return and suddenly hoping (and I am a Nook die hard) that Amazon updates their Touch version and does a better job. I may go for that model if that happens... Not a smart move, B&N...!

    1. Anonymous, an interesting comment. I'd think that in slightly dim lighting, the light would be the difference that would help. Re the Kindle Touch, I think an added layer will always detract from the basic layer's perceived contrast and that's a problem for all these companies. You're looking through a layer. Maybe keep the Nook Glowlight for bedtime reading and use the previous version for daytime reading?

    2. Indirect light is where it seems to make a difference -- the type of lighting that does not yet require a light. On the second day I am starting to get used to it. I am still a bit annoyed that the core function of the screen has been compromised a bit -- to read in daylight or indirect light (night-time reading is a smaller portion of my reading activity). In the mean time I sent B&N a complaint though their customer service and they seem to be taking this serious; let's see what comes out of this.

    3. Anonymous, I used to visit B&N forums a lot as a NookColor owner. Haven't checked recently to see what the reactions are like to GlowLight. I know that owners of earlier Nook E-Ink readers were more fussy about contrast when the Nook Touch came out than the online gadget news sites were. Good luck on it. In just two days, you've started to get used to it. So it'll probably be okay.

    4. After a 3 week vacation trip to Europe and heavy daily use at home I found that the glowlight wins from the low contrast. It's still a bit annoying, but as long as I don't look at the previous Nook (I gave it to my mother...) it's OK. I'd still buy an upgrade if they would fix it...

    5. Anonymous, thanks for the feedback from substantial experience with it. Much appreciated.


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