Barnes and Noble recently released a new version of its e-ink ereader NOOK Simple Touch with an internal row of LEDs for nighttime reading.

The official name of the new device is “NOOK Simple Touch™ with GlowLight™”, which is rather like saying “the President of the United States and Protector of their Liberties”. It’s a mouthful. Luckily, the nickname field is wide open. I like “Glow-Si-To“: it sounds like the dance step “do-si-do” and references both “GlowLight” and “Simple Touch”. Nook Glow seems like the most popular nickname, though.

Now let’s discuss the device itself:

The Nook Glow is a modified version of the previous NOOK Simple Touch e-ink ereader (for an explanation of e-ink, check out this post from Ebook Friendly). Normal e-ink ereaders could not be read in the dark.

B&N added a row of LEDs to their Simple Touch e-ink reader to allow for nighttime reading (they’ve also added time to the battery life while cutting down on its weight).

The NOOK with GlowLight isn’t available to the general public yet. To see it in person, I went to my local B&N. To see it in action, I grabbed one of the bags for sale, stuck the Glow-Si-To inside, and poked my camera into the bag.

Glowlight at full brightness

I wouldn’t advise doing this without the assistance of the NOOK salesperson. The bookseller in my local store was very helpful and seemed surprised that B&N hadn’t set up a darkened display to show off the Nook Glow. The main feature is nighttime reading, yet the customer can’t see how it functions in the dark? Come on.

The GlowLight menu is activated by pressing the button on the frame of the screen. You can turn the GlowLight on or off and change the brightness. Simple.

I was honestly impressed by the new GlowLight feature. I have a problem with light-emitting screens: after a while, they give me a headache. The NOOK with GlowLight is different because it’s only a few LEDs lighting up the e-ink text.

The NOOK Glow isn’t like a traditional bright-light screen. It isn’t like a paperback with a book light stuck on top, either. When I first saw the Simple Touch with GlowLight in the dark, it reminded me of the eerie bioluminescence of a deep-sea fish.

On a traditional light-emitting screen, any blackness will fade to gray (or even look white) when the brightness setting is changed. Because of the e-ink in the NOOK, the words retain their pure blackness at any GlowLight setting. It’s just the light which fades. At the brightest setting, the ereader has crisp, clear black text on a screen whose light is mild enough for extended viewing.

NOOK SimpleTouch with GlowLight

At the lowest brightness setting, it just looks like words on paper with an odd blue light at the edge.

Now, the GlowLight isn’t perfect. The light is significantly brighter (and bluer!) along the top edge. The top part also has a small area which is slightly darker compared to the rest of the screen. The bookseller at my store couldn’t say what would happen if the LEDs stopped working: how they could be fixed, if they could be fixed, and what would constitute a “failure” of the device under B&N’s protection plan (one light going dark? two? all of them?).

Let’s talk about price. The regular NOOK Simple Touch is $99. The NOOK Simple Touch with GlowLight is $139. That’s the same price as the Amazon Kindle Touch without the onscreen advertisements. However, the Kindle Touch can play audio through a headset jack. The similar Kobo Touch is $99 without audio. Neither the Amazon nor Kobo models have nighttime reading capability.

The NOOK Simple Touch with GlowLight is a great product. It’s awesome and sexy and I desperately want one. It’s absolutely perfect for my needs: the soft light, the e-ink, the weight of only a few ounces, the accepted formats, the lack of ads, I love it all.

But it’s not going to be the best e-reader for everyone. The GlowLight technology is cool, but I can’t see spending $139 on it without other compelling reasons.

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*Jellyfish photo from ShayneKaye on flickr