Barnes & Noble Nook GlowLight 4e review: budget e-reader with buttons

For years, the only practical alternative to Amazon’s Kindle was a Kobo. But after a long absence, Barnes & Noble is back in the game with its new GlowLight 4 eReaders. The company recently released the $119.99 Nook GlowLight 4e, the budget version of the $149.99 Nook Glowlight 4 introduced in December . With its physical page-turning buttons, USB-C support, and 212dpi resolution, this new entry-level model looks like a serious contender.

On paper, it is. After testing the e-reader for about a week, I’m not convinced it’s worth it unless you prefer the physical page turn buttons.

It’s mainly these buttons that set the GlowLight 4e apart from other eReaders in this price range. Like its more expensive sibling, the GlowLight 4e’s buttons are located on the right and left sides of the screen for turning pages. This is a feature usually reserved for more expensive Amazon and Kobo e-readers, and even the $139.99 Kindle Paperwhite doesn’t have it. They make it easy to turn pages quickly without having to swipe the touchscreen, which like many e-reader displays at this price point can be sluggish to respond.

By default, the top buttons move the page forward while the bottom ones move it back, although you can reverse the order. You can also double-click the buttons to move forward or back one chapter or quickly “flip” through pages by pressing and holding the button that advances the pages. Additionally, you can use the buttons to scroll through the list of books sold by Barnes & Noble.

The only problem? These buttons stopped working the second time I turned on the GlowLight 4e. It took two consecutive reboots of the device to get them working again. They haven’t caused any problems since, but I don’t know if this problem will resurface in, say, a month and become a regular occurrence. Barnes & Noble spokesperson Braeden Boyle said this was not an issue the company encountered during its internal testing, however, so it’s possible this is just an issue unique to my device. . Still, it’s not at all reassuring that this happened in the relatively short time I’ve been using the Nook.

The Nook GlowLight 4e comes with physical page turn buttons.

Weighing just six ounces and standing 6.11 inches tall, the slim, rectangular GlowLight 4e is lightweight and easy to slip into a purse. It has a soft-touch finish that’s comfortable to hold while reading, even with one hand. Still, given that this is a more entry-level model, Barnes & Noble understandably swapped out some features for others. For example, unlike the $139.99 Kindle Paperwhite, it’s not waterproof and lacks speakers, a headphone jack, and Bluetooth support. As a result, you won’t be able to listen to audiobooks, which you could even do using the cheaper entry-level Kindle at $89.99.

But, unlike the Kindle and even Kobo’s $119.99 Clara HD, the GlowLight 4e actually has a USB-C port (though you’ll have to provide your own charging brick). These can charge faster than micro USB cables, and Barnes & Noble says a 5-watt charger should top it up in about 2.5 hours. This is an accurate estimate – I was able to charge the device from 50-100% in an hour.

Barnes & Noble claims the GlowLight 4e should work “for weeks.” After a week of testing, reading 20-30 minutes a day with Wi-Fi on and the screen at 50% brightness, the battery level dropped by 60%. So I expect battery life to last nearly two weeks or about six hours on a single charge with Wi-Fi on and the light at about half power. With the Wi-Fi and the light off at times, it can last a few more days of use – or about three weeks in total – which isn’t terrible. Still, considering that for $20 more you can get a Paperwhite that lasts for months, I was hoping for longer battery life.

The Nook GlowLight 4e supports USB-C which is definitely a plus.

You can adjust text size and change fonts.

At 221 dpi, the GlowLight 4e’s E Ink display is superior to Amazon’s Kindle, which offers a disappointing 167 ppi resolution but isn’t as sharp as the Kobo Clara HD’s 300 ppi display. If crisp text matters more to you than physical page turn buttons, this could be a problem. It wasn’t a dealbreaker for me, though. The text is always pleasant to read and I could easily adjust the size and font of the text to make it easier to read if needed. Plus, as you might guess from the name, the GlowLight 4e comes with an adjustable backlight, which makes text much easier to see, especially at night. However, the light lacks a color temperature adjustment that makes it easier to read after the sun goes down, which Kobo’s Clara HD and the Kindle Paperwhite offer. Otherwise, reading more than 30 minutes before bed tires my eyes, especially because I don’t have good eyesight.

Plus, while the GlowLight 4e’s semi-matte screen looks crisp and clear in direct sunlight, it doesn’t remove glare, as Barnes & Noble promises, but simply reduces it. Under direct sunlight, I also noticed a slight reduction in contrast and sharpness levels. The screen is also supposed to be scratch and fingerprint resistant. Luckily so far, the GlowLight 4e lives up to its potential in this regard.

Finding something to read can take a bit of time.

In fact, using the screen to navigate the interface takes patience. The touchscreen was slow to respond, making the process of setting up, finding a book, and adjusting settings a hassle. Things get nicer once you leave the main menu to read, though. Save to adjust settings like text size, you don’t need to use the touchscreen while reading since you can rely on the buttons to turn pages very quickly. Additionally, the GlowLight 4e does not contain any advertising, which you have to pay extra to remove when you purchase a Kindle.

Unlike Amazon’s Kindle but like Kobo’s e-readers, the Nook supports ePub format so you can read books obtained outside of its bookstore. I was happy to find that it’s relatively easy to quickly load ePub files into it. Within 10 seconds, I was able to connect the Nook to my MacBook Air using the USB-C cable and drag and drop an ePub file into the eReader. You can do the same on a Kindle, but it’s a long and complicated process involving the Caliber app – at least for now. There are rumors that the Kindle’s “Send to Kindle” feature will soon be able to easily convert ePub files to a format that Kindles can read, which could level the playing field here.

You can also borrow eBooks from the library, but the process might be quicker and easier. It took a few minutes to borrow a book and transfer it using Adobe Digital Editions and a USB-C cable. Amazon, on the other hand, has partnered with library programs like Overdrive so you can borrow a book wirelessly. Meanwhile, Overdrive’s library is conveniently integrated directly into Kobo’s eReaders.

The Nook GlowLight 4e home screen.

The back of the Nook GlowLight 4e.

For an entry-level eReader, the Nook GlowLight 4e offers a good basic reading experience overall. However, my main complaint is the price. With the Nook GlowLight 4e, Barnes & Noble is trying to offer a budget alternative to e-readers that offer page-turning buttons, which tend to be the most expensive. The company understandably cut a few corners for this to happen, but when the product’s distinctive feature temporarily stops working after just a day of use, it may have cut too much. Plus, some features are too essential to the daily reading experience to trade away when you’re paying $119.99. Kobo’s Ad-Free Clara HD costs the same amount, but you can read it at night without straining your eyes thanks to the adjustable color temperature settings. Battery life of a few weeks is good and comparable to Kobo’s Clara HD, but the new Kindle Paperwhite will last you months for just $20 more.

Ultimately, if you don’t want to be tied down to Amazon and don’t need physical buttons, Kobo’s eReaders are still the best alternative. But, if you don’t care who makes your eReader (and don’t primarily buy Barnes & Noble books), it’s worth spending the extra $20 on the Kindle Paperwhite – or at least the wait. let it be on sale. With the exception of an ad-free experience, you’ll get most of the benefits of Kobo’s Clara HD, but with water resistance, extra storage, incredible battery life, fast performance, a headphone jack, and access to frequently discounted ebooks from Amazon – and the list goes on. Again, there are simply no physical buttons. But, for me at least, they’re not really worth it.

Photography by Sheena Vasani / The Verge

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