With apologies to Johannes Gutenberg, e-books and e-book readers are the greatest thing to happen to books since, well, Johannes Gutenberg. No longer are we shackled to carrying around single books, which wear out, are tough to find something specific in, and take up a lot of dust-collecting space on our walls.
But with apologies to the E-Ink technology people, monochrome ereaders such as Amazon's Kindle, Barnes & Noble's Nook, the Kobo, et al, are literally and figuratively dull. E-ink words arrayed across the dingy green-grey e-ink e-book reader background do anything but jump off the screen. Personally, I find the lack of contrast between words and ereader page makes reading a tough slog.
So, I do most of my reading on my iPad, although that bright screen glaring back at me limits my e-book reading time - not exactly easy on the eyes, but far easier to read than an e-ink reader.
Until now. With the addition of a few LED light, Barnes & Noble's Nook Glow, unveiled around six weeks ago, has reinvigorated my monochrome e-book reading joy.
How it works and looks
First of all, I have always thought the Nook was a better ebook reader than the Kindle, even after Kindle 86'ed its superfluous keyboard and went all touchscreen. (This opinion does not mean I think the Barnes & Noble e-book ecosystem or store is better than Amazon's - I am opining on just the hardware itself.)
The idea behind Glow is simple - install some LED lights - it looks to be around eight lighting elements - to lighten up the drab Nook screen. Simply hold the "n" Home button down for two seconds to activate the illumination, hold for two seconds to turn off the light.
Tap the middle of the screen, and one of the bottom pop-up menu items is Glow Light, where you can slide an on-screen slider to adjust the brightness. You also can set the duration for the screen + Glow to stay illuminated without touching the page at 2 minutes, 5 minutes, 15 minutes and 1 hour.
Unlike a tablet with an LCD screen, the Glow light isn't a backlight that harshly shines directly into your eyes. It's more like a soft overhead light that magically illuminates every area of the Nook screen evenly with a more diffused, well, glow. It is the perfect e-book reader compromise, a happy contrast-creating medium between too bright LCD and not-bright-at-all e-ink drab.
How does Glow affect battery life? Technically, it cuts Nook's time between charges in half. But that means you get only one month of average reading (about an hour a day) instead of two. Oh, horrors! I'll have to charge my Nook a whole once a month!
Barnes & Noble is hawking Glow as the perfect reading-in-bed-but-don't-wake-up-your-spouse option. And it works perfectly in this scenario. Even at its brightest setting - which is overkill in complete darkness, it's not nearly as lighthouse beacon bright as a tablet. And since it's a Nook, it's a lot lighter and easier to hold up while lying down.
But I think the book seller has underestimated the benefits of the Glow light.
I've found Glow enhances Nook e-book reading in every lighting condition except outdoor daylight. In fact, I wish it was the default setting rather than me having to go through the rigmarole of waking Nook up, sliding the bottom to unlock it and then hold the "n" to turn on the Glow.
And this doesn't mean I'll turn to Nook for all my future ereading needs. I won't. Nook is great for casual travels - it's easy to stash in a jacket pocket or cargo pants pocket or even a back pocket as long as you don't forget it's there and sit on it accidentally, and easy to whip out and hold in one hand.
But on an iPad, I can see two pages at once so there's less page turning, I can use Wikipedia or Google to further research something I'm reading about or decide to read something else, or take a break from reading altogether and do something/anything else.
Plus, Nook Glow is $139 - another $60 gets you the similarly-sized Amazon Kindle Fire with all its Android and Web browsing extras. That's a tough value proposition to buck.
No, I'll probably continue to do the majority of my e-book reading on my iPad, but I'll be more likely to grab the Nook Glow for both bedtime and bright sunshine reading.