Barnes & Noble Outs The $119 Nook GlowLight, We Go Hands-On

For better or worse the holidays are right around the corner, and that can only mean one thing: consumer electronics companies are slaving away on new hardware designs and trying to get those final products onto shelves in time for an annual feeding frenzy.

Barnes & Noble is no different. Well, it’s a little different — when I sat down with Digital Content EVP Doug Carlson earlier today he was eager to paint a picture of a savvy bookseller that’s still aware of the human elements of peddling tomes (digital and otherwise). But it wasn’t long at all before he got down to the business at hand and revealed the $119 Nook GlowLight, a new e-reader the company will start selling today.

The news will come as little surprise to BN fans considering the company tellingly dropped the price of its previous GlowLight model back in August in a bid to clear out its supply channels ahead of today’s announcement.

I got the chance to play with the Nook GlowLight for bit, and — speaking as a Kindle devotee since the early days — it’s a surprisingly compelling little package. The first thing you’ll notice about it is just how light the thing is: at 6.2 ounces, it’s almost like you’re holding nothing at all. My e-reader of choice (and constant literary companion) has been Amazon’s first generation Kindle Paperwhite, and it’s considerably weightier than the device BN managed to put together.

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The other big draw here is the Pearl display, and the fact that the Nook engineering team managed to figure out how to do away with the full screen flashes endemic to e-ink panels. Naturally, BN wouldn’t divulge exactly how it managed to get the job done, but it’s quite a feather in their cap considering Amazon doesn’t seem to have cracked that particular code just yet. It definitely doesn’t hurt that the panel is awfully crisp (it packs 62% more pixels into the same display size as its predecessor) and the lights nestled around the edge of the screen provided even illumination… if not quite as even as the new Paperwhite.

As it turns out, the Nook GlowLight really shines (ugh) when it comes to the little things too. That hefty bezel that runs around that display may turn some off, but my inordinately picky thumbs appreciated the size — there’s just more room for my fingers to rest on the thing, something I can’t say of my Kindle. And the new white chassis BN has run with (in a way BN’s going in the opposite direction that Amazon has with its Kindle designs) provided a bit of visual resting space, almost like it’s extending the margins of a page.

While I’m talking about the chassis, it’s also worth pointing out that the new GlowLight also has a silicone band that protects the edges of the device that feels rather nice. It doesn’t seem to take much effort to pop off that bit of silicon trim off either, it wouldn’t shock me at all if Barnes & Noble sold colorful replacements so users could customize their readers.

And what of that human element? The Nook’s recommendation system features insights from Barnes & Noble team of booksellers to help pump up the value of its results — to hear Carlson tell it, the algorithmic approach that Amazon takes to building a profile for recommendations means it’ll never be able to make the intuitive leaps that lead to readers broadening their horizons.

As always, I’ll refrain from passing judgment on the thing until we get to take the final hardware for a spin, but Barnes & Noble has made plenty of thoughtful choices here. If I wasn’t so invested in Amazon’s vast, vast content ecosystem, I’d definitely consider making the switch — it’s just that promising.