Like the original Nook Simple Touch, the designers coated the GlowLight Nook with something called soft-touch paint, which gives it a smooth rubberized feel. That's nice, but the downside to this type of finish is that it does show finger smudges, so you'll regularly have to wipe down the back of the device unless you buy a cover (plenty are available).
As it stands, chances are you'll end up holding it more from one side of the device or the other (depending on whether you're a righty or lefty) and position your index finger around the back of the device in the middle. With the middle of the back indented slightly, you get a little ridge to grip the Nook from the back. Of course, if you want to see how it feels in your hand, all you have to do is walk into a Barnes & Noble store.
GlowLight is the big feature upgrade
As noted, except for the integrated GlowLight, this model offers almost identical specs as the original Nook Simple Touch, which remains on the market and costs $99 ($40 less).
Barnes & Noble reps told me the battery is the same size. What they didn't tell me was what was tweaked to shave off that half ounce and what had changed to improve the performance of the touch screen. All the reps said was that it was a hardware change rather than a software fix, so owners of the original Nook will have to live with the responsiveness they have, which is already quite decent.
In my evaluation, I really didn't notice a significant difference in the performance between the original Nook Simple Touch and the new model. If there is one, it's very subtle (it's not like moving from the first-gen iPad to the third-gen iPad, for example). As for battery life, I used the e-reader with the GlowLight on for three consecutive nights for about 45 minutes each time. I also read a bit during the day. The battery life indicator still appears full, which is probably due to the fact that I kept the Wi-Fi off almost the whole time.
Aside from the GlowLight, one key differentiating point between the Nook and both the $79 2011 Kindle and the $99 Kindle Touch is Barnes & Noble's inclusion of an expansion slot for adding additional memory. However, the Kindle Touch does offer integrated audio, which allows you to listen to MP3 music (and other audio files, including audio books) while you're reading, as well as have books read to you -- or at least those with the text-to-speech feature enabled (publishers decide whether to enable this feature or not).
Otherwise, the Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight is delivering the standard features we expect to see on an e-ink e-book reader: 6-inch Pearl e-ink touch-screen, Wi-Fi, social media sharing features with other Nook users, and a rechargeable battery via the Micro-USB port. Though you're locked into the Barnes & Noble ecosystem (e-books, newspapers, and magazines), the Nook also supports the more open EPUB and PDF formats (including those with Adobe copy-protection). Some e-books (at the publishers' discretion) can also be "lent" to fellow Nook owners for two weeks at a time, and the Nook Simple Touch supports free e-book loaners from local libraries.
Also notable: unlike the $79 Kindle, $99 Kindle Touch, and $149 Kindle Touch 3G, the Nook Simple Touch is ad-free.
We awarded the original Nook Simple Touch an Editors' Choice when it was released because it offered an excellent combination of design, features, and was the best performing touch-screen e-ink reader at the time it was released.
Barnes & Noble has come a long way since it released its first e-ink Nook, which distinguished itself with a strip of color LCD and had its share of bugs at launch.
Today, the overall user experience, from the hardware design to the user interface, improved shopping, long battery life, fast page turns, and supplemental reading features (built-in dictionary, highlighting/note-taking, social media, and plenty of font choices) is really quite good. Reading magazines and newspapers (most require a subscription) also works surprisingly well now on these types of devices, even ones this small and lacking color (no, the photos don't look so hot).
True, the Kindle Touch does have a few features not found in the Nook Simple Touch. As I said, there's no sound here. For many, that's not a big deal. Also, Amazon does offer a broader lending feature for Prime members ($79 a year), with a growing list of titles that can be checked out for a month for free (caveat: you can only check out one book a month and many of these books are self-published titles, though some big-name authors are available). And the Kindle does offer a basic Web browser, as well as Wikipedia and Google lookup from within the text you're reading.
But more and more there isn't a whole lot of difference among e-readers (we also awarded an Editors' Choice to the Kindle Touch), so a key differentiating feature like a built-in GlowLight is a big deal, particularly for folks who've been waiting for just such a feature.
The big question, of course, is whether that integrated light is worth the $40 extra. Cases with integrated lights generally cost more than $40, and while clip-on lights typically cost only around $20, they aren't as elegant a lighting solution. Barnes & Noble is also throwing in the aforementioned AC adapter along with that preinstalled antiglare screen protector that most people won't notice is there.
When it comes to e-reader price points, $10 or $20 can make a big difference, and I could quibble about how the GlowLight Nook should be priced slightly cheaper (ideally it would). That said, if this is a feature you've been waiting for, I have no problem telling you that it's worth paying the extra dough simply because the new Nook is, as Barnes & Noble suggests, "amazing in bed."
That integrated light should also appeal to folks who don't have an e-ink e-reader yet and aren't wed to the Amazon ecosystem. Selling existing Kindle users on the new Nook is a much bigger challenge, but certainly many Kindle users will look upon it with envy.
As one of the engineers behind the GlowLight told me, if nothing else, Barnes & Noble has set the standard for e-ink e-readers going forward. In other words, the next Kindle will almost assuredly have an integrated light, but for the moment anyway, the Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight is the only e-ink e-reader that has it. Props for that.