Friday, November 22, 2013

Nook Simpletouch vs. Kindle Paperwhite

It's been a while since I talked about my obsession with tablets and e-readers. When we left off I had picked up a Nook HD+, the big screen version, on their fire sale they had during the summer. Since then I have added a Nook Simpletouch with Glowlight and most recently a Kindle Paperwhite. Yes, I did my tablet buying backwards, getting the big fancy tablets first and regressing to e-ink monochrome readers.

When you're first goal in a tablet is to find a decent e-reader, it turns out regression could well be the norm. If your goal is a clean, easy reading experience with very, very long battery life then picking up a dedicated e-reader is actually the smartest thing you can do. I've hardly done anything with my Nook HD+ or my Nexus 7 outside of browse the web and play games; the experience of reading (even on the very nice HD screens of both devices) is still not as comfortable and friendly as it is on the e-ink readers. The key exception is with PDFs; the bigger tablets with more processing power are much better for PDF reading; don't even try it with the dedicated e-readers.

Both the Nook and Kindle e-ink readers are small and designed to fit in a pocket. Both have smooth capacitative screens that don't pick up finger smudges easily (a major problem for the regular tablets) and both of the editions I have include backlighting for night time reading. Despite some fairly vocal and angry reviews on Barnes & Noble's Simpletouch with Glowlight page link about some sort of "pinpoint light" problem that sounds like a design flaw, I have experienced no issues at all. Both retail for around $120 although I got the Nook on sale for $79.

Rather than look at each separately, I'll do a comparison of a bunch of key features:

Size/Handling: Both are small, fit in a pocket, and are comfortable to hold and use. They both weigh less than most books.

Cover Options: The official Nook covers are leather with two plastic clips to hold the reader in. Lightweight but not inspiring confidence that they will hold forever. The Kindle's official cover is expensive ($40) but it feels like it could take a bullet. The Kindle Paperwhite's official cover also more than double's the device's weight since it includes some metal in the design.

The View Screens: The Nook's screen is responsive and easy to use. The glowlight is unobtrusive, adjustable, and easy on the eyes. The Kindle's screen is a bit less responsive, and sometimes likes to ignore me or do something other than I intended, but does look a tiny bit crsiper. It's glowlight is adjustable as well and also unobtrusive and easy on the eyes. Both screens are smudge resistant; you need to work to get a finger print on these babies.

The O/S & UIs: As dedicated readers you can think of each of these devices as a single piece of hardware built around just one app...the storefront and library for each reader. You can throw DRM-free books on to them (although I haven't attempted this with the Kindle yet) and the books immediately add to your library. I find the navigation of the B&N interface a tad easier, although it's storefront is less informative and friendly than Kindle; if you have seen Kindle's app on another device, this will look the same; B&N's interface is (as always) slightly less friendly. So in this case: ease of navigation goes to Nook, but the shopping experience goes to Kindle.

Extra Buttons: One extra feature of the Nook that the Kindle doesn't have are five buttons. You have two page turning buttons on both sides of the screen (just slight ridged areas) as well as the signature Nook button at the bottom. You don't need to use the page turner buttons; they're just there for people who don't like swiping and tapping the screen, I guess.

Storage: Nook Simpletouch with Glowlight lets you pop an SSD card into a slot for additional storage. The Kindle has 2 GB of onboard storage but no expansion option. Nook wins this one hands down.

Durability: I haven't had to test this part thankfully, but here's some observations: The Kindle is heavier, and while I bet it can take a hit it also feels like enough force could be damaging. The Nook is lighter and has more plastic in it, but does feel like it will bounce...and also it's so lightweight it doesn't feel like a normal drop would do much. Hopefully I won't get a first-hand experience on testing this issue, though!

Reading Experience: awesome on both. I have found both are very easy on the eyes and the light options both devices offer makes night reading very easy. Both offer you ways to choose font sizes and customize your reading environment, although the Nook have a few more features in this regard (such as font choices) than the Kindle does.

Price Value: Both devices are similarly priced, although the Nook's been on sale recently for about $40 less so that can be a plus. Both Amazon and B&N have stores with the usual range of over-priced books as well as bargains, but on average I have found that the Amazon store has better prices than B&N, which unfortunately means that I usually buy 2-3 Kindle books for every B&N book. Note, however, that B&N has more DRM-free options; they have more publishers in their store who elect not to participate in DRM and therefore more of my B&N purchases are something I can port to other devices or store safely away without fear that an update will remove them for unknown reasons.

Conclusion: both the Kindle Paperwhite and Nook Simpletouch with Glowlight are damned fine e-ink readers and impossible to live without if you are a biblioholic who also likes to save trees and avoid eye-strain. I hardly ever read real books anymore (that aren't game books), as the experience is just not as good as the customizable experience that these readers offer. For conventional paperback reading these readers are painfully superior.

If you could pick only one I'd probably have to default to the Kindle if you're primary interest is in a robust storefront with good prices. However if you're willing to pay a tad extra for the books on average (and have more DRM-free choices), but want a slightly more customizable and user-friendly interface then the Nook Simpletouch wins by a hair.


  1. Great review!

    Just to add a few things:

    I keep hearing that Amazon's store has better prices, but in using the apps for both I've yet to actually see this in action. I find the prices to be nearly identical on both devices and to date have only found one book on the Amazon store that isn't on the B&N store.

    I have actually dropped my Nook once, and it took the hit like a champ. I currently use a cover for it that is made of the same hardcover linen material you'd find on a hardcover book, and has a customizable window that you can insert your own art into. It's a nice, robust cover and the two clips hold the Nook very securely.

    The Nook also has the advantage of being able to take it to the B&N store and read almost any book available for free, for up to an hour a day. Given that B&N stores have nice cafes, this is, to me, a major advantage of the Nook. Both the Nook and the Kindle stores have free book availability--I'm not 100% sure how it works on the Kindle but I think it has something to do with having Prime. With the Nook, every Friday they have a Free Fridays deal where a book is completely free. You can find the Free Fridays selection here:

    Of course, B&N could do a better job advertising that.

    They used to offer in-store coupons through the Nook storefront but I believe they stopped doing that, which is unfortunate.

    Does the Kindle allow you to annotate books by typing comments inline, and add bookmarks? That's also a really nice feature of the Nook.

    Finally, the buttons come in very useful in situations when you're holding the Nook one-handed and it's difficult to swipe. I have, for example, taken my Nook to lunch with me at work to read while eating, and it's a nice convenience to be able to page forward and backward with the buttons.

    1. The Kindle and Nook both have decent annotation....I hadn't thought about that feature since I don't use it much but I am glad you mentioned it. Also good to hear the Nook can take a fall; it really does feel like it will survive by virtue of its light weight and bouncy-feeling plastic.

      Some of the more egregious examples of price variance I have run into are with game novelisations....specifically with D&D novels. They tend to run about $1-2 cheaper on the Kindle store over B&N, which is pretty much inexplicable to me as to why that is. The key thing I've found though, having access to both, is that I always bounce back and forth to see what's on sale in both stores. I end up getting plenty of deals in both directions. For a lot of books (at least, the sort of books I buy, such as Tim Curran's stuff) I've noticed that they tend to be around a dollar pricier on the Nook store, which makes me wonder if there are additional fees B&N leverages over Kindle. However when it comes to big-name-publisher books, for popular authors like Alistair Reynolds or Charles Stross I have found the pricing is the same in both stores.

      One thing I totally forgot to mention was how amazingly nice the battery life on both devices is. I think I've hard to recharge my Nook only twice since I got it, and the glowlight seems to have very little drag on the battery. Kindle is (so far) shaping up to be about the same.