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Summary:

With the releases of the Kindle Paperwhite and Kobo Glo today, we saw an evolution in e-readers. The devices don’t have more tablet-like features, but they should still provide much better reading experiences than older models.

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For all of the good things about e-readers — their portability, capacity and convenience — they seem a bit old-fashioned. That isn’t just because they are single-function devices (after all, books are, too) but because the grayish tinge on e-ink screens looks outdated. Today, though, with the announcements of the front-lit Kindle Paperwhite and Kobo Glo, e-readers took a big step forward and became more appealing for avid readers.

To be sure, Barnes & Noble was first to launch a front-lit e-reader, the $139 Nook Touch with GlowLight, and until today it’s been the only front-lit e-reader on the market. Unfortunately, Barnes & Noble experienced “production scaling issues” that prevented it from fulfilling GlowLight orders for a few months. The Nook with GlowLight is back in stock now, but as of today it doesn’t matter since the Kindle Paperwhite and Kobo Glo have better displays.

Nook with GlowLight has a regular e-ink screen. When you hold it (without its light turned on) next to a Nook without a GlowLight, their screens look the same — grayish. Compare the Kindle Paperwhite to an earlier generation Kindle, though, and their screens don’t look the same. Amazon says the Paperwhite contains 62 percent more pixels and 25 percent increased contrast, and you can see that just by looking at it — even when the light isn’t on. (Update: Some commenters, using other photos online, say the Kindle Paperwhite does not have a brighter screen when the light is turned off. Holding my Kindle Touch up to the Paperwhite at the event, I could see a difference in resolution but should have been more hesitant to claim anything about the brightness of the screen with the light turned off. When we get a Paperwhite for review, I’ll have more pictures for you.) In other words, we’re not just getting a light here, we’re getting an improved display overall. The Kobo Glo has an XGA e-ink screen, which also means better resolution and contrast.

The biggest difference between the Kindle Paperwhite and the front-lit devices from Barnes & Noble and Kobo, though, is battery life. Jeff Bezos said during Thursday’s press conference that Amazon expects people to leave the light on all the time, even in bright rooms. While Barnes & Noble stressed the Nook with GlowLight’s use in bed, in a dark room, as your partner sleeps next to you, Bezos says Amazon “figured out early” that people want the light on by default. We’re used to staring at well-lit computer and tablet screens, after all. So the Kindle Paperwhite’s battery life is 8 weeks with the light on (based on half an hour of reading a day). Meanwhile, Nook with GlowLight’s battery life is a month with the light on (based on half an hour of reading a day) and two months with it off. Kobo’s is worse: A month with the light off, “up to 55 hours of continuous use” with the light on.

Finally, assuming that you’re okay with ads, Amazon beats the competition on price as well as other features. The Kindle Paperwhite WiFi is $119 with special offers, $139 without, and the Kindle Paperwhite 3G is $179 with Special Offers and $199 without. (Yes, $199 is a lot to pay for an e-reader. It’s as much as the newly announced 7-inch, 16 GB Kindle Fire HD.) Nook and Kobo don’t have ads, but the Kobo Glo is $129.99 and Nook with GlowLight is $139.

Overall, we saw today that e-readers can continue to improve even without adding more tablet-like features. The Kindle Paperwhite and Kobo Glo are still single-function devices (Kindle’s “experimental browser” aside), but they’re substantially better than what was on the market before. That suggests we shouldn’t rule e-readers out, or assume that tablets are going to subsume them.

  1. Sounds like Kobo Glo is better battery life. 55 hours continuous is way better than 8 weeks at half an hour a day = 28 hours of on time. All devices turn off the light during sleep mode just as your phone and tablet do.

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    1. Thanks Steve, see my comment to Jeff below — I’ll ask Kobo for more context, since they’ve said its max battery life with the light OFF is a month.

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      1. Just pay attention… It says “UO TO 55 hours, it means turn on the light end do nothing else for 55 hours…. Turning oages half an hour per day will drain battery to 2 weeks authonomy…

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  2. does the ‘experimental browser’ work on 3G?

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  3. Laura, before saying that the kobo has worse battery life why not do some math?

    0.5 hours per day * 7 days in a week * 8 weeks = 28 hours.

    55 hours > 28 hours

    Seems like the kobo has the best battery life out of all three, if manufacturer statements are to be believed at least.

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    1. This is how I figured it: Since Kobo states that the Glo’s maximum battery life is a month with the light off, we know that the battery life with the light on has to be less than that. But you’re right that the 55 hours thing needs some more context, so let me check with them.

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  4. With a number of Tablets in the market with multi-features, the e-book reader just might not click.

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    1. An e-reader is a different device to a tablet. Tablets have back-lights, are bulkier, heavier, slower to open up books (because you can have to choose the reader app first), etc. Why not say – don’t need a tablet, a smartphone can do everything – they’re all different devices.

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  5. The Bezos quote that readers will prefer the lighting at all times strikes me as over-confident. I own a Kindle and an iPad, and read on the Kindle or paper-back books often, because I like to switch off from the glare of screens of my working life.

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    1. Thanks for the comment, Toby. The Kindle screen is designed to be no glare — it won’t be like an iPad screen — but we’ll have to see what it’s like in practice. I look forward to reviewing one soon.

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  6. They keep trying to emulate paper. Why not just use paper and be done with it? I still can’t quite accept the idea that before I can read I have to shell out over $100 for a device, and the price of ebooks has crept up very close to the cost of a regular paper book so what’s the advantage (that’s aimed mostly at home readers not travelers).

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    1. You are right on the money! I thought digital would reduce ebook prices, but no — all we get under $5 is fourth-grade writing. Books do involve a lot of inconvenience, but I think they’re worth it.

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    2. Pine Mountain Walker Tuesday, September 25, 2012

      For various reasons, I enjoy reading more with an eReader. Small. Easy to turn pages. Nothing heavy to haul around or store on shelves. Underlining that can be erased easier. Also, getting a new book is easier and faster than ordering it off Amazon.
      HOWEVER, I too figured digital would save more money. Many paper books are sold for pennies after they’ve been out long enough too. This won’t happen with eBooks.
      In the end, though, I read more on my eReader than I did with paper books…

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  7. “So the Kindle Paperwhite’s battery life is 8 weeks with the light on (based on half an hour of reading a day). Meanwhile, Nook with GlowLight’s battery life is a month with the light on (based on half an hour of reading a day) and two months with it off.”
    — Leaving the math aside, let’s just examine the parameters of the inference. A half-hour of reading per day? What data is this based on? National time surveys (or whatever they’re called)? There has to be data available about the average daily reading time of reader device users (limited to users, not owners of devices).

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    1. We all know the parameter — shameless selfish interests.

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  8. As an over 50 type, I’ve been real impressed with the wifi only kindle. Big readable fonts, small enough to fit in a large shirt pocket. But I wish *someone* could convince Amazon to fix an annoying bug in their “experimental browser”.

    The browser is actually very useful for html todolists with checkboxes. As the browser caches the webpages, you shouldn’t need wifi access to read a cached page, so you should be able to start your day with all sorts of lists – shopping, todo, etc.

    Therein lies the bug. The experimental browser won’t launch without a wifi connection, even though it just loads the local version of the page until you hit “reload”. As a result, I can only load one checkbox todolist into the kindle, and have to leave that as the active page when I’m outside of wifi range.

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    1. Thanks for the comment, Jon. Good to hear about the tip for the experimental browser; I had not known that was a feature.

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  9. No, wait, many pictures online are showing that comparing the Kindle Paperwhite (with lights off) with the old Kindle they do look the same in terms of contrast and background color. The difference is only for the resolution.

    Just look at the galleries on Engadget and The Verge, and you can clearly see it.

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  10. Whether it cost 200$ or 179$ to get a Kindle Paperwhite with FREE 3G, it’s right!. You’d be able to get books anywhere at anytime. This is the difference between Kindle Paperwhite 3G – $200 and the new Kindle Fire HD – $200.

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