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Why e-readers evolved a lot today: Kindle Paperwhite and Kobo Glo

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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they are single-function devices (after all, books are, too) but because the grayish tinge on e-ink screens looks outdated.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 (s AMZN) Paperwhite and Kobo Glo, e-readers took a big step forward and became more appealing for avid readers.

To be sure, Barnes & Noble (s bks) 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.

31 Responses to “Why e-readers evolved a lot today: Kindle Paperwhite and Kobo Glo”

  1. I really wonder who cares if the battery last 20 hours or more. Since you hardly have a time when you read 20 hours without an opportunity to charge. Even 2 transatlantic flights would be less than 20 hours of use.
    I personally prefer they make it lighter and thinner and just give me 12 hours of use.

  2. I think the battery mystery will be to do with the Kobo consuming a very low amount of power whilst powered off / in standby. My Kobo touch gradually leaks battery over time – much more so in standby as opposed to off; it will be dead in 1-2 weeks left on standby, but considerably longer if turned off. This means that, whilst the Kobo would last for 55 continuous hours, you can’t equate that to 110 days with half an hours reading.
    I’d be interested to know if Amazon have actually tested the paperwhite in the way that they report the battery life, or if they actually mean that it will last for 8 * 7 * 0.5 = 28 hours continuous.

  3. Cathy Lavelle Ryan

    Did you actually compare – yourself – a previous-model Kindle Touch with the Paperwhite with the light off, in order to make the statement that the Paperwhite is whiter even with the light off? Because a lot of people are concerned that Amazon’s claim of more contrast is based on the light being on. I’m hoping you are right…

  4. I agree with the comments of Steve and Jeff. The battery life issue is not clear. I have a Kindle 3 and I am happy with it; It has a 4 Gigabyte memory: now it’s 2 Gb. It has text-to-speech feature: now it’s no more present. Add the lack of a microSD slot (which Kobo has) which means you depend on Amazon cloud, and the proprietary format, different from the european epub standard. I don’t know if this is a real progress. Moreover, the Kindle Paperwhite is not available in Europe… surely it sill be in the next future, but I think that my next ebook reader will be the Kobo Glo…

  5. The frontlight is one of the brightest —pun intended— idea for an ereader. But they could have done better by making the brightness adjust according to the ambient light. That would have been revolutionary. The e-Ink Pearl also has improved quite a bit since its 1st generation. If only Amazon can translate this to color ePaper. Prime View International (e-ink developers) already has the much improved Triton 2 color epaper display ready for market but Amazon didn’t release a color version of the Kindle PaperWhite.

    Frankly, why would you use an ereader for more than what it’s intended for. Its for viewing and reading books, maps, graphs, pictures, prints, magazines and graphic novels and occasionally surf the web. You put color in it, you don’t watch a movie with it or view video content. You buy a tablet to do that. So I think a Kindle color ePaper display is long overdue. Perhaps call it the Kindle Palette and should have been released together with these new Kindles.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  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.

  9. David Thomas

    “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).

  10. Rick Townley

    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).

    • Ankush Thakur

      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.

    • Pine Mountain Walker

      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…

  11. Toby Lewis

    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.

    • Anthony Webb

      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.

  12. Jeff Graw

    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.

    • 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.

  13. 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.