Katherine Boehret

A Little Night Reading With Light-Up Devices

We’ve all been there: The person on one side of the bed is ready to sleep while the person on the other side wants to stay up and read a little longer. The night owl usually wins because the sleepy one is too tired to argue.

I’m the night owl in this scenario. Since my husband wakes up an hour and a half earlier than I do each morning, he always closes his book first, leaving me reading with the light on and feeling guilty. Some people with iPads find they can read in the dark by the glow of their LCD screens. But if you’re like me and you use a more traditional e-reader, like Amazon’s Kindle or Barnes & Noble’s Nook, you need another light source to finish your chapter.

Now, both Amazon and Barnes & Noble offer touchscreen e-readers with lit screens. Amazon’s $119 Kindle Paperwhite started shipping on Monday for $119, and Barnes & Noble’s Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight launched in April for $139, but this week it dropped to $119.


The Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight.

Amazon’s Kindle Paperwhite.

Good news: Both e-readers will give sleepy spouses a chance to snooze. For the past week, I’ve used them to read guilt-free in the dark, finishing chapters of Ruth Reichl’s memoir, “Tender at the Bone.” These e-readers’ lights came in handy in other places, too, like while I stood waiting on dimly lighted subway platforms or in certain spots in my house where the light isn’t ideal for reading. I still think reading with a lamp is easiest on my eyes, but these are the next best thing.

Though each device’s light worked as advertised, I found myself reaching for the Kindle Paperwhite more often because it had a more even-looking light than the Nook with GlowLight. And the Kindle’s light comes from LEDs at the bottom of the screen, while the Nook’s LEDs are at the top where they were more noticeable, given the angle at which I comfortably hold books to read.

Neither of these lights looks flawless: With both, I saw lines on the screen near where their LED lights shone onto the page.

Amazon says its Kindle Paperwhite screen has 25 percent higher contrast than previous Kindles, and text looked crisp and easy to read. Its Wi-Fi version costs $119, and it’s also available with a 3G connection for $179. But for these prices, Amazon Special Offers appear on lock screens every time the Paperwhite is in sleep mode. To buy a device without these ads, you’ll have to pay $20 more. And the Paperwhite’s power adapter is sold separately for $10.

At $119, Barnes & Noble’s Nook with GlowLight costs the same as the Kindle Paperwhite but doesn’t have ads on its screen and ships with a power adapter. It’s only available in a Wi-Fi model, not 3G for people who want an e-reader with an always-on Internet connection.

The lights on these devices work differently. The Kindle Paperwhite’s light comes on as soon as you wake the device from sleep and start using it. The light technically never turns off; it can only be turned down to a low level that looks like it’s off. The Paperwhite’s light-use instructions appear on screen and tell people to use a high setting in brightly lighted rooms and a low setting in dark rooms. This sounds counterintuitive, but an Amazon spokeswoman explained the company believes the most comfortable reading experience is when the light of the display isn’t much brighter than the surroundings.

Sure enough, when I was having trouble sleeping and reached over for the Paperwhite, I read books at light level six (out of 24) because my eyes were adjusted to the dark.


When you wake the Nook with GlowLight from sleep, its light doesn’t go on automatically. But a simple move turns the light on and off: Press and hold the little “n” button below the screen for two seconds. Like the Kindle Paperwhite, an adjustable scale turns the light up or down, though the lower lighting levels of the Nook GlowLight didn’t look as good as the Kindle Paperwhite.

In the hand, the Nook with GlowLight is wider than the Kindle Paperwhite, but the Paperwhite is a bit longer when measured from the top to bottom. The Nook with GlowLight has subtle physical buttons between the screen and the edge of the device, giving you ways to flip pages without touching the screen. I like using this option when my hands are covered in sunscreen at the beach.

As is expected, the battery life for both devices is affected by the lights, but is still very good. Amazon estimates the Kindle Paperwhite will last eight weeks with its light on. Barnes & Noble says the Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight will last for a month with its light on and two months with the light off. Both companies tested battery life for a half-hour of daily reading with Wi-Fi off.

If you still can’t decide, some of Amazon’s extra features may sell you. Certain titles from the bookselling giant include a feature called X-ray, which displays extra details about the book. And the Kindle Paperwhite can receive library books via Wi-Fi, while the Nook uses a clumsy transferring technique that requires a USB cord.

Email katie.boehret@wsj.com.

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