Barnes & Noble Nook GlowLight 4 Review (2022)

Barnes & Noble's latest Nook, the $149.99 GlowLight 4, bucks the trend of ebook readers with increasingly large screens. Instead, this tiny and comfortable device has a 6-inch panel to showcase its straightforward reading experience. It feels snappier to use than its predecessor, the GlowLight 3, and we like that it retains physical page-turn buttons. That said, the newest Nook e-reader simply isn’t as capable or durable as those in Amazon's and Kobo's current lineups. The $139.99 Kindle Paperwhite continues to be our Editors’ Choice winner for the category, while the $179.99 Kobo Libra 2 is an excellent alternative for its top-notch public library support.

A Compact, Slightly Dated Design

The GlowLight 4 is old school: It still uses a 6-inch, 300ppi E Ink Carta HD panel from several years ago. For a long time, most mainstream ebook readers used that same 6-inch display, but screen technology continues to evolve. Now, Amazon's and Kobo's latest midrange ebook readers use new 7-inch E Ink Carta 1200 panels. Those screens show more text per page and enable faster page turns than previous models.

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However, the GlowLight 4's smaller, 6-inch panel isn't all bad; it makes the device very light and pocketable at 4.7 by 6.2 by 0.2 inches (HWD). It's considerably smaller and lighter than its predecessor, and an inch shorter than the Kobo Libra 2. Another advantage of the GlowLight 4 is that its screen is less reflective than those of its competitors.

Barnes & Noble Nook GlowLight 4 Review (1)

The GlowLight 4 is made of soft-touch plastic(Photo: Sascha Segan)

Other aspects of the Nook's design are clear downsides, including its recessed screen. The recessed screen shape is problematic because it tends to collect more dust and grime over time than the flat-front screens on newer Kindles and Kobos; the latter screens are also easier to wipe clean. In addition, the GlowLight 4 isn't waterproof, unlike similarly priced Kindles and Kobos.

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The physical page-turn buttons on both sides of the Nook's front are a thoughtful, desirable feature. They have a light, satisfying click and make the device comfortable for both right- and left-handed use. The GlowLight 4 uses the modern USB-C standard for charging.

Like other current midrange ebook readers, the GlowLight 4 has a color-changing front light. Its bluest color setting seems a bit whiter than on the Kobo, while its most yellow setting is indeed very yellow. You can set the color manually or let the device automatically adjust it based on the time of day. In my experience, I found the light to be very even.

Barnes & Noble Nook GlowLight 4 Review (14)

You can change the brightness or color of the front light(Photo: Sascha Segan)

Inside, an Allwinner B300 1.5GHz processor(Opens in a new window) and 2GB of RAM power the device. The Nook has 29GB of available storage, although only 5GB is free for sideloading; the rest is for Nook books, which is a ton of storage for an ebook reader that doesn't support audiobooks. It connects to your Wi-Fi via the 802.11n standard, but doesn't support Bluetooth or any audio playback (it lacks both speakers and a headphone jack).

Barnes & Noble says the 1,400mAh battery should allow the Nook to last a long while without a recharge, but I don't think that's accurate based on my week's worth of anecdotal testing. The ebook reader handled about one long book before requiring a recharge, although, to be fair, I didn't need to recharge it mid-book.

Simply for Reading

Barnes & Noble's reading software is as basic as it comes. You can sideload EPUB and PDF documents onto the Nook, as well as read ebooks you purchase from Barnes & Noble. Kobo readers offer wider format support than both the GlowLight 4 and any Kindle device.

Of course, the most important factor to consider when it comes to format support is where you have purchased ebooks in the past. It's not easy to transfer Barnes & Noble, Kindle, and Kobo books across platforms, in part because the process for removing DRM is extremely kludgy. For instance, the predominant method(Opens in a new window) for removing Barnes & Noble's DRM requires using Android developer tools.

Barnes & Noble Nook GlowLight 4 Review (15)

Text looks sharp and clear(Photo: Sascha Segan)

The home screen defaults to an abstract pattern; unlike on a Kindle, you thankfully don't see any ads. The main interface shows your book library (you can arrange titles into shelves or collections); the store; and a promotional section called Barnes & Noble Readouts that displays excerpts and serials the store is trying to push. The main UI is perfectly snappy, unlike that of its sluggish predecessor.

Within books, you get eight fonts with a range of sizes and margins; the usual table of contents and bookmarking options; and a dictionary. You won't find any of the extra X-Ray- or Goodreads-type features that Amazon provides for its Kindles.

Barnes & Noble Nook GlowLight 4 Review (16)

PDFs display quickly, but the screen makes the text very small by default(Photo: Sascha Segan)

The GlowLight 4 offers poor support for public libraries. The clunky process of getting a book from your library to your Nook involves memorizing an Adobe password, downloading books to your PC, and then copying them to your reader via a cable. On a Kobo, you can borrow books directly from your device. On a Kindle, you can wirelessly receive titles from your library's website.

Although it's outside the scope of this review, many people hack Nook ebook readers to run Android apps, something you can't do on a Kindle. We don't think anyone has done that with the GlowLight 4 yet, but, to be fair, the device is still new. In any case, if you really want to run Android apps on a smaller ebook reader, the Onyx Boox Poke 3 ($189.99) is a better option because it runs on Android 10.

Barnes & Noble Nook GlowLight 4 Review (17)

Left to right: Kobo Libra 2, 6-inch Kindle Paperwhite, Nook GlowLight 4(Photo: Sascha Segan)

A Fine Update for Nook Die-Hards

Although most ebook readers now have larger screens, the Barnes & Noble Nook GlowLight 4 is a more pocketable alternative with a smaller (but still sharp) 6-inch panel. We also like its simple, snappy interface and quality page-turn buttons. If you own lots of Nook books and need a new ebook reader, the GlowLight 4 is a worthwhile upgrade from any of its predecessors.

However, the Nook can’t quite compete with the latest ebook readers from Amazon and Kobo. For instance, Amazon's Kindle Paperwhite is waterproof, has a flat front, and offers a bigger screen, though it lacks physical buttons. Kobo's Libra 2, meanwhile, is waterproof, keeps the physical buttons, and works more seamlessly with your public library’s digital collection. If you're buying an ebook reader for the first time, we recommend either of these models over the Nook.

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See It$99.99 at Amazon(Opens in a new window)

MSRP $149.99

Pros

  • Small and light

  • Physical page-turn buttons

  • Sharp text

Cons

  • Recessed screen

  • Not waterproof

  • Clunky public library support

The Bottom Line

The Barnes & Noble GlowLight 4 is a simple, compact e-reader for anyone with an extensive collection of Nook books, but it can't match the features of similarly priced competitors.

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