Weekend Tech Scan: Good news for eBook lovers - an e-reader for night reading

Barnes and Noble is first to market with an e-reader with a lighted screen. Also, news about new low cost tablets, a great magazine bargain, and a real shocker of a front-runner on Internet traffic.

Crosscut archive image.

Nook SimpleTouch with Glowlight.

Barnes and Noble is first to market with an e-reader with a lighted screen. Also, news about new low cost tablets, a great magazine bargain, and a real shocker of a front-runner on Internet traffic.

Barnes & Noble has announced a most welcome innovation: an ebook reader with an illuminated screen that lets you read in the dark.  Called the Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight (see the video here), the newest addition to the company’s roster of e-readers lets you read in bed until the wee small hours of the morning. Available on May 1, the reader will sell for $139.

Announced this past week, the new reader should be a welcome addition for any e-book fan who's in it simply for the reading — not to deal with all the other applications and services that Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and others are making available on these 7-inch tablets.

According to the website, the GlowLight Simple Touch features an advanced version of E-ink that allows for seamless page turns (I think that translates as “no more annoying blackouts when you turn a page”). The screen brightness is easily adjustable — pressing a button at the bottom of the device brings up a simple to navigate on-screen menu. Judging by the promotional video, the Simple Touch also seems highly readable in bright sunlight.

The screen itself is not backlit per se; according to a hands-on review in PCMag.com, the screen has small LED lights imbedded in the frame. Whatever the solution, it will be much easier to work with than a clip-on light, which takes endless adjustment to achieve — at best — a fairly cruddy, dimly lit page. This is a welcome development.

It should also be easy to hold, at roughly 7 ounces, 6 inches high, 5 inches wide and less than a half-inch deep. According to a picture of the device, it has a grooved back to allow for easy holding in your right or left hand.

Still, Barnes & Noble’s lead in the backlit e-reader department may be short-lived: rumors are already floating around that Amazon will put out a Kindle e-reader with an illuminated screen.

For those of you who use your tablets and smartphones to read in bed — iPads or Android devices — you already know the pleasure of a backlit screen. The biggest issue is trying to set the right brightness level, and knowing the settings on your devices well enough to find that adjustment painlessly when you settle down to read. Neither Apple nor Google/Android make the task simple.

Fear not: I’ve found good screen dimmer apps for both Apple and Android that you can download from your respective app stores and paste on your home screens: Dimmer, in both iPad and iPhone versions; and for Android users, Brightness Level.

In other tablet developments, the success of Amazon's 7-inch Kindle Fire has prompted several manufacturers to treat that screen size with some respect.

Samsung, long a pioneer in this arena, recently announced a new low-cost 7-inch tablet, the Galaxy Tab 2.7.0 for $250. That's only $50 more than the Kindle Fire, yet the device has many of the benefits of a more open tablet, allowing users to buy or rent books, movies, music, and apps from vendors other than Amazon.

Arriving on April 22, the new tablets will come with close-to-HD screen resolution (the same as the Kindle Fire) and a smaller internal memory than Samsung’s more expensive Samsung Galaxy Tab models. For non-native tech speakers, the internal memory size affects the number of apps you can install on your device. For general users, the smaller capacity shouldn't be a problem, but if you’re an app slut (and I proudly am), you may find that the 8 GB hard limit is a problem.

These new tablets will also have the newest version of the Android operating system, named Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS). That’s a good thing — a number of more advanced applications are being written for ICS and if your device isn’t running the new version, you won’t be able to take advantage of them.

Case in point: The Next Issue app, a broad collection of magazines available only to Android users for download at one fixed price. Next Issue will do for the magazine world what a Netflix subscription does for film and TV show lovers.

Top publishers, including Condé Nast, Hearst, Meredith, News Corporation, and Time Inc. will make 27 of their magazines available for $10 a month. Titles, according to The New York TimesDavid Pogue, will include Esquire, People, Vanity Fair, and Time. For an additional $5, (the so-called Ultimate Plan), you’ll get Entertainment Weekly, the New Yorker, Sports Illustrated, and People. By year's end, the number of magazines available through the service could double or triple.

There’s a catch, however. Unless you have the updated Android ICS or the Honeycomb operating system — and Pogue believes that only 6 percent of Android users have these updates — you’re out of luck. (There's currently no Apple version.)

How insane is this! Here we finally have a sensible economic model that may make possible the survival of these magazines in the digital age with a price point attractive enough to make even the most hardened literate penny-pincher think it's a really attractive bargain. And yet mobile users can’t get it because, a) most of us are stuck with the older Gingerbread operating systems on our devices and, b) the carriers and device manufacturers are beyond painfully slow at getting these OS updates out to their customers.

The software has been available since last year, but it’s just being rolled out now. Got a newer phone or tablet from Verizon? Here is when you can expect your ICS upgrade.

This is a classic example of how the Android world continues to function. And yet it’s really good software. Sigh.

If operating systems bore you, perhaps you might be interested in more elevated tech talk about the porn industry and our beloved Internet. Don’t blame me: no less august a publication than Bloomberg Business Week is reporting on an ExtremeTech study that found a website called Xvideos (no I will NOT supply the link) receives up to 4.4 billion page views monthly — reportedly 10 times as many as the New York Times and 3 times as many as CNN.com.

And how much time is spent on this and similar sites? The site notes that people spend 15 minutes or more on these sites daily.

One might also admire the headline that graces this particular Bloomberg Business Week story. And I quote: “Online Porn Is Huge. Like Really, Really Huge. Who Knew?”

End of quote.


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