Should eBook Readers Without Frontlights Be Phased Out?


With the release of the new Kobo Touch 2.0, it’s hard not to ask the obvious question: Why are ebook readers without frontlights still being made?

A lower entry-level price is the only answer that makes any sense. But you have to wonder if that’s really working out for the better in the long run.

Non-frontlit ebook readers offer a substantially inferior reading experience than frontlit ebook readers.

Text is harder to read in anything but optimal lighting conditions, otherwise you need a reading light or lamp. Non-frontlit ereaders also have lower resolution screens and less contrast.

The lower-end inexpensive models are most likely to attract new users rather than people who’ve owned more than one dedicated ereader.

So by going with a cheaper non-frontlit ereader, new users aren’t getting the best ereading experience. This could make them more likely to abandon ereading altogether or not like it as much as they could with a better model.

It’s the same story with Amazon’s $79 Kindle Touch. I’ve always said the Kindle Paperwhite is a much better overall value, especially when the Paperwhite 2 used to regularly go on sale for $99.

It’s hard to believe that Amazon and potential Kindle customers wouldn’t be better served to just have a $99 frontlit ebook reader as the entry-level model instead of offering an inferior model with an outdated screen from 2011.

Personally, I would never use an ebook reader without a frontlight over one with a frontlight. It just doesn’t make sense. Not on any level. Even when you don’t necessarily need a light to read, a frontlight helps make the background appear lighter and more paperlike, and helps make the text stand out more. If you don’t want the light on, just turn it off—there is no downside.

So at this point in time, why are ebook readers without frontlights still being made?

19 Responses to “Should eBook Readers Without Frontlights Be Phased Out?”

  1. I don’t know… I find both to be just fine.

  2. I stopped upgrading when kindle ereaders lost their speakers. I can turn a light to keep reading or just switch to music or audio books. I can workaround not having a light built in, but sometimes I prefer to listen.

  3. Price and battery life are the only reasons to consider an eReader without frontlight. I think most users would be happiest with a Fire HD 6. I know I am. The only time I used my PaperWhite recently was while on vacation. I knew I would be spending time at the beach and eReaders are still superior to tablets in bright outdoor light.

  4. I agree with Harold. For reading outdoors, the reflectivity of front lit readers or tablets just doesn’t seem easy on the eyes.

    For that, I still love my eReaders without front light.


    • Why would frontlight ereaders be inferior to non-frontlit ereaders outside? It makes no difference. They’re not tablets…

      • I actually prefer reading on my Kindle 4 (which I’m sure you know has no frontlight) outdoors. I have a Kindle Voyage, and that reflects the sun significantly, in my opinion. I also have a Nook Glowlight, and I still prefer the Kindle 4 in the sun. . . without having both of them in front of me in sunlight, I’m not sure I can explain it, and maybe it’s even just a psychological effect of knowing I’m going outside when I have the Kindle 4 in my hand. Something about the Kindle 4 text, even though it’s an older screen technology, is just really appealing to me in the sun.

        That said, I obviously went ahead and got the frontlit readers, even though the older one is my preference for outdoors. I would even agree with you that the Paperwhite is a much better value than the entry-level Kindle. I just am not sure I agree that the non-frontlit readers should be phased out, in part because of my outdoor reading preference, but also in part because I feel that people who are only just now warming up to ereaders sometimes need to feel like they’re making a compromise. They are likely to avoid tablets, obviously, but having the choice to eschew the frontlight gives them at least an illusion of staying one step closer to paper. It’s totally illogical, but I find that the divide between paper book devotees and ebook devotees (and the idea that someone can’t be both) isn’t based on logic.

  5. I have a Kindle Paperwhite 2 that I like quite a bit… but that being said, had the Kindle 4 still been available (as opposed to the Kindle Touch) when I got it, I would have gone with the latter… I just prefer physical buttons on my book reader.

  6. I have both a Nook Simple Touch (non-glowlight) and a Kobo Vox. The Vox has a great colour screen, crisp & bright. But I still prefer the NST as an e-reader.

    Having a front-lit reader might be nice but I don’t want to pay an extra $20 for it.

  7. This comment is not in response to this particular post, but to notify you that a file auto downloads when coming to this page, it is: sugar.swf. From what I can google, it is some form of malware connected to an iframe (?).

    • Thanks for the heads up. I haven’t experienced that myself. Let me know if it happens again. Sometimes rogue ads make their way into an ad network and they can cause problems like that before they are found and removed. I have no tolerance for them so if anyone else experiences the problem again please let me know and I’ll remove the ad network entirely until the problem is resolved.

      • yes I saw the swf file attempt to download from another site as well. Must be big enough to cover a lot of sites. Ugg. I simply deleted it and have not noticed any problems yet. Will scan with detector tomorrow.

  8. I think it’s a good thing to offer a Kindle with no frontlight, since it’s only $79. There are folks who would not spend $119 on the Kindle Paperwhite with frontlight and would just buy a tablet instead, thinking that they will get more for their money. They would miss out on the awesomeness of reading on an Eink screen. For reading, LCD screens cannot compare.

    But I DO think they should stop making low-resolution Eink Pearl screens. In my opinion, even the cheap non-frontlight ereaders should have a high-resolution Eink Carta screen. For me, the better contrast and clearer fonts of a Carta screen makes more of a difference in the reading experience than frontlight or no frontlight.

  9. There is always a market for high end and low end products. As long as someone is willing to buy them, then make them. I would spend the extra $30-$40 for a light but not everyone has the money. I am still trying to determine why I purchased a Voyage. I love it but not that much more than a Paperwhite. Now that I have it, great. Not sure I would do it again.

  10. A good frontlight is a MUST for me since it’s so much easier to read than using a lamp or ceiling light. I read an hour or so at night, so it’s really helpful then; plus it makes a great nightlight to carry as I walk through a dark house ;p

  11. Non-Lit e-readers still provide better contrast and a whiter background. I have a Voyage and a newer Basic and when the Voyage light is muted this becomes apparent. It has a sepia looking tone with the light dimmed. The Voyage is nice but feels and reads like a Tablet. I’m actually hoping Amazon increases the DPI on their next basic version, perhaps to 212 or maybe even 300. The basic version has a pretty big market simply going by the 11,500 reviews on Amazon. In reality we should be talking about phasing out the Voyage since they have a much smaller market at 6,800 or almost half that of the basic. Think about the all the content those basic e-readers are purchasing from Amazon. So no, phasing basic ereaders doesn’t make sense.

  12. It is a price decision on what “front lighting” is worth to each individual person.

    For example: if a non-front lit reader is $80 and a front lit reader is $110. Then each person will make a decision on whether that extra $30 is worth it for the front-lighting.

    For me — I’d go with the $80 reader in this example, i.e. the front-lighting is not worth it for me.

    So — it is important to have non front-lit e-readers — some people would prefer the lower price. It gives you a choice.

  13. i agree with the overall idea but the reader I use most is still my Kobo Mini: it’s fine outdoors and in good light and just fits in a lot of pockets that a bigger device doesn’t !

  14. The question is good, and the answer is no 🙂
    The lower price is not the only reason to buy non-frontlit reader: image quality (contrast) is better when there are less layers on the display. For the same reason readers with infrared touchscreen (and even without touchscreen) are still reasonable.
    To me it is rather about comfort vs. readiblity question, not price issue.
    Of course I will reconsider this when the contrast will be a magnitude better…

  15. I hope non-front-lit readers stick around because my eyes and front-lit readers don’t work well together. I’m always losing focus. I don’t know why, I’m guessing it has something to do with the depth of the light layer being different than the depth of the reading surface. Lighted cases or other eReader lights work fine for me.