Product test

The Tolino Shine 4 is a tiny titan – but its apps are an enigma

Martin Jungfer
Translation: Julia Graham

More sustainable and faster – what the fourth generation of the little Tolino e-reader aims to be. The Shine keeps some of its promises. But it takes its toll on your nerves.

The crime thriller I’m reading right now is over 900 pages long. And yet it’s not a weighty tome to cart around, because I’m reading «Bloodland» on a Shine 4, Tolino’s compact e-reader. It’s got a small screen, which means the book expands across more pages on the electronic copy than the physical one. But is the device as exciting as my crime novel?

Let’s look at the aesthetics first. The 6-inch device boasts its usual clean finish. However, the back no longer comes in black. Instead, it’s dark blue, which I only really noticed when I read the blurb. This also mentions that, for the first time, the Shine 4 is now made out of recycled plastic.

The pattern on the back is suggestive of waves – which fits in with the ocean blue colour.
The pattern on the back is suggestive of waves – which fits in with the ocean blue colour.
Photo: Martin Jungfer

The back is slightly textured. Clearly, the design department were inspired by ocean waves. Thanks to the studs on the reverse, the device sits comfortably in your hand. And yet, it’s still smooth enough that any dust or other dirt can be removed easily with a wipe clean. The Shine 4 only has one button, and that’s for switching it on. There’s also the USB-C charging port. The predecessor still relied on a fiddly, outdated micro-USB port.

The USB-C port is further down. Unfortunately, it’s not slap bang in the middle, so I can’t plug it in without thinking about it.
The USB-C port is further down. Unfortunately, it’s not slap bang in the middle, so I can’t plug it in without thinking about it.
Photo: Martin Jungfer

Shine 4 screen: bright and sharp display

The Shine 4 lets you adjust the screen’s brightness and colour temperature. Either you take on the role of light DJ and push the controls up and down. Or you let the Shine 4 do the work for you and rely on automatic mode. This ensures you’re almost not using any lighting during the day in order to save on battery. Meanwhile, come evening time, the lighting springs into action while you’re reading by bedside candlelight. What’s more, this e-reader adjusts the colour temperature to the time of day. In the morning, the light is colder white, while in the evening it’s warmer. That’s pleasant on the eyes. Which is why I quickly switched from manual to automatic mode.

You can set brightness and colour temperature individually. I prefer automatic.
You can set brightness and colour temperature individually. I prefer automatic.
Photo: Martin Jungfer

The type face looks sharper and, more than anything else, clearer than it was on the Vision 6, which I tested out here. I couldn’t spot any ghosting – in other words, no residual content I’d read from the previous page. Tolino describes the Shine 4 display as an «E Ink Carta HD». In figures, that equates to 300 ppi at 1072 × 1448 pixels. There are also 16 shades of grey. It’s enough to show a book cover, but that’s the limit.

Handling: double thumb or L grip

At first, I had to get used to the size of the Shine 4. Right now, I use a «Max»-sized iPhone on a daily basis and the Vision 6 for reading books.

I can still easily hold the iPhone in one hand and operate it with my thumbs. I was delighted about the broad edge on the side of the October 2021 Vision 6. It’s twice as practical. The edge isn’t just for keeping a firm grip on the reader. Rather, it also proves a handy place to park my thumbs. Whereas the Shine 4 feels to me like an uncomfortable in-between size. While I can comfortably hold the 11 cm width in my open hand, it gets taxing after at least half an hour. As a result, I got used to forming my thumb and index finger on one hand into an L shape. That way, the Shine 4 can rest in a kind of frame, and the other hand supports the reader and stops it falling out. An alternative I’ve found is the double thumb position, whereby I use the thumb and index finger on both hands to hold the reader on the lower wide edge.

If I tried holding the Shine 4 with just one hand on the side edge, like I did with the Vision 6, I’d have two problems. Firstly, I’d need to use the other hand to turn the page – and that’s something you have to do really often with a small screen. It could do with a next-page button. Secondly, the edge is too narrow. My finger would just obscure part of the text or touch the screen. Meaning it’d then turn the page too soon.

My right thumb is too broad for the narrow-edged Shine 4. That’s why I keep accidentally turning the page.
My right thumb is too broad for the narrow-edged Shine 4. That’s why I keep accidentally turning the page.

Admittedly, I could also read the Shine 4 in landscape mode, meaning I’d be able to use the broad edge for one-handed holding. But reading a book horizontally just feels wrong to me because it makes the lines unnaturally long.

Performance: turning the page without a voltage drop

Speaking of turning pages, this is an area where the new chip makes its presence felt in the positive way Tolino intended. According to the e-reader manufacturer, the quad-core processor ensures «20% shorter response time compared with its predecessor». I’m not a fan of statements like that because, for one thing, they’re hard to verify. And second, I think it’s more important to see what that translates as in everyday life. You’re more aware of the quad-core performance when you leaf through several pages – either forwards or back. But let’s face it, who does that with a novel?

For normal use, you could say the Shine 4 turns pages so fast that it doesn’t interrupt the building tension in a whodunnit. It feels like it takes half a second from tapping the screen to the new page appearing. I should point out that e-readers with older chips can do that, too. And if it was 20% slower, I’d hardly notice.

When it comes to surfing the net, the quad-core processor doesn’t offer much help either. That kind of task isn’t exactly fun on any e-reader and is at best a necessary evil. For instance, to download the e-reader edition of a newspaper to your device or to connect to a public library service.

Water protection: passes the bath test

One of Shine 4’s innovations is that it should now be able to survive a dip into bath water. The weather right now isn’t so conducive to lake swimming, which is why I simulated a dive in the bath tub. But as it is, the Shine 4 withstands its fall into the foamy depths, with some assistance from my daughter. Just in case you’re wondering about the armband or why my hand looks so small.

Apps and services are still cumbersome

Unfortunately, the exciting effect of the bubble bath quickly wears off after I try to install apps on the Shine 4. The app landscape for Tolino devices, and therefore also for the new Shine 4, is still not a sure-fire success at the close of 2022. In order to make good use of the Tolino e-reader, I recommend setting up an account with Thalia (Germany) or Orell Füssli (Switzerland) as soon as possible. Both are part of the Tolino group. This is the easiest way to get digital books you’ve bought to transfer over to your reader.

I’ve already got an account from doing tests in the past, so I didn’t have to battle with synchronisation or authentication issues. That being said, I didn’t want to make it too easy for myself. Which is why I tried out the unlimited e-book plan called Skoobe (site in German). Get it? It’s «e-books» backwards. Wow, what a cool marketing move. Not. The unlimited plan has been around since 2012. And in 2018, Thalia stepped up to the plate in a big way.

But just because Thalia or Orell Füssli and Skoobe are closely tied doesn’t mean that I can redeem an offer from my account with one of these companies at another. Nope, that’s when I need to set up another account with Skoobe. And it’s no fun doing that on the Shine 4 when I need to use the sluggish browser. It even crashed once when I was going through card validation. Somehow it ended up working.

If you’re toying with the idea of getting your tech-challenged parents or even grandparents a Shine 4 with an unlimited Skoobe plan, make sure to include a voucher from you that they can redeem to set it up. And hopefully they won’t have e-books they’ve bought elsewhere that they now want on their new Tolino. Because you’d definitely need a computer for that. I won’t go into details here but instead link you to instructions on how to go about it (in German).

Verdict: the Shine 4 is (almost) a Kindle killer

In the 150 franc or euro range, the Shine 4 represents a well-engineered device that Tolino brings to market. What I particularly like about the Shine 4 compared with its predecessor is that dropping it in the bath doesn’t signal a death knell. Double the storage for even more books is arguably something for people who want to have several hundred books on their reader at one time. I don’t know of anyone who’s reached their storage limit on a modern e-reader.

tolino shine 4 (6", 16 GB)

tolino shine 4

6", 16 GB


But what makes reading on this 6-inch device so fun is the automatic brightness settings and the good type face. Thanks to its size, the device even fits into a coat pocket, meaning you can dip into a few chapters on the tram or train rather than wasting time on social media.

In this close-up shot, the font looks more ragged than it is in real life.
In this close-up shot, the font looks more ragged than it is in real life.
Photo: Martin Jungfer

Is the Shine 4 a Kindle killer? Technically speaking, it certainly doesn’t struggle to keep pace with the 2021 Paperwhite. Admittedly, the latter does boast a display that’s about 10% bigger, but that apart, you’re looking at very similar performance data. When it comes down to it, deciding between a Kindle or Tolino device is always a question of which ecosystem you want to use. With a Kindle, you’ll primarily buy your books from Amazon and might be interested in their unlimited plan. Whereas, with the Shine 4, you’re part of the Tolino world. However, keep in mind that you won’t be able to transfer books you’ve already bought with Thalia or Orell Füssli to your e-reader here either. But here’s the price you pay for openness: while Amazon services work efficiently and easily with one another, Tolino and its partners can seem quite tricky at first.

Incidentally, if you don’t read in the bath anyway and aren’t fussed about being able to turn pages 20% faster, it’s worth taking a look at the Shine 3. Following the launch of the Shine 4, you can now get your hands on the predecessor model for a lot less.

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Journalist since 1997. Stopovers in Franconia (or the Franken region), Lake Constance, Obwalden, Nidwalden and Zurich. Father since 2014. Expert in editorial organisation and motivation. Focus on sustainability, home office tools, beautiful things for the home, creative toys and sports equipment. 

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