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First impressions: Pandigital Novel ebook reader review

Nov 12, 2010   [permalink]

As many of you know, I do almost all my pleasure reading digitally now, and have for many years. As you also probably know, I think digital reading will overtake paper reading fairly soon. So I enjoy checking out new ebook readers and generally musing about this trend.

They had a great deal on the Pandigital Novel ebook reader at Kohl's -- $80 when done with discounts, coupons, rebates, and all that.

It looks great on paper, so to speak. Color, 7" touch screen, wifi, web surfing, email, is a droid under the hood (and I hear one can easily jailbreak it to get at a fully functional droid system & apps), plays music, video, shows photos, and lots of other enticing features.

All told, I'm not sure if I'll keep it or return it.

The screen is nice, and it's a pleasant reading experience. Judging it solely as an ebook reader it's maybe a bit heavy, but otherwise I have no ebook-ish complaints, per se.

My issues with it are mostly outside the reading experience. Starting with getting books on it, for example. You can use the built in B&N store; that's fine. You can copy to it as a USB device, and it takes an SD card -- all nice. But I was thinking that, since it has wifi and a web browser, I could, for example, click on a Critters manuscript to read for critiquing.

It reads epubs, and, coincidentally I'd just the other day added epub (and mobi) as formats for manuscripts. I figured I'd be able to click and read. No such luck. An artificial software barrier steps in your way: You can download an epub file, but you can't read it. (Unless you jailbreak it. Or you can connect to USB and move the file to the proper directory by hand. That's, well, dumb. It's a nuisance -- a needless one. Needless nuisances are like constant irritating pokes. I keep thinking they're only there by design, to prevent me from doing things that make sense, like reading a Critters manuscript.) I could live with all that, and jailbreaking would be my next step if it weren't for the other things that give me pause.

The main problem I've had is getting it connect to wifi. I'm pretty good a this networking stuff (like, got a Ph.D. in it, taught it for ages, do research and am CEO of a network oriented tech company) :) and this thing just wouldn't connect for nuttin'. Sometimes it does... rarely... and mostly it doesn't. Googling around it appears this is a common problem. If it can't reliably connect, that alone will probably be a back-to-the-store showstopper for me.

Then, it's kinda pokey. I have a couple old HP iPaq's I use as ebook readers, and old as they are, the browser is much snappier than the PDN's. It can take the better part of a minute to load a not-very-complex page. It's really cool that it has a browser. But if it's that slow, it makes you not want to use it. Yet you know it's there, if it would just work right... thus it's a perpetual niggling nuisance.

The touch screen is designed for fingernails rather than fingertips, so with the small print in the browser it can be hard and awkward to tap the right thing. The iPad is so much better about this. You can magnify the page, but not with a pinch/unpinch gestures; you have to tap the lower right corner to bring up a magnifier, click to magnify, then readjust the page to see what you want -- a lot more work than unpinching. Also a pain if you wanted to click a link down there and you pull up the magnifier instead.

While reading, you have to swipe to change pages, not tap. Or at least if there's an area you can tap, I haven't found it yet.

I understand if you jailbreak it then you can load other ebook reader apps, perhaps other browsers, etc. So that may be the way to go.

$80 is a good price for a reader, I can't deny that, but when it has these other features, I feel irked at them not being really usable.

Overall, compared to even just a year ago this is an amazing device. But it isn't a year ago, and now it's got to stand up to comparisons to iPads, new Kindles, and so on. Can't change the chunky weight, or the problems connecting to wifi, as that seems hardware related. The other problems can probably be fixed with a quick jailbreak. I hate to "Pan" it (groan), and I'm not yet sure which way I'll go... the wifi problem is the biggest at the moment... so I'll report back later with more thoughts and whether it's become a member of the family or not.

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