Pandigital Novel: worth it?

Until the Samsung Galaxy Tab came out, the only other real competition to the iPad was the Pandigital Novel eReader.  The Novel is a 7 inch Android based tablet that runs a custom front end that is geared toward making the device an eReader. 

The Novel comes preloaded with a browser, eReader software, Barnes and Noble bookstore, a couple of games, a few bookmarks and an audio/video player. 

The first thing you notice about the device is its smallish size. It is almost too small.  It is a handsome device, sleek and thin (but not as thin as that other device.)  Unfortunately, as soon as you turn it on, you notice its biggest weakness: the touch screen.  It is bright and vibrant, but almost not very sharp.  Again, compared to the iPad or even my Palm Pre, the screen is the weak link.  The touch aspect is also on the weak side, but a firmware update improved it tremendously.  Which reminds me, they took the time to put a card in the box telling you about the firmware update but couldn’t actually perform the update?  Really? The update did not go smoothly either. In fact, I thought I had bricked the device but it just needed to be reset.  Here, again, is a fail:  NO WHERE on the Pandigital site did it tell you how to handle any kind of problem.

The speed of the device is weak as well but passable.  Reading a book on the device, in low light, is actually OK and the speed is adequate for this purpose.  There is a day reading and a night reading setting that adjusts the screen accordingly and it does help.

The availability of a dozen or so newspapers, many magazines the Barnes and Noble bookstore make this an attractive device.  Since it features a color screen, magazines, especially, will look good and the size, though small, works well.  Like the iPad, one will grow wary of holding the device for more than a few minutes.

The quality of the audio and video are about what you might expect:  usable but barely.  You would do well to use headphones and keep the brightness turned about midway.  Resolution is OK, but not great.

There are a couple of major drawbacks that might deter you from purchasing the device.  The first, like I already said, is the screen.  The second is Android.  Why?  Well, this thing is running an old version of Android and does not have the Android store.  You can, however, ‘hack’ the device to get apps on there and, in fact, there is a bare install of Android on the Pandigital site that is open. You void your warranty by installing it, but, really, the thing can be had for way under $150 so you aren’t losing much.

Overall, it is an OK device.  For the money, however, you could do much worse. On the plus side, it is easy to hold, nice looking, has adequate speed and is a fair to decent eBook reader. On the negative, the screen is the weak link.  The on-screen keyboard, while better after the firmware update, still lacks precision and the version of Android is out of date and lacks access to the market.

For under$150, it is worth taking a look.  It is NOT an iPad, but, then again, the iPad costs three to four times more. Shop and compare.  The Novel will stand up nicely to other similarly priced devices, but falls flat when compared to iPad, Kindle or Galaxy Tab.

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