Testing Out the WikiReader

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The $99 WikiReader is a divisive device. Smartphone owners will scoff in disbelief at the sheer audacity of a non-connected portable with a black and white screen that displays text-only Wikipedia entries. “What’s to be done with this WikiReader?!!” they’ll cry out, iPhones brandished and ready to download an infinite number of advanced Wikipedia apps in an attempt to shame the WikiReader back into the old timey cave from which it came.

Everyone else, however, might find the WikiReader to be a nice traveling companion.

For starters, the promised battery life (two AAAs) is a full year. And the low-power black and white touchscreen is readable in direct sunlight. I spent the better part of a day sitting out on a beach hitting the WikiReader’s random article button and kept myself entertained until the sun got plenty low in the sky. I’m a smartphone owner myself, and the thought of taking my phone (or any phone) anywhere near sand or water is mortifying. The WikiReader seems to be sealed pretty tightly and I wouldn’t cry in public if I dropped it in the sand by accident. So there’s that.

The WikiReader would also be nice to have while doing touristy stuff, especially in another country where you might not want to incur expensive data charges on your phone. In the above video, I took the WikiReader for a whirl around my hometown of Boston for good measure.

(More on Techland: Video Review: Wii Fit Plus)

The device has a few shortcomings. For starters, it needs a way to bookmark favorite and frequently-accessed articles. There’s a history button but it’d be nice to have a favorites button as well. And although the low-power screen makes for really long battery life and readability in direct sunlight, it comes at the expense of being able to display images. You’ll have to decide if that trade-off is worth it. I found that I didn’t miss images as much as I thought I would but there were definitely some articles that would have been more informative had I been able to see the accompanying photos.

The WikiReader costs $99 and is available at thewikireader.com. You can also pay an extra $29 per year and they’ll send you updated microSD cards every six months or so containing the most recent Wikipedia articles. You can update the files yourself via the website for free, too.

More on Time.com:

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The 50 Best Inventions of 2009

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