Pandigital Novel Review: The Big Screen Makes All the Difference

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The Pandigital Novel is a 7-inch e-book reader with a color LCD screen that runs a customized user interface atop Android. While not positioned as an Android tablet, it’s drawn interest from people looking for less expensive alternatives to devices like the iPad thanks to its $200 price tag.

This is Pandigital’s second stab at a color e-book reader. The first Novel came out a few months ago, is white in color, and has 1GB of storage. The new Novel, which I reviewed, is black in color, has 2GB of storage (expandable via SD), and shaves a quarter inch off the original’s length and width. The new Novel weighs 12 ounces, versus the original at 19 ounces. Everything else appears to be pretty much the same between both devices.

Aside from built-in e-book software that’s connected to Barnes & Noble’s online store, the Novel features a full Android web browser, music/video/photo viewers, e-mail application, alarm clock, calendar, and contacts applications. Unlike traditional Android devices the Novel is locked down to prevent the installation of any new apps, which severely limits the device to reading, light web surfing (no YouTube in the browser or as an app, for instance), and little else.

Despite all the built-in features, the Novel doesn’t handle any of them particularly well since it’s hampered by a relatively slow processor and a cheap, resistive LCD touchscreen. The interface itself is actually pretty clean and thoughtful, but it often takes more than one deliberate tap of the finger to get it to respond. As a result, scrolling around web pages and flipping the virtual pages of an electronic book is pretty slow and monotonous.

The “problem” with this is that the screen has an 800×600 resolution, the tablet costs $200 (or less if you shop around a bit), and it only weighs 12 ounces. So I found myself wanting to use the Novel all the time just because of the big screen and its light weight. Just about any smartphone from the past year or two runs circles around this thing from a performance standpoint but the screen—the screen!—is so perfect for couch surfing.

Even after playing with the tablet for an hour, I found myself thinking, “This thing is begging to be hacked to run an honest version of Android.” Sure enough, plenty of people have done just that and reported that a stock install of Android seems to run smoother. But I digress.

As a book reader, the Novel has the novelty (pun, yes, etc.) of having a color screen. That’s cool and it works well for PDFs and magazines, but big long books don’t really benefit from it. And having to dig your finger purposefully into the screen in order to turn pages of any readable gets old quickly.

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