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If you know of Pandigital, you probably know it for its photo frames. However, the company is moving into the hot e-book reader market with a device that a lot of people have been waiting for: an affordable color-screen e-book reader with ties to a major bookseller.
Integrated with the Barnes & Noble's e-book store, the Pandigital Novel is an Android-powered e-book reader that has a full-color 7-inch touch-screen display, Wi-Fi connectivity, and multimedia capabilities. On the surface, this all sounds pretty good and when we first saw a picture of it it, we thought it looked a lot like the rumored smaller version of the iPad. The product is available in white and black versions for less than $200. You can find the Novel discounted to $169--or even less--at stores such as J.C. Penney and Bed, Bath, & Beyond.
Alas, the Novel, at least in its current state, has some issues that seriously hamper the device. For starters, while the Novel's 800x600-pixel resolution display is adequate, its sharpness level will probably disappoint anybody with a 2010 smartphone. More importantly, its resistive touch-screen interface isn't nearly as responsive as the iPad's capacitive touch-screen interface and the touch-screen interfaces of all those new smartphones (and the iPod Touch).
The device also feels underpowered. An Arm 11 processor powers the Novel, which measures 7.5 inches tall by 5.5 inches wide by 0.5 inch thick and weighs 16 ounces. It has 1GB of built-in memory and has an expansion slot for SD/MMC memory cards--with support for cards up to 32GB in capacity. Pandigital rates its Novel's battery life at 6 hours in reading mode. That's not terrible, but it's neither near the iPad's battery life nor the battery life of dedicated e-ink-based e-book readers, such as the Amazon Kindle or Barnes & Noble Nook, that don't have to be recharged for days or even weeks. (Charging is accomplished via the included Mini-USB cable and AC adapter; the rechargeable lithium ion battery is sealed and nonremovable.)
While the Novel has multimedia features as well as a built-in Web browser, e-mail client, calendar, and alarm, Pandigital is billing its new devices first and foremost as an e-book reader, touting its "easy access to Barnes & Noble's expansive eBookstore catalog of more than one million eBooks, newspapers and magazines, a wide variety of free eBooks and more than half a million free classics." Novel users can also use Barnes & Noble's LendMe feature that lets you share certain e-books with friends and family for 14 days; however, currently you can only lend a book out once.
Using the built-in Wi-Fi connection, you can browse and purchase e-books from the Barnes & Noble e-book store or import your own EPUB or PDF files. (You can drag and drop files from any connected Windows PC or Mac, or load them onto an SD card.) Once you get an e-book loaded, it's not half bad to read on (so long as you aren't in bright sunlight). It's also got the normal e-reader bells and whistles: adjustable font sizes, built-in dictionary, highlights, and notes. And the device automatically switches from portrait to landscape mode when tilted--but it's so sensitive, it sometime made the switch when we didn't want it to; an external lock switch (as found on the iPad) would be a nice addition here.