Pandigital, B&N partner on $200 color e-reader

Pandigital's new 7-inch color-screen e-reader looks a little like a mini iPad, but costs only $200. Barnes & Noble's e-book store is integrated into the device, which is scheduled to ship in mid-June.

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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. According to Pandigital, the reader will cost $199.99 when it ships in June.

While we're surprised to see Barnes & Noble partnering with Pandigital, but as anybody who has played around with the iPad knows, it's not a big leap from digital photo frame to e-book reader. Judging by the Novel's press shots, it looks a lot like the rumored smaller version of the iPad that some sites and analysts have been alluding to. That said, the Novel 800x600-pixel resolution display isn't as sharp as the iPad's is, and its resistive touch-screen interface--while responsive--isn't as responsive the iPad's capacitive touch-screen interface is.

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 six hours in reading mode.  That's not a terrible battery life, 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, that don't have to be recharged for days or even weeks.

Novel approach: Pandigital's e-book reader looks a little like a mini iPad. Pandigital

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. According to the company, Novel owners will have "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 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.

Here are the devices key specifications:

  • Operating system: Android (ARM 11 processor)
  • 7-inch touch-screen TFT color display (800x600-pixel resolution)
  • Weight: 16 ounces
  • Integrated Barnes & Noble e-book store
  • Wi-Fi enabled
  • 1 GB internal memory with SD/MMC slot (supports up to 32GB cards)
  • Automatically adjusts between portrait and landscape mode when the device is tilted
  • e-book formats supported included PDF, EPUB, and HTML
  • Adjustable font sizes, built-in dictionary, highlights, and notes
  • Built-in Web browser, e-mail client, alarm clock, and calendar
  • Plays back audio (MP3s), displays images and certain video file formats
  • Built-in Mini-USB port for transferring files from computer (Mac and PC compatible)

All of the Novel's details look pretty good--particularly its $200 price point--but its backlit LCD will get washed out in direct sunlight, making it suitable more as an indoor reading device than as an outdoor reader, like the Kindle or Nook are. At $200, it seems the Novel is more versatile than Barnes & Nobel's Nook ($259) is, which led us to ask Barnes & Noble representatives whether they thought the Novel might cannibalize sales of its own e-book reader.

Mary Ellen Keating, a Barnes & Noble spokesperson, had this to say:

"Barnes & Noble's strategy is to offer our content on multiple platforms, so we're happy to power this new device and others. Nook is a dedicated eReading device with key design, reading and in-store features that are innovative, immersive and exciting for our customers. We don't believe our continued work with third-party partners will have any effect on our continued strong Nook sales."

Part of the reason why Barnes & Noble probably isn't too concerned with is that the Novel will only have limited distribution when it's released in the next month. We hope to have a full review up in the next few weeks. Until then, let us know what you think about it.