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Pandigital Novel eReader review: Pandigital Novel eReader

Pandigital Novel eReader

David Carnoy Executive Editor / Reviews
Executive Editor David Carnoy has been a leading member of CNET's Reviews team since 2000. He covers the gamut of gadgets and is a notable reviewer of mobile accessories and portable audio products, including headphones and speakers. He's also an e-reader and e-publishing expert as well as the author of the novels Knife Music, The Big Exit and Lucidity. All the titles are available as Kindle, iBooks, Kobo e-books and audiobooks.
Expertise Headphones, Bluetooth speakers, mobile accessories, Apple, Sony, Bose, e-readers, Amazon, glasses, ski gear, iPhone cases, gaming accessories, sports tech, portable audio, interviews, audiophile gear, PC speakers Credentials
  • Maggie Award for Best Regularly Featured Web Column/Consumer
David Carnoy
4 min read

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.

4.7

Pandigital Novel eReader

The Good

E-book reader with color touch screen; built-in Wi-Fi; access to Barnes & Noble eBook store; SD expansion slot for additional memory; Web browser and e-mail capabilities; displays images and some video formats; support for audio and MP3 playback.

The Bad

Resistive touch-screen is problematic; extremely sluggish performance; interface could be more intuitive; overall user experience could be better.

The Bottom Line

The feature set of the affordable Pandigital Novel looks good on paper, but this color e-book reader and multimedia device is hobbled by its extremely slow performance and unresponsive touch screen.

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.


An example of text on the Novel (using white-on-black mode for nighttime reading).

The Web browser (again, via Wi-Fi) is also functional, and the Novel plays back MP4 video files (the included sample didn't play smoothly, however), MP3 audio files, and displays JPEG images. So features aren't the Novel's problem; rather, it's the experience of using the device that leaves something to be desired.

Part of the problem, of course, is that that user experience simply doesn't compare to what the iPad offers. Now, it's not fair to put a $500 device up against one that costs less than $200, but the point is, to a large degree you're getting what you pay for. Everything just feels a bit sluggish. E-books don't load quickly, page turns don't happen as fast as they should (you use your finger to swipe), and the navigation isn't as intuitive as it should be.

As noted, some of the user experience issues are a result of the device feeling underpowered. But at the same time, the interface doesn't seem fully baked, and that leads to some frustrations. So does the resistive touch screen, especially if you're used to using a capacitive touch screen on your smartphone. On a more superficial level, the device, while it looks fine from a distance, betrays its budget nature when held in hand. In other words, the Novel doesn't have a particularly novel industrial design.

We'll say this: after playing around with the Novel for a few days, we felt better about it than when we first started using it. There's some potential here and the size really makes a lot of sense. But it's hard to recommend the device because despite its good feature set, it doesn't really excel at anything and using it somehow makes you feel like you're living with last year's technology. (Also disappointing: like the Android-powered Alex eReader and Barnes & Noble Nook, you can't add any Android Market apps to the Novel--you're stuck with the ones Pandigital has hard-coded onto the device.)

Even if you find the Novel on sale, it's still too expensive for what you're getting, especially considering that the latest entry-level Kindle and Nook readers cost less than $149. Or, if you're looking for a more multifaceted tablet, you should probably step up to the iPad--or wait for one of the many Android-powered tablets that should be hitting stores in the upcoming months.

In the meantime, we Pandigital needs to upgrade the software (and possibly some of the components) of the Novel before it's worth recommending. For now, however, the Novel's a good idea that just needs to be fleshed out better.

4.7

Pandigital Novel eReader

Score Breakdown

Design 4Features 7Performance 3