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Pandigital Novel eReader review: Pandigital Novel eReader

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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.

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