Pandigital Novel 7 color multimedia ereader review

Following a deal found by my wife, I decided to buy the Pandigital Novel 7 color multimedia ereader due mostly to its price ($127 after rebate). I already have a Nook, but the Internet browsing experience on an eInk screen is less than optimal compared with the LCD screens. The Pandigital Novel 7 seemed like a good fit both for price and form factor. Let’s see how it fared in terms of performance. The present review also is the first review where I’ll ask my wife to play with a new gadget for a while and post her impressions, from a non-technical user perspective.
Pandigital is well know for building budget photo-frames, so it comes as a surprise that they entered in the digital eReaders field, especially with competitors like Amazon and Barnes & Noble. However, their approach is different: for a comparable price build an eReader with a color LCD screen that should offer additional functionality beside just of an eBook reader, very similar with what Apple has done with their iPad but in a form factor more compatible with reading, and for a price also closer to that of a popular eBook reader.

1. Unpacking


The box is attractive enough and includes the 7″ Color Multimedia eReader itself, a plastic Cradle/Stand, the AC Adapter, an USB Cable and the User Manual and the Quick-Start Guide

2. Tech Specs

  • Android OS using an ARM 11 CPU
  • Integrated Barnes & Noble e-book store
  • 7-inch 800×600 touch-screen TFT LCD (color, of course)
  • Wi-Fi adapter
  • 1 GB internal memory with SD/MMC slot (supports up to 32GB SDHC cards)
  • Automatically switches between portrait and landscape when you tilt the device, similar with the iPhone
  • eBook formats supported : PDF, EPUB,  HTML
  • Several font sizes including for PDF
  • Built-in dictionary, highlights, and notes
  • Built-in Web browser, e-mail client, alarm clock, and calendar
  • Built-in Media Player (photos, music, video)
  • Built-in Mini-USB port
  • Weight: 16 ounces

3. E-Reader Functionality

Pandigital Novel 7 integrates Barnes & Noble eBook store and mimic Nook’s functionality so you can buy and lend books the same way you do with a Nook. The color touchscreen offers a good experience indoors, but it becomes washed outside and is unusable under the bright light. If you plan to read on the beach, Pandigital is not a good choice.

The reader allows you to change the fonts and also features a dual mode day/night where the colors are inverted. The day mode displays the text with black letters on white background, the night mode (presumably not to bother the spouse) displays the text as white letters onto a black background. You can turn the page by swiping your fingers in the desired direction. This is where I wish Pandigital had included dedicated hardware buttons for page turning, similar with the Kidle/Nook units. The touchscreen is resistive, not capacitive and the experience is nowhere near iPhone/iPad. You need to push hard to have the gestures noticed and the reader is slow enough that, at times you feel your command was not registered so you are compelled to do it again.

4. Media/Games

Pandigital Novel includes a music player, a photo viewer and a music player, all with basic functionality and interface. The speakers are low quality, but that is not unexpected from a unit this size/price. The video codecs compatibility is limited and it doesn’t play HD video. There are two games included, the ubiquitous Solitaire and Link-Up.

5. Connectivity

Pandigital Novel features a Mini-USB port to synchronize with your computer (the computer will see it as a regular memory unit), WiFi adapter and a slot for SDHC cards supporting up to 32GB. The network connection was not very stable at the beginning but it became much better after I upgraded the firmware to the last version. However, the embedded wireless client is very basic…whenever it cannot connect to your access point, it gives no reason why and no error code. It does support WPA2 encryption though.

6. Internet Browsing and Web Clients

The Internet browsing experience is certainly better than on the Nook for example, although it loads the pages much slower than my iPhone 4. Having an accelerometer integrated helps with the transition between portrait to landscape and the pages render reasonably well. A peculiar characteristic is that the browser reports itself as a mobile browser so the default website loaded is the mobile one.

Pandigital includes several shortcuts on the home page to the most popular websites / services like Facebook, Stocks, Weather, etc. However, it doesn’t include dedicated clients but rather direct links to the mentioned websites. With this occasion, I learned for example that Facebook has a touchscreen optimized mode. For stocks/weather Novel uses Yahoo’s services.

7. Battery life

Pandigital Novel has an advertised life of about 6 hours. I experienced less than 5 hours with the screen set at medium brightness. Not too bad but nowhere near the dedicated units performance. Again, I can see its intended usage in bed, in the dark and be sure to have a power socket nearby.

8. PDF performance

Novel is decent at rendering PDF documents at their original size. I also tried to open some PDF books and change the default font and it does a fairly decent job as well, including PDF re-flow. Be warned though that (at least with the documents I tried), when changing the font from the original size, PDF won’t render the pictures anymore. That shouldn’t bother you when reading  literature, but with class materials or documentation, the lack of pictures is annoying.

9. Pandigital Novel vs Nook

Pandigital Novel is thicker and heavier thank Barnes & Noble Nook, but the overall dimensions are similar.

10. Wife’s Opinion

In order to get a second opinion, I asked my wife to play with it for a while. In 5 minutes, she managed to crash the unit twice, once by rapidly pressing the power button two times, first to put it to sleep, second to wake it up. It looks like Novel doesn’t like that and it hanged with a completely blank screen and I had to reset it.

The second time, Novel became non-responsive while browsing CNN website and I had to reset it again. She became frustrated and her comments were: I don’t like it, it is a piece of crap, please send it back.

It is obvious that the unit’s firmware is not fully baked for prime-time.

11. Conclusion

Pandigital Novel 7 is a cheap color eReader that would be a very good deal, especially at this price if it would work properly. However, the resistive touchscreen is unresponsive, the unit in itself is very slow (not sure if because of its underpowered CPU or because of the firmware). If you are ready to live with these issues, go and buy one and hopefully the following updates will improve the experience. If your main intended usage is eBook reading, I would go ahead and buy a Kindle or a Nook. You’ll not be wrong with either choice.

Update: The latest firmware version makes Pandigital Novel 7 a much more stable and faster machine. As a result, I increased its rating to 3 stars and 4 stars for stability.  I can recommend it now if you need to use it for more than just book reading.

Pros:

– Color Screen

– Price

Cons:

– Touchscreen responsiveness

– Battery life

– Speed

– weight, especially if you read for long periods

– no Android Marketplace (why???)

12. Gallery

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  • gadgetdiva

    The touchscreen on this device is more responsive when using a stylus.

  • Daniel

    This is true, however is not very convenient to turn pages using the stylus.

  • T

    I understand it was not the best quality, however; were you able to use all of the functions of facebook, email, etc. while browsing the internet? I am waiting for the day when a device can be an ereader with successful browsing…without all the other applications/higher price of the ipad.

  • T, yes, I was able to use all the functions including facebook and email. If you want a cheap device without high expectations, this one will perform OK. And I do expect the software to be more stable in the future…

  • Richard

    Have had mine since Friday now. Did the firmware upgrade and it seems to work fine. Pages turn very fast. I am using a stylus but directions say to simply use fingernails. Am able to watch video formatted for the Sony PSP. Since I already have a Nook and B&N account I was able to download most of my books. Some do report not being in the “correct format” to download. Not sure why?
    Color screen is great and unit works well with my WiFi connection most of the time. Have had to reset unit using a paperclip a few times and start over. Suspect that my just be a firmware revision issue. Sound via headphones is fine. Facebook app (included) works great as does email. Will add more comments after a few weeks.

  • George

    I got the Novel 7 about a week ago, it is not perfect but I believethat will get better with the next updates. Work much better with an stylus.
    I know it is slow but is just matter of wait a couple of second more. I’m happy with this reader.

  • R_Lozier

    I love mine, also own a nook, Bookeen Gen3, Opus and my 1st eReaders (2) Palm TX PDA.

  • Melissa

    Does anyone make a sleeve or something to protect it from scratches/wear?

  • Richard

    I found a carrying case at BestBuy which fits perfectly. It is called “Touring Sleeve for Compatible E-Readers” 29 dollars and has room for my stylus as well as a few other small items including the paperclip I have had to use to reset the reader a few times. I do need to find some tape or something to give me a better grip on the device. Being a little wider than the Nook I worry that I may drop it since the surfaces are so smooth.

  • Susan

    Has anyone had a problem getting books to download? It shows it’s downloading, and then nothing is added to library. Tried to do the update, and when I held the power and vol + button it says turn off or cancel. What do I do??

  • robin

    I am looking to get an ebook.
    Found this one at BJ’s for a good price. I was comparing this one to the kindle.
    thanks for all the comments!!

  • Moe

    I just saw this advertised at Walgreens and was thinking about getting. Sounds like most of you have enjoyed this product, based on the price it looks like a good buy. I’ve never downloaded ebooks, or games… I am sure most of you have done this, can anyone tell where to go to do games and how I would to it this ereader should I get it? ‘Thanks

  • denise

    can you download games from itunes?

  • Scott

    what costs are involved in using this device? I understand you have to pay for the books, anything else?

    thanks

  • Scott

    so, what extra costs are involved? I know you have to pay for the books, anything else?

  • that’s about it!

  • glen

    I bought mine today, and so far I like it. It is heavy, so long reads might get tiresome. I find the touch screen pretty darn responsive even with finger tapping. My wifi was pretty good, I lost connection only once so far!

  • Cathy

    Would like to know how to download music and movie on the Ereader. I have tried but just can’t get it figured out. Can anyone help me. Thanks

  • Katy

    You can download books from public library free.

  • Connie

    My husband gave me the Pan E-Reader for Christmas. It stopped working. I sent it in and they sent me a new one. I really like mine. However, we discovered the Link-Up game and got a little addicted. Now my screen is scratched up. It should come with protective cover and stylus. This would have made it a 10* in my opinion.

  • la mia despues de un periodo determinado de lectura se pierde el libro y tengo que volver a buscar el parrafo donde hiba que puedo hacer

  • My Pandigital worked great downloading books from B&N, and then all of a sudden I couldn’t. I keep getting “Unknown Server Error” when I try to “Get Books” I bought. B&N first said it was a software issue on their part, but later said it’s a technical issue. I have upgraded all the latest software to no avail. Pandigital won’t return my emails and am on eternal hold when I call for help. Has anyone had a problem with this? Any suggestions?