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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
– Color Screen
– Touchscreen responsiveness
– Battery life
– weight, especially if you read for long periods
– no Android Marketplace (why???)