A leading name in digital photo frames is putting its small-screen expertise to work on e-book readers.
Pandigital, which has several models in our Ratings of photo frames (available to subscribers) today announces its first e-book reader. The Pandigital Novel 7-Inch Color Multimedia E-Reader uses an LCD screen, as do digital frames, and Wi-Fi connectivity, a growing feature for frames.
With a list price of $199—and likely to sell for $180, Pandigital says—the Novel will be available around June 6 in Bed, Bath & Beyond, which now sells Pandigital's photo frames. Other retailers will follow, Pandigital says. The company also plans to announce additional e-book readers as early as next month.
Like the Barnes & Noble Nook, the Novel has an Android-based operating system and an integrated B&N e-bookstore—though its look, feel, and navigation are quite different than on the Nook. The device also natively accepts book formats used by other e-bookstores, such as Epub.
A brief trial of the Novel last week at a meeting with Pandigital offered no definitive verdict on the device’s performance. I used a pre-production version in which some features (like the web browser) were not activated and others were still being tweaked.
The Novel's screen has touch capability, and you navigate to content using a virtual menu that pops up at the bottom of the screen. As one would expect from an LCD screen, type was less crisp than on most e-book readers, including the Nook and Amazon Kindle, which use e-ink technology. Like most photo frames, too, viewing angle was an issue; the screen darkened noticeably as I angled it away from me.
Page turns, which are initiated with a finger swipe across the screen, seemed a bit slower than on iBooks app on the Apple iPad, and they lacked its dazzling curling-page effect. Instead, new pages slid in from the right, with text that juddered a little as it moved into place. However, page-turn performance may well be among the attributes that Pandigital is tweaking for the production version of the Novel.
The Novel resembles one of the company's photo frames, and comes with a photo-display app and stand (see image above). It also has a thick glass screen that adds both aesthetic appeal and some significant disadvantages.
The glass smudges easily and helps boost the Novel’s weight to a hefty 16 ounces, about 6 ounces more than the 7-inch Sony Daily Edition, for example. And while glass resists scratches, it might make some owners worry about breakage; after all, durability is the leading factor guiding would-be buyers of e-book readers, by one report.
At $180, the 7-Inch Color Novel costs a lot less than the Sony Daily Edition, which costs about $400, and significantly less than the Nook and the Kindle, which are $260, and have smaller (6-inch) screens. But those devices all come with 3G access and weigh less. And while they lack the Novel’s color capability, they use e-ink technology, with its crisper type and better contrast.
Pandigital’s first e-book reader seems like a reworking of its frame technology designed to provide a stopgap until its other e-book devices appear later in the year. And while the company sees synergy in selling its first e-book reader beside its photo frames in a home-goods store, it'll be interesting to see how well Bed, Bath & Beyond staffers will be able to advise on a device that’s arguably more complex and geeky than even a digital photo frame.
We expect to test the 7-Inch Color Novel as part of an update later in the year to our Ratings of e-book readers, available to subscribers.