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Pandigital Novel 7" Android Tablet & eReader Review
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Date: Jun 02, 2011
Section:Gadgets
Author: Jennifer Johnson
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Introduction & Specifications

Earlier this year, Pandigital announced a firmware upgrade for its 7-inch Pandigital Novel line of products that transformed the eReaders into full Android tablets. Although the Pandigital Multimedia Novel 7-inch Android tablet doesn't have the same powerful processor or specs as some of the other tablets we've reviewed recently, its low price ($199.99 MSRP, street prices as low as $140 at the time of this writing), will certainly capture the attention of users who are looking for an eReader with added functionality for an affordable price.

Tablets are HOT right now, though not everyone can afford a $500+ Apple iPad, Motorola Xoom, or other high-end tablet. With the Pandigital Novel 7-inch tablet, you'll get many of Android's popular functions including the ability to check email, browse the web, manage your calendar, listen to music, watch movies, read books, and much more. The tablet also lets you install apps, though the installation process is different from other Android tablets and smartphones. We'll discuss these differences in greater detail in the coming pages. 


The 7-inch Novel eReader comes with 2GB of onboard memory and an SD card slot that supports cards as large as 32GB for easy expansion. The eReader also offers Wi-Fi and USB 2.0 connectivity. We wondered what type of a tablet you can get for less than $200, so we decided to check it out. Join us in the coming pages as we take a hands-on look at the Pandigital Multimedia Novel 7-inch Android tablet.

Pandigital Multimedia Novel 7-inch Android Tablet & Color eReader - R70E200
Specifications & Features

General
   Screen Size
   Panel
   Resolution
   Operating System
   Dimensions
   Weight


7-inches
Digital TFT LCD
600 x 800 pixels
Android
5.25 x 7.25 x .5 inches
12 oz

Supported Formats
   eBooks
   Audio
   Images
   Video


EPUB, PDF
MP3, AAC, WAV
JPEG, BMP, PNG, GIF
MPEG4

Storage
   Internal Memory
   Card Reader
   Expandable Memory


2GB
2-in-1
SD/SDHC, MMC/MMC+ up to 32GB

User Interface
   Virtual
   Tactile


Full touchscreen / Virtual Keyboard
Volume Up/Down, Power On/Off

Connections
   Wi-Fi
   USB Port
   Headphone Jack


802.11 b/g
(1) mini-USB 2.0
(1) stereo mini headphone

Battery
Built-in rechargeable Li-ion (AC adapter included)
Warranty
1-year
Dimensions
5.25" x 7.25" x .5"
Weight
12 oz

 

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Design

The Novel 7-inch Tablet features a lightweight and small form factor that makes it easy to slip into your briefcase or purse. This tablet measures 5.25 x 7.25 x 0.5 inches and weighs just 12 ounces. Its 7-inch screen supports a resolution of 600 x 800. This is a resistive touch display, so it's not quite as smooth or responsive as the capacitive touch displays we've seen on the Xoom or iPad. As is fairly typical of resistive touch display devices, the tablet also comes with a stylus for input and navigation.

A black plastic bezel surrounds the screen on the front of the device. A similar version of this tablet is also available with a white bezel. There are no buttons on the front of the tablet, though you will find a light sensor just above the display. The bezel is a tad on the flimsy side, though it serves its purpose.  The case of the Novel 7-inch Tablet is comprised of plastic, which is to be expected considering the Novel's target market and price point.


Click to enlarge

On the left edge of the tablet near the top, you'll find the Power button. The right side of the tablet houses the miniUSB port as well as a DC jack. At the base of the right side, you'll notice the stylus. The top edge of the Novel 7-inch Tablet houses the volume rocker, SD card slot, combination Wi-Fi and low power switch, and a headset jack. The back of the Novel 7-inch Tablet contains the speaker in the upper right corner.

In the box, you'll find a User Guide, Quick Start Guide, AC Adapter, USB Cable, and a cradle. The cradle can be particularly useful for people who want to use the tablet to watch videos, reference something on tablet's screen while also working on a PC, or as a digital photo frame when the Novel 7-inch Tablet is not being used for other purposes.

     

Click to enlarge

Viewing angles with Novel 7 are decent, though they're definitely not as good as we've seen on some other tablets. Generally, we were able to view and read the screen at a 45 degree angle to the screen. Like other tablets, the Novel 7-inch Tablet has an accelerometer that will automatically rotate the screen when you rotate the device. Here again, the accelerometer isn't quite as responsive as other high-end tablets but it gets the job done.

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User Interface

Originally, the 7-inch Pandigital Novel shipped without full access to the Android operating system. Thanks to a firmware update, the tablet received greater functionality including support for a range of file formats and the ability to shop and access content from Barnes & Noble’s NOOKbook Store. Existing customers who own the original 7-inch Pandigital Novel can take advantage of the free update by visiting Pandigital's web site.

Pandigital released a firmware update during the course of our review so we installed the latest firmware. The update process was as simple as one could ask for – simply download the software upgrade tool from Pandigital's site, follow a few instructional screens, restart the device, and enjoy your newly updated Novel. We appreciate that Pandigital makes the update process easy and pain-free. The whole process took us less than 15 minutes to complete. With the firmware update, Pandigital says users will get faster overall performance, support for a variety of additional file formats, the ability to install applications, and more.

     

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Even with the firmware update, there's a catch when it comes to installing applications. Because the Novel 7-inch Tablet doesn't come with the Android Marketplace, you won't be able to install applications in the same way as you would with another Android tablet. However, the Novel 7-inch Tablet does come with an app called SlideME that provides access to a variety of Android apps (at the time of this writing, there were over 2,900 applications listed).

There aren't a ton of pre-installed apps on the Novel 7-inch Tablet, but the basic personal information management applications you would expect are available. For example, there is an alarm clock, calculator, calendar, contact, and email applications. There are also music and photo viewing apps. Most users that are interested in basic tablet functionality with a device like the Novel 7-inch Tablet, will be glad there isn't a lot of unnecessary and added bloat applications.

  

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The Novel 7-inch Tablet doesn't support multi touch or double-tapping to zoom. This was particularly noticeable while browsing the web since we've become accustomed to one or both of these features with most tablets we've seen before. To zoom in or out while browsing the web, simply tap the appropriate magnifying glass at the bottom of the display. Pages didn't load quite as quickly as we would have liked while browsing the web but speeds weren't unbearably slow either.

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Performance Benchmarks

As mentioned, the Novel 7-inch Tablet doesn't come with the Android Marketplace. Because we couldn't install many of our standard benchmark applications without the Android Marketplace, we searched and found a hack for the tablet that would enable this functionality. After a short install process, we were in business.

Even after installing the hack with the Android Marketplace, not all of our benchmarks were available/would run on the Novel 7-inch Tablet, likely because we were running an older version of Android. Still, we were able to run BenchmarkPi and SunSpider.


As you can see from the charts above, the Novel 7-inch Tablet comes in significantly behind any other device in our reference database in both tests. Keep in mind that most of the devices in our reference bank have 1GHz processors and that the Novel 7-inch Tablet has a slower processor. Although Pandigital doesn't publish the processor details, other reports claim it’s a 533Mhz Samsung ARM 11 processor. Also, keep in mind that the Novel 7-inch Tablet was designed as an eReader first, so it wasn't designed to perform as a multimedia consumption type device.

A Note On Battery Life: Pandigital rates the Novel's battery life at 6 hours in reading mode. Overall, we felt this rating was pretty accurate, though the battery life will definitely vary depending on how you use the tablet and what features are enabled. Often, we were able to make it through a day of use (at least 8 hours) without needing to charge.

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Conclusion

Considering the Novel 7-inch Tablet's price of less than $200, one has to figure that you're not going to get the same functionality as you would get on a $500+ tablet such as the Apple iPad or Motorola Xoom. With that said, you get what you pay for with this tablet. The Novel 7-inch Tablet isn't quite as responsive as other more expensive tablets, but for the price, you come to expect a little less from it. Also, because of the price differences, the Novel 7-inch Tablet is destined for a different target market than the iPad or Xoom.

The Novel 7-inch Tablet was first designed to be an eReader. After Pandigital issued a firmware update, the device received tablet functionality with various applications and a custom app store that enables users to expand the Novel's capabilities even further. Not only do you get the ability to shop and access content from Barnes & Noble’s NOOKbook Store, but you also get key apps such as a calendar, contact management app, calculator, email app, and web browser. Although we wish Pandigital would have enabled the Android Marketplace on the Novel 7-inch Tablet, we appreciate that the company did include its own version of an app store via the SlideME application.

 

For users who want an ultra-affordable tablet with basic personal information management functionality as well as the ability to carry and read eBooks, the Pandigital Novel 7-inch Tablet may be a good fit.  Just set your expectations proportional to its price tag.

     
  • Affordable price tag
  • Ability to install applications
  • Full-size SD card slot for added storage capacity
  • Lacks Android Marketplace
  • Resistive touch screen
  • Sometimes slow to respond

 



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