- Simple design and features
- Contains more than 3 million Wikipedia articles
- Open-source software
- Navigating long articles is tedious
- No spelling suggestions
- Typing is often frustrating
It's Wikipedia in your pocket with a simple design that makes the WikiReader useful and fun.
Some mobile devices are useful for productivity, others just useful time wasters. The WikiReader may be both. This small, touch-enabled device is best described as “Wikipedia in your pocket,” as its only function is to serve up articles from the Web’s crowd-sourced encyclopedia, and I spent entirely too much time in the office reading articled served up by the WikiReader that I feel compelled to apologize to my boss.
Priced $99 at launch, the WikiReader is mainly intended for school-aged children as a useful learning resource and study aid, judging from the fact that it’s not connected and questionable Wikipedia content can be easily filtered out by concerned parents. Though, I suspect pub crawlers could find use for the WikiReader at trivia night as a sneaky means around “no cell phones” rules.
Apart from barroom trivia cheating and elementary school homework, is there any other reason to pick up a WikiReader? Read on to find out.
Build and Design
The WikiReader is a pocket-sized square device measuring approximately 3.5 x 3.5 inches. It’s slightly sloped when viewed from the side, measuring just over half an inch at its thickest point. The square touch screen is also 3.5 inches diagonal.
Three buttons adorn the WikiReader’s front: search (calls up the on-screen keyboard), history (calls up search history), and random (randomly selects one of more than 3 million topics). There is a small power button on top of the WikiReader and a cover concealing the two AAA batteries (included!) that power the device and a microSD card slot.
It’s a minimalistic device that comes in one color combo, black and white. The plastic case and tempered glass screen feel solid, as if they could stand the abuse from jostling inside a child’s backpack, but I wouldn’t describe the WikiReader as rugged. In other words, don’t drop it.
The touchscreen is about as basic it gets. It’s monochrome, only displays text, and the pixels are large enough to discern individually. WikiReader maker Openmoko doesn’t publish the specs, but other sources online claim the screen resolution is 240×200 pixels.
The WikiReader won’t wow you with its display. The viewing angles are limited, the contrast is lacking and it’s not backlit so you can’t read it in the dark. But it works. I comfortably read pages and pages of articles without any eyestrain, and there’s a certain charm to a low-resolution display in the age of the iPad.
Performance & Usability
The low-tech screen’s charms wears thin when it comes to the onscreen keyboard. The keys are small, which might be fine for kids but can frustrate those with chubby digits. Also, unlike advanced onscreen keyboards, you have to press the keys directly; you can’t slide your finger to the appropriate key without inputting every letter in your wake.
You’d better be a decent speller too. The WikiReader lacks the processing power to pull up suggestions for misspellings. Spell a topic wrong and the device will serve a “no entries found” message. For example, a search for “Hallween” won’t pull up an article on the October 31st holiday. It will make up to five suggestions as you type displayed in alphabetical order. Therefore, as I inputted “h-a-l-l…” the WikiReader suggested the Hall & Oates entries. Pressing the search button again removes the keyboard display and brings up all the articles beginning with “hall,” requiring users perform a lengthy scroll to find the intended entry.
Also, pressing the search button will bring up the last bit of text inputted. You must manually delete the previous search text to start anew.
Once you do find the appropriate entry, you may encounter a screen with all the articles pertaining to the topic. For example, select “HAL” and you are offered up articles on “Hamburg American Life,” “Hawaiian Airlines,” and “Het Amsterdams Lyceum,” in addition to many others.
Once you do find the article of interest, the layout is similar to a standard Wikipedia page, complete with linked text leading to other related articles buts sans any graphical elements or charts. You have to manually scroll through the entire article with finger swipes and read it all in order. There are no shortcuts to other sections, which is a pain with longer articles. For example, if you pull up the “Steve Jobs” entry, there is no shortcut to the “Beginnings of Apple Computer” section buried in the article.
The history button pulls up a screen of all past searches listed in chronological order, and there is a hidden back function tucked in the lower-left corner of the screen. It’s not labeled on the display and sometimes the WikiReader thinks you would rather access the closest linked text in the article.
The power button only turns the WikiReader on, it will automatically power down after a minute or two of idle time. Turning it back on resets the search screen, but you can quickly navigate to the page you were on via the history screen. The AAA batteries should power the WikiReader of months at a time.