Pandigital's Novel is an inexpensive Android tablet disguised as an e-reader

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Yesterday we heard about the Pandigital Novel, a new color e-reader due out next month. It's interesting for a few reasons.

First the basics. The Novel is an Android based device that will come coupled with Barnes & Noble's e-book store. It has a 7 inch resistive touch screen with an 800x600 resolution and it weighs a pound. It's got 1GB of internal memory with a 2-in-1 card slot for SD/MMC cards. Connectivity is via Wi-Fi or USB port. No 3G options available. The price is $200.

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So Barnes & Noble is partnering with a company that is launching a $200 Android e-reader, when B&N already has its $259 Nook e-reader (also running Android). Of course there are differences, primarily that the Nook has a monochrome e-ink screen while the Novel is color LCD. Pandigital isn't sharing exactly what version of Android the Novel is running, but it does come with a range of pre-installed apps, including music and video players, a web browser, calendar and some games. At launch the device won't have any kind of Android Market feature, but according to Suzanne Kantra at Techlicous the ability to download new apps will be added in a few months.

I guess a lot depends on how important that e-ink screen is to you, but on paper at least, the $200 Novel seems like a better deal than the $260 Nook to me (of course what sounds right on paper often doesn't pan out when you've got hardware in your hands). What this partnership says to me is that Barnes & Noble wants their e-book store to succeed, and that success of the store takes precedence over success of the Nook. That's encouraging news to those of us considering building a library of e-books who don't want to be locked into a specific piece of hardware.

But what's really going to be interesting is seeing how well the Novel does on the market. Essentially the Novel is a budget Android tablet that Pandigital has decided to market as an e-reader. Considering you can buy two and a half Novels for the cost of the cheapest iPad, will this end up (in the short term at least) being the tablet for those who find the iPad to be priced out of reach (or who dislike Apple's closed system)? The resistive touch screen is a cause of concern and performance is a huge question mark. On the other hand, you get what you pay for.

I'll be eager to hear what the Android community can do with the Novel. Once they 'root' it, this little tablet might be a big hit with Android developers looking to get a jump on developing large(r)-screen apps for the various higher powered Android tablets headed to store shelves this fall? Past experience has shown the inexpensive Android devices often come with severely outdated version of Android (such as 1.5). We'll hope that isn't the case with the Novel, but if it is, perhaps some clever hardware hackers can 'fix' that for the rest of us.

Here's a short video from CNET showing the Novel in operation:

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