By Nate Adcock on Fri, 06/18/2010
If you refer to or use Wikipedia as much as I do, then you have to get a WikiReader (created by Openmoko). Not directly iPhone or smartphone-related, I know, but bloggers should really listen up. This is s great companion device, especially for those times when you just can't get to the network, and you need to brush up or verify some tech info. Trivia junkies will also love this gadget, so it is a superb Father's Day gift. The WikiReader brings the power of WikiP to your fingertips, and only needs 2 AAA batteries to do it (and a storage card, both included).
The WikiReader comes in a squarish box about the size of an iPod. The contents include a user manual, 2 AAA batteries and the reader itself. It will provide up to a year's worth of WikiP browsing (if you kept your everyday browsing to around 15 minutes). The front of the unit has 3 buttons, and the top has a single power on/off. Behind the battery cover, a microSD card (see below) comes pre-installed containing currently downloaded data (Spring 2010 is the latest). You can download newer WikiP compilations in zipped-up chunks as they become available via your desktop computer. If you are really old school, you can request a snail mail delivery.
The unit itself looks a little askew, almost shaped like a parallelogram. It's a bit disconcerting when you first see it, but the construction looks pretty solid. The WikiReader sports a very responsive capacitive touch Panel with a monochrome LCD module that provides a 240 X 208 resolution. It's a good size for quick spurts of reading, scanning and swiping up/down through content, which is mostly how you will use this reader. The reader only provides B/W text viewing with no pix. It also does not include a backlight, so you will need an external light source to view the screen when it's dark.
To use the WikiReader, quick press the power button, the WikiReader splash shows for a bit, and the soft keyboard appears for you to enter a query. There is no table of contents screen, so you do need to enter a search string (or use the Random button) to start browsing. As you type, topic hits begin to appear on the screen, allowing you to quickly select from results. At any time, you can select the Search feature again, and the previous search is cached. A small aggravation is that you have to backspace to erase the previous entry, but you can just hold down the back key to do this.
You can view previous topics by using the history. As you browse a subject, underlined text you are reading allows you to select and link to other topics in the library(some 3 million different topics are included). Use the "Random" button for those times when you are bored--the reader will select a topic at it's own whim.
WikiReader is currently being offered on Amazon for around 100 bucks. The WR site store indicates it is now sold out, and won't be able to ship again until July 4. A few minor gripes aside, I like the idea behind this gadget. You can read the full story here, but it's a cool idea to use chunks of reference material off the web like this. Sure you can likely do this with a web crawler or a feed of some sort on your computer or smartphone, but a tiny, low-powered gadget is geek cool. It's cheap, quick and always accessible. I think the price could come down a bit, but I imagine it will over time as some of the buzz dies off. I would be interested, and I'm sure others would also in customizing or hacking their WikiReaders. Adding content from other sources, or being able to add a custom database of information (provided it was in a standardized wiki format). I can see the WikiReader morphing and branching into a lot of similarly useful low-powered and useful tech-gear.