The WikiReader is based on a neat concept: the ability to take Wikipedia with you on the go without the need to connect to the Internet. But how does it fare in terms of execution? Here's a look at the device's bright spots plus areas that need a bit more polish.
Simply quick: The WikiReader has a simple, no-frills interface and firmware that allows it to load articles fast. Pages also scroll up and down pretty quickly with a simple upward or downward swipe of the touch screen using your fingers.
Tons of entries: With more than 3 million Wikipedia articles to browse, there certainly isn't a shortage of stuff to feed your curious fancy. From puppy dogs and sausage casings to thyroid cancer and the Mars Lander program, there's a ton of info included in this pocket Wikipedia. It even has incredibly comprehensive articles about my hometown in the Philippines. The device remembers your browsing history as well.
Can be updated: The portable Wikipedia encyclopedia can be updated to ensure that it has the latest content. You can do this for free via the WikiReader Site by taking out the MicroSD card from the battery slot and connecting it to your computer. You can also fork over $29 plus taxes and shipping charges to have two new SD cards with updated content sent to you each year.
Long battery life: The portable encyclopedia doesn't use much power and can last you months from just normal use. It also automatically shuts down after several minutes of inactivity.
Parental lock: Parents who decide to give the WikiReader to kids as a present can activate a parental lock that screens for articles that may not be suitable for children.
Unclear instructions: While the interface is pretty basic, the instructions that come with the device could be a bit more thorough. That parental lock I talked about earlier isn't even mentioned in the manual. I ended up accessing it by pressing the "Random" button several times until an article that warranted parental locking came up. It also doesn't say that you need to press the "History" button twice to erase your browsing history or that the device has a removable MicroSD card. It does a better job of explaining the "Search" button, which also serves as the button for launching and hiding the keyboard and returning to the previous screen.
Virtual keyboard quirks: The virtual keyboard is a bit tiny, which can be a potential issue for folks with big fingers. Touch detection also gets a bit wonky toward the edges of the screen. Once in a while, touching a link doesn't register, particularly after you hide the keyboard when you get a long list of recommended articles for certain keywords.
Too simple: While simplicity is one of the WikiReader's strong points, it can also be a bit too simple. One person I showed the device to, for example, said it would be nice if it also showed pictures — something that isn't feasible with the device's monochromatic screen. It also doesn't have a backlight so reading in the dark is an issue. Reading in low light can easily tire out your eyes as well. Another issue is screen glare.
Search quirks: For some subjects, I noticed that entries don't show up in a search depending on the keyword you use. ESPN show PTI host Tony Kornheiser, for example, can be searched with his last name. But colleagues Michael Wilbon and Tony Reali don't show up if you just type their last names.
Price: A price tag of $99 sounds a bit expensive for a monochromatic device that's pretty simply constructed. The portable Twitter device the TwitterPeek, for example, has been hammered for cost (it starts out at $99) — and it has WiFi. Granted, the WikiReader comes with an 8 GB MicroSD card and free batteries but still ... (Maybe touch screen technology adds to the cost?).
The WikiReader is one of those rare devices that's tough to review. That's because some people will really like it while some more tech-savvy folks will likely find it lacking in bells and whistles. My iPhone-using cousins, for example, weren't exactly wowed by it. But my mom — who isn't a big fan of complicated gadgets — absolutely loved it. I can see younger kids with inquistive minds and Wikipedia fans loving this portable device, as well.
Ultimately, I've decided to give the WikiReader a rating representative of that divide. I can't give it a blanket endorsement for everybody. But for kids, older generations and a certain segment of the population that likes a simple, portable encyclopedia, I can see it making a nice gift. The concept behind it certainly has plenty of potential and I can't wait to see how it evolves in the future.
Disclosure: A review sample was provided by the manufacturer. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.