A while back the OpenMoko project created the goal of bringing out a Linux based smartphone called the Freerunner. Then Google brought out what became the most successful Linux based operating system of all time, Android. Well, needless to say, the writing was on the wall. The clunky OpenMoko OS, with the behind the times hardware, was enough to make OpenMoko irrelevant in the smartphone arena. Well, it seemed to be such a waste to throw out the work they did on the OS, so the next choice was to bring out another device. This time, they didn’t even try to look at bringing out another smartphone. They, instead, brought out the Wikireader.
The Wikireader is a small device and has no 3G, Wifi or bluetooth. Instead it consists of a gray scale LCD touch screen with 4 buttons. What is it exactly? It is a device that carries the entire contents of Wikipedia and Project Gutenberg in the palm of your hand.
The LCD touch screen let’s you tap in a search on both Wikipedia or Project Gutenberg depending on which you select. The on screen keyboard is reminiscent of the iPhone’s keyboard, except it is in black and white. It’s fairly easy to type a search in on the screen and is pretty accurate. It acts like Google’s search does giving you a list of articles once you have typed in the first character. There are also 3 buttons on the face. The first is the search button, the middle button takes you to a page that holds past searches and the last button will take you to a random Wikipedia page.
The device contains the entire contents of Wikipedia and Project Gutenberg. Wiktionary and Wikiquotes are also on board as well. All of this is stored on an 8 GB Micro SDHC card that is kept in the battery compartment. You can update this card to a 16 GB card maximum. Why have a Micro SD slot at all? Well since Wikipedia is always in flux, you can download updates twice a year with an update application for Windows or Mac or manually. Updates are quite large being over 4 GB in size depending on the options you include. I think it is hard to update manually since the English Wikipedia consists of 5 torrents plus the torrent for the base update files. Would be nice if there was an update app for Linux but there isn’t. To have both the English Wikipedia and Project Gutenberg you need a 16 GB MicroSDHC according to the website. Mine shipped with a 8 GB MicroSDHC and has both so I am not sure what I am missing. I have yet to have a need to update the data since I find it fairly up to date as I received it. If you don’t have broadband or do not want to download the files, you can sign up for a subscription service that will mail you two updates a year for $29.
You can also read any book on the Project Gutenberg website. Project Gutenberg is a site where you can download many public domain books for free. Instead of having to be choosy, the Wikireader can have all of them on it’s MicroSD card. Pretty handy if you are into the classics.
Also, since this device is based on Linux and OpenMoko, you can hack the device to do what you need it to do although it isn’t near as much fun to hack on as a OpenMoko phone.
Now I know what you are thinking. What does any person who owns a smartphone need with this? Your right. We don’t need it. However, it’s not for us. It’s for people like my mom, kids or others who don’t have online access in the palm of their hands all of the time. It also could be handy for distributing to people in Third World countries. The only question I have is: will these people know what Wikipedia is or care?
The Wikireader is available now direct from the Amazon.com.or
MSRP: $99 with an optional $29 dollar subscription for updates. Updates can also be downloaded for free via broadband connection.
What I liked: Simple to use. The entire Wikipedia in the palm of your hand. You can read books like The Count of Monte Cristo on it for free.
What Needs Improvement: Too many torrent files to download for updates. Screen is also hard to read in low light situations. Pointless if you have a smartphone.