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First Look: WikiReader, Wikipedia In Your Pocket

By - Source: Tom's Guide US | B 17 comments

Hold the world's knowledge in your palm!

Openmoko, a company that is selling mobile devices based on open source software, has released a new mobile device that puts the entire English-language content of Wikipedia in the palm of your hand. The WikiReader is a portable device with a 3.7" monochrome touchscreen that stores Wikipedia on a 4 GB microSD flash memory card.

Consider it a simple eBook Reader that searches and browses through one huge HTML file using a basic web browser that the manufacturer has developed for the WikiReader.

What makes this device somewhat fascinating is the fact that the public Wikipedia XML file has, according to Openmoko, a size of somewhere between 25 and 30 GB and the company was able to compress it to less than 4 GB. And no, there are no images included, as the Wikipedia content with images is about 72 TB.

I had the chance to play with the WikiReader for one day ahead of its launch. It is about the size of a compact portable navigation system. It sports a very simplistic white-and-black design that apparently tries to resemble an Apple-like product look. There are just four physical buttons - the on/off button, a "search", "history" and a "random" button. Realistically, you do not need much more features to browse through Wikipedia content, considering that the device has an onscreen keyboard and a very functional touchscreen. I found the touchscreen easy to use and the keyboard comfortable enough to look for content. There are no scroll bars - you simply slide through content, similar like you would use an iPhone.

If there is any criticism, than it is that the browser lacks a back button. The history button somewhat occupies that function, as it stores previously selected Wikipedia content. However, if you are browsing through content by selecting links with articles, it is somewhat complicated getting back to previous content. A simply back button could solve this problem.

The WikiReader screen is 3.7" in size and has a resolution of 240x200 pixels. It won't win any prizes for clarity and contrast and it in fact is somewhat hard to reader if you look at it from an angle and direct light exposure. However, I found that the screen serves its purpose just fine outside during the current cold overcast days in Chicago. But yes, the screen has some room for improvement.

So who will buy the WikiReader?

Clearly anyone who has a need or thirst of Encyclopedia knowledge on the go. If you are on vacation and are looking for background info about the locations you are visiting or if you simply want to impress your children when they have a question about something you are not familiar with. It is even an interesting product for children to discover and learn. The WikiReader is a simple and very conclusive idea and I wonder why it has taken so long for someone to come up with such a device. It is on sale now for $99 (via Amazon.com) and you can download quarterly Wikipedia updates free of charge. The downloads are initially available from Openmoko's website, and will later be posted on Wikipedia's website and distributed via torrents as well, Openmoko said.

The company also offers a $59-per-year subscription that will provide you with a new microSD card and refreshed Wikipedia content once a quarter.

Single Parent Gossip is giving away three of the WikiReaders in a prize drawing. Jump over to Single Parent Gossip to sign up.

About the Author: Wolfgang Gruener is the Editor of Single Parent Gossip, a website focused on empowering single parents, helping them to connect with other single parents, share experiences and learn about the joys of single parenting. Previously he was a Managing Editor for the news section of Tom's Hardware and founded TGDaily.com, where he currently serves as a member of the board and advisor. You can reach him at http://www.singleparentgossip.com.   

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  • 6 Hide
    dxwarlock , October 13, 2009 6:44 AM
    now you can PAY to get inaccurate information at the tips of your fingers!

    why by a device that has no pictures and only wikipedia info on it? a netbook or even any smart phone can load the page as it is, and still access the entire net.
  • -3 Hide
    matt87_50 , October 13, 2009 6:52 AM
    "The company also offers a $59-per-year subscription that will provide you with a new microSD card and refreshed Wikipedia content once a quarter."

    I was about to ask if it could get updates, but why the hell does it cost money? I understand if they send it out on a new mem stick every quarter but surely you must be able to just download an update freely and put it on the card that came with it? I mean they aren't seriously charging $60 a year for just taking the FREE wiki archive and compressing it?

    otherwise its a cool idea. I assume there is already an app for doing the same thing on the ipod touch? would be cool on that too (and any other such device that doesn't have net access)
  • 3 Hide
    WheelsOfConfusion , October 13, 2009 6:57 AM
    Downside: There's no place on the front to write "DON'T PANIC" in large, friendly letters.
  • 2 Hide
    doomtomb , October 13, 2009 7:36 AM
    Get a laptop or netbook with internet... problem solved. All these standalone devices are so useless.
  • -2 Hide
    Anonymous , October 13, 2009 7:58 AM
    matt87_50: the product is obviously not for you because you don't know how to read, "...and you can download quarterly Wikipedia updates free of charge."

    Pretty cool. I'm getting one for my mom - who hates smartphones.

  • -1 Hide
    virtualban , October 13, 2009 8:12 AM
    When I first read aboutsingleparentgossip.com I thought it was a joke and did not even bother to click the link. This confirmation was new. Not a happy news, for me at least.
  • 0 Hide
    dragos_craciun , October 13, 2009 8:58 AM
    Quote:
    What makes this device somewhat fascinating is the fact that the public Wikipedia XML file has, according to Openmoko, a size of somewhere between 25 and 30 GB and the company was able to compress it to less than 4 GB.

    Come on guys. Just take a big text and zip it. It will shrink at 10% of the initial size.
  • -1 Hide
    dragos_craciun , October 13, 2009 10:11 AM
    An older netbook model is 150$-200$. Why would one give 99$ Plus 59$ a year for a thing like this? Gosh.
  • 0 Hide
    gimpy1 , October 13, 2009 10:48 AM
    The only use for this is old people. My grandmother loves to look stuff up on Wikipedia but can't operate a computer herself. This would be right up her alley. Unfortunately, the screen lacks the necessary size and clarity for her to read it.
  • 0 Hide
    dragos_craciun , October 13, 2009 12:33 PM
    gimpy1The only use for this is old people. My grandmother loves to look stuff up on Wikipedia but can't operate a computer herself. This would be right up her alley. Unfortunately, the screen lacks the necessary size and clarity for her to read it.

    Buy grandma a nettop and a big LCD. Put the LCD on a lower resolution. Put all required icons on the desktop and no password. Make a disk image and restore it when too much malware has invaded the machine. Very easy.
  • 1 Hide
    frankzz , October 13, 2009 1:15 PM
    Quote:
    It is on sale now for $99 (via Amazon.com) and you can download quarterly Wikipedia updates free of charge. The downloads are initially available from Openmoko's website, and will later be posted on Wikipedia's website and distributed via torrents as well, Openmoko said.


    The updates are free... if you cant figure out how to use torrents or have no/reallllly slow connection, then the $60 a year would be the thing to do. Those people are used to paying for stuff anyways. ;) 
  • 0 Hide
    hellwig , October 13, 2009 1:49 PM
    Interesting device. Since its based on "open source software", it would be interesting to see how its done, and compress other text-only information onto the device. I imagine you could easily compress books and other media. This device (or others like it) have a good chance of slipping in around the back to become a moderately successful e-book reader (for books that are out of copyright if nothing else).
  • 0 Hide
    roldy , October 13, 2009 2:14 PM
    DXWarlocknow you can PAY to get inaccurate information at the tips of your fingers!why by a device that has no pictures and only wikipedia info on it? a netbook or even any smart phone can load the page as it is, and still access the entire net.


    ^
    My sentiments exactly!

    I had offline access to wikipedia on my greyscale palm pilots in the 90's. you could get "granny" an old palmV for 10$. Or splurge and get a colour Palm M505 for $20 ($500-600 devices in their prime). They did more than browse wiki too!! :p 

    The only technology in this thing thats not from last century is the MICRO in microSD... Looks like manufacturers are running out of places to offload those B&W LCDs these days.
  • 2 Hide
    Anonymous , October 13, 2009 7:25 PM
    Text is very compressable. Especially HTML text.
    HTML text can go between 8 and 23% of compression.
    Regular text stays around 10%. So I'm not surprised that a 4GB disk can host upto 40GB of web info!
    Especially with a large dictionary aimed towards HTML headers and codes.

    Also I have a 2006 version of Wikipedia which is 8GB compressed (with Foto's).
    I agree that it has been getting larger and larger over time.
    But you also need to know that these versions of the Wikipedia (probably) don't have any history pages (previous corrections) in them.
    They might have discussions, but that's probably how far they go.
    Wikipedia's undo history takes up nearly 80% of it's total size!
  • 0 Hide
    Spanky Deluxe , October 14, 2009 2:36 AM
    Not a bad idea but it would have been more popular had it been released at the same price point three or so years ago. These days most people who would want to have Wikipedia access on the fly are more likely to opt for a more multifunctional device. After all, people with iPhones have had Wikipedia access in their pocket for over two years now and its been accessible on smart phones since the first mobile html browsers.

    Maybe what this company should do is design an off-line wikipedia reader for iPhone/iPod Touches. One that can download a 4GB wikipedia snapshot from your computer. They could supply pre-formatted wikipedia dumps online every quarter.

    On a completely different note, it looks like some idiots are DDOS attacking Apple's servers.
  • 0 Hide
    vandan , October 14, 2009 6:59 PM
    Looks like most of those who commented here have access to all kinds of multifunction handheld devices. Well, this one has been designed with the idea of providing offline content of Wikipedia, with an option to update it quarterly. One can do it free of cost (download frakkin' 4GB) or pay someone else to do it ($29 for two updates per year). For convenience sake, many would prefer the latter, not because they are used to paying for things. Come on!

    As regards utility quotient of such devices, I think they are great for kids. Get one of them for your 7/8-year old on his/her birthday instead of a toy machine gun/barbie or a mindless PS or Xbox, and you would understand the underlying utility of this device. Errors in some Wikipedia articles notwithstanding, this still is a great piece of hardware.

    For others, go play with your multifunction telephone-game console-net browser-emailer-camera-radio-bluetooth-wifi-and whatever frakkin' 'i' or not 'i'-device and let those who understand the value of education and information for themselves and their offspring offer more productive comments on the forum.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , October 20, 2009 4:46 PM
    I agree with vandan above me. Was just talking to the spouse about grabbing one of these for my nephew who is 8.

    Plus, it really is Wikipedia and it probably is just a compressed HTML file. Take some time, open it up and let your kid fix / add new entries. Empower our youth.

    $99 is mildly steep, for $50 I'd jump on it. However, this is a small company who has not reached volume yet. Damn shame about the phones, I really wanted one.
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