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First Look: WikiReader, Wikipedia In Your Pocket

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.   

  • dxwarlock
    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.
    Reply
  • matt87_50
    "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)
    Reply
  • WheelsOfConfusion
    Downside: There's no place on the front to write "DON'T PANIC" in large, friendly letters.
    Reply
  • doomtomb
    Get a laptop or netbook with internet... problem solved. All these standalone devices are so useless.
    Reply
  • 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.

    Reply
  • virtualban
    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.
    Reply
  • dragos_craciun
    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.
    Reply
  • dragos_craciun
    An older netbook model is 150$-200$. Why would one give 99$ Plus 59$ a year for a thing like this? Gosh.
    Reply
  • gimpy1
    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.
    Reply
  • dragos_craciun
    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.
    Reply