I have been interested lately in offline Wikipedia access and while searching I noticed that Best Buy was now carrying the WikiReader. This wasn’t surprising, I knew Futureshop has been carrying it for $69.95 for a while now but Best Buy is currently selling it for $39.95. At almost half the price it is irresistible.
The WikiReader is a small handheld electronic device that gives you access to an offline, text version of Wikipedia stored on the 4GB microSD flash memory card hidden in the battery bay. It sips power from two standard AAA batteries which are expected to last about ~90 hours or about a year of typical use. I like a device that is power efficient.
It uses an Epson S1C33 E07 microcontroller and 3.5″ monochrome, reflective LCD screen. It is a capacitive touch screen with an on-screen keyboard. It is definitely not as nice as Kindle’s E Ink screen and it certainly doesn’t use as much power as a backlit screen but it may not meet the expectations of some today. I think the trade off is worth it for the low price and excellent battery life.
The snapshot of Wikipedia it shipped with was from June 2010 and doesn’t include pictures, maps or illustrations. Updates are available through shipped flash cards for a charge or through free downloads from their site. If you wish to update to the September 30, 2010 (or Jan 15, 2011) snapshot it appears you need to use a larger flash memory card. They also have Wikipedia in other languages, Wiktionary, Wikiquote and Wikitravel available for download. They also now have 33,000 works from Project Gutenberg but you would need a 16GB flash card to fit both Gutenberg and Wikipedia. I will probably put the english Wikipedia, Wiktionary, Wikiquote and Wikitravel on an 8GB flash card and put Gutenberg on the 4GB flash card it came with and keep it for “just in case”.
I fear that many would feel this device is redundant in our smart phone infested world or with pervasive internet connectivity in urban areas. Before you discount this device consider that there are some definite uses. It doesn’t take long in my part of the world to escape coverage. There are more than a few of us who can’t justify the price of an annual data subscription. Roaming charges can be excessive while travelling and there are some who don’t even use the Internet. Remember paper encyclopedias? The WikiReader is much smaller, easier to upgrade and less expensive than the paper based alternative.