How often do you access Wikipedia? How often have you wished you could access that information goldmine but couldn’t because you were away from your computer and Internet connection? If the answer to both questions is “All the freakin’ time!” you’ll want to check out the WikiReader.
This wickedly simple device puts 3 million Wikipedia articles at your fingertips wherever you happen to be. While some would argue you can already do that with any smartphone and a Wi-Fi connection, you won’t get your answers anywhere as fast as the WikiReader can deliver them. That’s because a massive chunk of the Wikipedia is stored on a removable 8GB MicroSD card inside the device itself.
The WikiReader powers up in less than three seconds and delivers results even faster. It runs on two AA batteries, which the manufacturer (Openmoko) claims will power the gadget for a full year (based on 15 minutes of use each day). The device automatically powers itself off after two minutes of inactivity. Openmoko puts disposable alkaline batteries in the box, but environmentally conscious folk can replace these with the rechargeable variety.
The WikiReader is built entirely on free, open-source software.
Three buttons are arranged along the bottom of the bezel, but the WikiReader would be nearly as useful with just one. Pressing the Search button calls up an onscreen keyboard on the device’s 3.5-inch capacitive monochrome touch screen so you can finger-type your query. We found the onscreen keys to be just about the right size for our fingers, but we wouldn’t want them to be any smaller. Users with larger fingers might prefer using the eraser end of a pencil as a stylus. As you begin typing, a list of possible results appears in a column beneath the input area. Tap the word you’re searching for and the Wikipedia article appears almost instantly. The History button displays a list of your most recent searches, while the Random button does just what you’d expect.
The touch screen responds to finger taps for entering text, selecting entries, and following hyperlinks to other Wikipedia entries, but it also responds to finger-stroke actions anywhere on the screen. To scroll through longer entries, just drag your finger tip up or down. The display is easy to read, but only if you have adequate light. We’d happily give up half the battery life in exchange for a backlight that rendered the WikiReader usable in more indoor environments, where the screen is also highly susceptible to glare. The device is perfectly legible in direct sunlight, on the other hand.
The WikiReader doesn’t retain its current state when it turns itself off, but you can quickly return to your last search simply by pressing the History button and tapping the entry at the top of the list. Unlike the real Wikipedia, the WikiReader includes a parental-control option designed to shield youngsters from adult-oriented content. With the filter engaged, you must enter a password before the reader will display entries on certain topics, such as pornography. But this parental control is even more laughably ineffective than most: The filter prompted us for a password when we searched for the word “porn,” for instance, but instantly displayed both the sexual and political definitions of the term “teabagger.”
The WikiReader doesn’t have a Wi-Fi radio or even a USB port, but you can keep its version of Wikipedia up to date by downloading new versions from Openmoko and writing them to a MicroSD card, or you can pay $29 per year to receive pre-updated MicroSD cards (online updates are available on a quarterly basis; cards are shipped twice each year).
Take Wikipedia with you anywhere; fast; easy-to-use touch screen; long battery life.
No illustrations; no backlight; highly reflective glass screen.