OK, so I like underdogs. Plus, there seems to be something neat when a company deliberately re-purposes one of its own existing electronic devices with open source software. It is like they are hacking their own equipment, and I just have to applaud that kind of flexibility and willingness to make an effort.
Others have widely complained about the shortcomings of the Pandigital Novel, so this isn't an attempt to pile on. The system is certainly not an iPad killer. But I do think that it can be a useful appliance around the home with a few improvements.
The first thing to note is, the Pandigital device is exceptionally low cost for what it offers: a 7" Android touch pad.
The second thing to note is, the software is slow. That is a good thing, because it suggests that improvement is possible with a software reload. That brings up the third thing, which is that as an Android device it is possible to load other Android apps using straightforward instructions. The PandaHome alternative desktop and reprogrammed navigation buttons both make the device much more usable. Without the hack, it would be difficult to use the device because the Andoid Market won't recognize it as a legit client: you have to download APK packs to your PC instead, and install them over a USB cable.
The fourth thing to note is, no amount of fooling with Android apps will make this device any faster. They either have to improve the hardware or really work on the software, because the system is far too slow to respond for practical use. It isn't just the sluggishness, but the thing frequently mistakes movements for link selections and often cannot keep up with visual feedback, making the unit appear frozen when it may not be.
The fifth thing is, that the user interface controls are unrefined. The iPod/iPad/iPhone simply blows Android freakin' away with the tactile gesture vocabulary. And that's saying something because my iPod irritates me with the electronic keyboard and navigating impossibly small links. But the iPod's snappy performance makes up for some of that, and the iPad's larger scale makes up for my fumble fingers quite a bit more.
More than about 10 minutes of futzing and I find myself ready to toss it to the side. What keeps me from doing just that? Nothing. I use it when I am eating breakfast and have one Web page to visit... but no more. Or when I want to have a Wi-Fi equipped digital photo frame playing Pandora Radio for me while I work.
Some apps just won't work. They crash, apparently assuming it is a Motorola phone. So much for the device independence of Android. Skype and Fring don't seem to work on it. Too bad.
I'm hoping that it will work out as an eBook reader too. I read a lot of O'Reilly books however, and the mobile version of Safari refuses to recognize the Android device as a mobile platform. Safari bounces me back to the PC version of the site.