A few weeks ago I wrote a post about how to change the firmware on the black Novel. Since I now had a new firmware to try, I decided to write a second review of the black Novel. The review was delayed, because I spent a few weeks trying to find a way to overcome this tablet's shortcomings.
Update: Much of this post is outdated. Rather than read this review, why don't you go install the latest firmware update for this tablet (here)?
So what do I think of it? To put it simply, there are better options out there.
The video is at the end of the post.
First let me give you some background. The black Novel is based on a 7" LCD screen with a capacitive resistive touchscreen, Wifi, accelerometer, 2 GB Flash, SD card slot, and a stylus. And in case you were wondering, the black Novel is an entirely different set of hardware from the 7" white Novel. They do not run the same firmware.
There are a couple official firmwares for this tablet (also several hacked firmwares). There's the US firmware, which is tied into the B&N ebookstore, and there's a CA firmware, which uses the Kobo ebookstore. The US firmware is a locked down ereader design with a custom home screen. You're blocked from adding any new apps or doing anything other than the limited activities that it ships with (read, browse the web, music, video etc). On the other hand, the CA firmware is an open Android tablet with a normal home screen, apps menu, etc.
Both the US and CA firmwares run on Android v1.5, and that's a problem. It's very difficult to find apps that will run on v1.5. None of my ebookstore apps (like the Kindle app) will install, and while Aldiko did install it doesn't work right. The black Novel does ship with some apps like Facebook, email, browser, and file manager, but it lacks important ones like Twitter, a RSS feed reader, and Youtube.
It does have a video player (same as on the US firmware), but it's not very good. I don't know if it's a hardware, software, or drivers issue, but the Novel can't even play the sample video at 640x480 at 30fps. It's no good as a video player.
Someone seriously screwed up the ebookstore. It's tied to the Kobo ebookstore (their mobile website), which is fine by me because I have a library of a few dozen free ebooks with Kobo. Unfortunately, I can't access the free ebooks from the Novel. This is a pass fail for me, and I'm dumbfounded that no one caught this.
And yes, I think I know the problem (hi folks from Kobo/Pandigital). The free ebooks I got from Kobo can be found under the "I'm reading" tab. I cannot see that tab in the Novel's ebookstore, so I can't download the ebooks.
This Novel may be tied to the Kobo ebookstore, but it uses the same reading app as on the US firmware. That's not good becuase the integration between ebookstore and reading app sucks. There's a jarring difference between the design of the ebookstore and that of the reading app. There's also no way to open the reading app without first entering the ebookstore, selecting the "My library" tab, and then selecting a book you want to read. That's a waste of time and I hate it.
The reading app itself is slightly different from the other firmware. Instead of swiped page turns, it has a couple small zones marked on the screen where you can tap and turn the page. I wish the zones were bigger, but I'm glad they're there at all.
The Epub and PDF experience is much the same as on the other firmware. As always, I wish there were more annotation options, but the options available are adequate.
The Novel with the CA firmware is an underpowered tablet with little app support and a poorly conceived UI design. It's not a terrible tablet, but there are better options out there. Heck, Pandigital offer 2 better tablets.