There are few better illustrations of the staggering advance of digital technology than the new WikiReader. It's the size of a thick table coaster, and contains nearly the entire text of the English-language Wikipedia. That's 3.1 million articles, written and edited by volunteers around the globe
The WikiReader is sold online and made by OpenMoko Inc., a Taiwanese company. The founder, Sean Moss-Pultz, says the inspiration for the gadget comes from the electronic translation dictionaries that are common in Asia
The fact that the WikiReader carries the text on a memory chip, rather than using an Internet connection, means you can use it anywhere: overseas, on a plane, in the subway. It's also faster and easier to use than most cell phones, and it has a bigger screen. The battery life is, to believe OpenMoko, outstanding. It says two AAA batteries will last in the WikiReader for a year, if you use it 15 minutes per day
The face of the device is nearly filled by a monochrome LCD touch screen. To search the encyclopedia, you bring up an on-screen keyboard. To select links, you tap on them. To scroll, you move your finger across the glass
There are four buttons: one for power, one for the search screen, one that lists the pages you just visited, and one that brings up a random article. There's no backlighting, so you can't read in weak light. Because the screen doesn't show color, the WikiReader doesn't even bother to show images
The online Wikipedia changes every minute, but the WikiReader's content does not. It's a static snapshot. However, the manufacturer plans to provide free updates four times a year. To take advantage of that, you'd have to extract the chip from the WikiReader's battery compartment, stick it in a computer's card reader, and download the entire database
OpenMoko also plans to provide a subscription service that mails new memory cards with updated content four times per year, for $29.
(Text: Associated Press)