Pandigital Novel eReader
becomes $120 Android Tablet!!!
I recently purchased a Pandigital Novel eReader and had fairly good success reflashing it to a functional low-cost Android Tablet, while retaining the full functionality of the original eReader applications. This is the WHITE version of the Novel, commonly referred to as the WPDN. The black Novel (BPDN) is harder to work with and based on an older version of the Android OS and will not be discussed here.
I can't claim any credit for this other than getting it to work, all the credit has to go to the dev folks over at slatedroid.com who have been working on this project.
First, my comments about the Novel's features, or lack of them sometimes, as it relates to re-purposing it as an Android tablet. Then there is some information on modifying the software to be an Android tablet.
MARKET FIX INFO
SYNCING MEDIA CONTENT
SLATEDROID PANDIGITAL NOVEL WIKI
The Novel has a decent 7" TFTP color display with decent brightness. It is probably not as good as an iPad, but it is close. You won't be disappointed with the screen.
The touch screen is resistive and not capacitive, so it does not respond quite as well as an iPad or a Droid, but it quite workable. You can swipe it just fine, you just have to maintain good contact. A stylus will work on this type of touch screen, but is not required.
The Wifi works decent. Some have reported poor range but I have yet to experience that. Maybe my expectations are a little more realistic.
There is no GPS. Apps that are location sensitive will need to have their location set manually. Applications that insist on accessing the non-existent GPS may crash.
There is no camera or bluetooth.
The position sensor is very basic, and really can only discern the portrait or landscape orientation of the tablet. It does not seem to be up to snuff to run Google Sky or compass applications correctly.
There is no microphone, so for now, IP phone and other apps that require mic audio are not possible. I have read the sound chip does have a mic input but it is not wired to anything. Perhaps someday a hardware mod will come out that allows a mic to be added.
Battery life is fair. Not terrible, but not great either. When apps that require information on some sort of schedule are used, they wake up the tablet from it's sleep and drain the battery very fast. In it's original life as an eReader, there were no such apps so this was not a problem. But the minute you start putting the Google Cloud to work, it will keep waking up the device. So you have to counter this with a Task Manager that hard kills all the running apps when you put the device in the sleep mode. Once you do that, the battery life returns to the manufacturer's spec as an eReader. Some have success with this, others do not. Eventually you get enough stuff going on in the Novel that some app wakes it up no matter what you do, so I just turn it off completely if I am not going to use it for any period of time. That seems a small trade-off for the additional functionality you get as a full-blown Android tablet.
For some reason, it does not charge via the USB which is disappointing. It uses a regular 12vdc charger cube with a 3.5mm coaxial power jack. I suspect they elected to save costs by not including the circuits needed to convert the 5vdc from the USB to the 12vdc the charger circuit needs. If you were desperate to charge from a USB source, one could build a DC-to-DC converter that plugs into the computer's USB jack, converts the voltage to 12vdc and terminates in the 3.5mm coaxial power jack. Then you would be able to charge it from a laptop.
Note that there are some new WPDN models appearing in 2012 that use a 5v charger, which is not compatible with the older units that use a 12v charger, even though it is the same connector.
The Novel was originally released as a closed device, with a proprietary home screen that supported it's mission as an eReader and provided a few other apps for browsing, email, and media. When you load stock Pandigital firmware from 2010 (versions 11/19 and prior), this is what you will get.
Then developer/hackers modified the stock firmware to load the open Android home screen in conjunction with the closed eReader home screen. This allowed you to install your own apps, but still keep the original Novel screen too. Then they learned how to add the Google apps, and developed a modification that would allow the Android Market to work also. This is what the firmware links at the bottom of this page will get you.
In 2011, Pandigital scrapped the idea of a closed proprietary home screen and went exclusively with the open platform (OP) Android home screen on their 2011 & 2012 firmware versions. They still included eReader apps but now allow you to install your own apps too. This is the current situation with the Novel. If you run the Pandigital software updater on their web site, this is what you will get.
And of course the developer/hackers immediately added the Google apps and Android Market to this open platform software just as they had done before with the older software. This is probably the best software option now, but there is a problem.
With the new 2011 versions, they made some changes that make it very difficult to go back to the 2010 versions without entering a flash loop and risk bricking your device. It is fine to go forward from 2010 to 2011 versions, but it is not fine to go backwards from 2011 versions to 2010 versions without taking some precautions.
Also, DO NOT load any of the 2011 (or older) versions on the new WPDNs appearing in 2012, with 2012 firmware versions in them. These units can be identified by having 5v chargers and are being sold at Walmart and on Amazon. The kernel is different, and you will brick your device if you attempt to load a 2011 firmware version on it.
There is an excellent page on the Slatedroid Pandigital Novel wiki that discusses the difference between the 2010, 2011 and 2012 firmware series. I strongly suggest everyone read this:
Slatedroid 2011 Firmware Wiki
Slatedroid 2012 Firmware Wiki
The modified firmware builds are already rooted, so you have a lot of leeway loading applications. You can download them from web sites, you can use Google Market, you can manually install them with the android debug bridge (ADB), or you can use a 3rd party app installer app, such as Aptoide.
The Android OS is based around having a Home, Menu, Back and Search button available. If you have a Droid, you are familiar with those. The Pandigital Novel only has two buttons, originally used as the volume control. The modified firmware re-maps the volume up and down buttons as the Menu and Back button. You still don't have a Home and Search button, but those can be implemented with other screen buttons, so those two buttons are just enough to get by with. That means you lose the volume buttons, but those are available in the settings app or in the apps that use sound so while not convenient, you still can change the volume.
The Novel reports a device SDK of 7 to theAndroid Market, so not all market applications will be available. But you get some market functionality, plus you can manually install any non-market app that will run.
The Novel with 2011 firmware comes with both a Barnes & Noble eReader app, as well as Adobe Digital Editions (ADE). Since we are keeping the original Novel apps, both of those are available and work fine. With the 2011 & 2012 open platform firmware, it only has the Barnes & Noble app, bit it has the ADE technology built in it and works the same way.
The process to use the B&N app is simple and straightforward, if you like spending money on eBooks. Most eBooks cost around $10 when you buy them.
Many public libraries are now allowing eBooks to be checked out for a period of time, usually 7 or 14 days. To control this, those downloaded eBooks use a technique called digital rights management, or DRM for short. The Adobe Digital Editions or Barnes & Noble app that comes with the Novel supports DRM.
Here is a short overview of the process to "borrow" a book for free from your public library. and read it on the Novel.
1. You will need a valid library card from your local library, and your library must participate in an eBook program that is compatible with ADE. Many do.
2. You need to download and install Adobe Digital Editions on your desktop or laptop computer. Currently ADE does not support direct download of DRM content straight to any of the eReaders.
3. Once ADE is installed on your PC, you need to create an Adobe account and authorize your desktop PC.
4. Then you go to your library site and "borrow" an eBook. This transfers a file, usually with an .acsm (Adobe content server message) file extension. Save this file to your PC, then double-click it. This will create an .epub file on your PC with DRM and it will be valid only for the period your library allows you to check it out.
5. Now open ADE on your desktop and you should see the book.
6. Plug the Novel into your USB port on the desktop. If it says something about installing an Android ADB driver you can click cancel, you do not need that driver. Windows mistakenly thinks it is a phone. It should see the internal (and external, if present) SD cards as drive letters, click on My Computer and make sure a new drive called PD_Novel has appeared.
7. You should see the PD_Novel appear on the ADE application on your desktop, from the bookshelf view. On the ADE application on your desktop, drag and drop your books into the device in the tree view on the left side of the app. It will authorize the device, and transfer the book and the licenses needed to read the book on the Novel.
8. Disconnect the Novel and open the Adobe eReader or Barnes & Noble app either from the Android home screen or the Novel home screen - there is a shortcut to the app on either home screen. You should see your books and can start reading them.
9. Keep in mind ADE allows only 6 devices to be "authorized", so be careful how many things you plug in and how many you authorize so you don't run out of licenses.
If you have Market access, the Kindle app works normally and is easy to use. There are some free books available but most will also cost $10 and you will need to sign up for an amazon.com account to use it. You will see the Novel show up on your "manage my Kindle" web page along with your real Kindle, if you have one.
NEW INFORMATION - the latest Nook app on the Market seems to run OK on the Novel, but still has a bug that every 5th page is blank. This apparently is due to the app being run on a tablet device, and not directly related to any hacking. Barnes & Noble knows about the problem, and supposedly will be offering a tablet version of Nook in the future. In the meanwhile, anything that causes a re-draw of the screen will show the missing page. So you can rotate the Novel from portrait to landscape and back, or you can go into the screen where you change the font and just hit cancel, and either of those methods will re-draw the blank pages. Use that work-around if you want to use the Nook app until they fix it. The most current Nook app is 2.4.1 and this version does not seem to require any special "nook fix".
You can also install the Adobe Reader for regular .pdf content.
I know this is a lot of information, but there does not appear to be a clear concise summary of what eReader apps work, and how to use them, so now you have one.
Now, understanding the above limitations, you can currently buy the Novel for $169, and usually get 20% off that price, and there is a $20 rebate available until January 2nd, 2011. This can make the final price of a new Novel just $115.99! And now the 2012 version is at a price point of $69, which is about half of what the original Novels cost.
The bottom line is my Droid phone can run circles around this thing, but the Droid's screen is pretty small so the Novel does serve a purpose for eReading, and couch-browsing where you want the convenience of a wireless device, but with a larger screen, to use around the house.
SOFTWARE MODIFICATION FOR THE WHITE NOVEL SOLD IN THE USA.
THIS IS NOT FOR THE BLACK NOVEL! THIS IS NOT FOR THE 9" NOVEL! THIS IS NOT FOR THE NEW 7" WHITE NOVEL SOLD IN 2012 WITH A MODEL OF R7T40WWHF1 WITH SL20 FIRMWARE!
THIS IS FOR THE 7" WHITE NOVEL MODEL PRD07T10WWH756!
This modification installs the standard Android home (desktop), most of the Google apps including Market, the volume hack, and the notification bar fix and rotation fix on top of the original Pandigital Novel home screen and apps.
By installing the S10 mods, you still keep all your original apps and home screen, and it includes a homescreen switcher to allow you to go to the original home screen if you want to. All original Novel apps are available and still work, but now you also have access to a normal Android home screen, most of the stock Android apps, and Market to install more apps if you want to. (Open Platform - OP - modified firmwares will overwrite the original Novel apps and you will not have access to them.) Read up on how to activate the market. You need to sign in with a gmail account, then open market and IMMEDIATELY download one free app - any app - to get it activated. This has to be done almost immediately after you first open market as it will update to a new version that the activation hack does not work with. Once you download one app, close market, and it will update to a newer version (still not Google Play though) and you will be all set.
By installing the SH20 mods, you get a full open platform home screen and market access. Read up on how to activate the market. You need to sign in with a gmail account, then open market and IMMEDIATELY download one free app - any app - to get it activated. This has to be done almost immediately after you first open market as it will update to a new version that the activation hack does not work with. Once you download one app, close market, and it will update to a newer version (still not Google Play though) and you will be all set.
Be advised that the Google-enabled version of the S10 modified firmware has sleep issues, and will likely interfere with the Novel's deep sleep, which occurs when you just slide the power switch briefly and do not do a shutdown. So this is a tradeoff - a lot of additional funcationality with Market access vs. being able to properly sleep. I chose to have the Market and the apps, and I just turned the darned thing off. The SH20 versions do not have this issue.
Instructions on how to modify your Novel are on the slateroid site's Pandigital Wiki, but it is a tedious read sometimes. Remember, this voids the warranty so be careful. They are hard to brick, but if you mess with the kernel, you will brick it. But these mods do not alter the kernel. If things go wrong, then just return to the original Novel firmware and start over. Don't screw up your Novel and then return it as broken, that is just plain wrong. NOTE - the 2012 firmware versions have not been released to the public by Pandigital. It is suggested that these units not be modified until more is known about them. Read this thread on Slatedroid for more info. The market has been successfully installed on these units with Kewlguy's Gapps flash, and the framework reverted with this flash, but it is risky because the original flash to return the unit to stock is not available.
The major steps to add a fully functioning Android OS, home screen, and Google apps, while PRESERVING ths original Pandigital apps and system are:
1. Connect the Novel to your PC and make sure you can see it show up as a drive on your PC. The internal SD card is called PD_Novel, and an external SD card will just show up as an additional drive. I highly recommend putting in an external SD card now. They are cheap (a 2gb card will do fine, or it can be as large as 32gb) and the card inside the Novel is limited in size. You will want to keep large media files (movies, etc.) on the external SD card to save room on the limited internal SD card.
2. Flash Novel to modified firmware (see links at end) by putting the zip file on the external SD card root directory and restarting the Novel while holding the Volume Up and On switch for at least five seconds.
3. Get things working and tested. Setup the Wifi immediately after you first start the unit, because as soon as you run any Google apps they are going to want your gmail account to sync things. The trick to getting Market to work with this version is to 1) immediately download a free app - any app - and then close market and let it update, or 2) add a SECOND google account to the device, then suddenly the market works, and then you can delete the second account. Register your main google account first, because once you add the first account, you can never delete it. (To delete it, you have to reload the device. It becomes married to the device.) After you add your first account, and try the market. It probably will not work (server error). I know this seems strange, but then go into Settings, Accounts & Sync, and add a second google account (what the heck, they are free). Then try the market and I bet it works. Once market works, you can delete the second account and it will still work on your original account. I wrote down my second account username and password so as not to forget it, and I use it as a "market activator" account. I suggest trying #1 first, that avoids having to get a second gmail address.
4. Install useful apps. Remember to check Unknown Sources in Settings, Applications so you can install non-market apps. You will want homeswitcher to allow you to switch between the Android home screen and the Novel home screen (S10 firmware only). You might want to install Aptoide App Installer which will allow you to enter in other app sources to install from. I have an Aptoide server running at http://n3oc.dyndns.org/Android/Apps which has a number of good apps that I have tested on the Novel and run fine. Especially install Aptoide if you cannot get market to work and want to get some good apps quickly. If you are not using market, you will have to install via adb from your PC to get things started. Once you get a file manager and/or an app installer in the device, then it can load stuff on it's own.
5. The Nook app still has issues on tablets. The latest Nook app in the Market does work on this firmware without any "nook fixes" but it still has the every 5th page is blank problem. Until they fix this, just rotate to landscape orientation and then back to portrait to cause the screen to re-draw the blank page, then you can read it. A tablet version of Nook is rumored to be in the works. But since the PD eReader app and Nook both receive their content from Barnes & Noble, you can use either one to obtain and read the same identical content. Kindle works fine. Adobe Digital Editions works fine when you sync it with a PC-based Adobe Digital Editions, and reads protected .epub books that you check out for a limited time from your local library. Be advised that documentation is very poor with Adobe Digital Editions, and that there is supposed to be a six device limit on your ADE license for protected content, so be aware of that and don't register the computer with ADE until you are all done messing around and are stable. It may be possible to reclaim a license seat by de-authorizing a device with ADE, but make sure you do that before you reflash the system or you will lose that license seat, forever perhaps.
6. Optional - download, install and learn how to use the Android Debug Bridge (ADB) which is part of the Android Software Development Kit (SDK). Not that you will be debugging or writing any software, but it is a tool where you can pull and app out of the Novel, or install one by command line from your PC via USB cable if you have the .apk file on hand.
If things don't go well, just return to the stock Pandigital firmware and your Novel should come back to it's original factory condition. Remember the stock firmware is NOT available for the 2012 firmware (yet).
As always, use these mods at your own risk. They void the Pandigital warranty. I have never bricked a device with any of these, but there is always a slight risk of that. I will accept no responsibility if you brick your device. Having said that, they work pretty darned good on my Novel.
These mods are for the original white Novel only, DO NOT attempt to put them in the black Novel or the 2012 white Novel R7T40WWHF1 with SL20 firmware. Read the slatedroid wiki for more into on the various versions of the Novel.
Do you want to sync media content (music, photos, videos) to your Novel? Of course you could just copy them to your SD card. Check out doubletwist, which is an iTunes clone. It looks almost identical to iTunes, will find your iTunes libraries, and sync them to the Novel! Pretty cool... I have my Novel packed full (on the 32gb SD card of course) of ripped DVDs, music, podcasts and photos.
WARNING - DO NOT INSTALL THE S10 FIRMWARE VERSIONS IF YOU HAVE RECENTLY UPDATED TO THE PANDIGITAL OPEN PLATFORM FIRMWARE RELEASES STARTING WITH SH20. YOU WILL CAUSE A FLASH LOOP AS THERE IS A BUG IN PANDIGITAL'S FIRMWARE. IF YOU ARE STILL RUNNING THE ORIGINAL SOFTWARE YOUR DEVICE CAME WITH THAT USES THE BLUE NOVEL EREADER HOME SCREEN, YOU ARE FINE TO LOAD THE BELOW FIRMWARE. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
DO NOT INSTALL EITHER THE S10 OR SH20 FIRMWARE VERSIONS ON THE NEW NOVELS RELEASED IN 2012 WITH SL20 FIRMWARE. THESE UNITS CAN BE IDENTIFIED BY THEIR 5V CHARGERS (INSTEAD OF 12V) AND MODEL NUMBER R7T40WWHF1.
Just to clarify the above a bit, moving up to the new SH20 firmware is a GOOD thing on the original white Novel. It has many improvements over the old S10 versions. It's just a one way street, once you move to a SH20 version, don't go back to a S10 version unless you know what you are doing, and take the proper precautions.
IF YOU ALREADY UPDATED VIA PANDIGITAL'S WEB SITE TO THE OPEN PLATFORM FIRMWARE VERSIONS MENTIONED ABOVE, AND WANT TO LOAD A MODIFIED FIRMWARE WITH GOOGLE APPS AND MARKET, GO TO THIS LINK (OR SEE THE LINK BELOW FOR A SLIGHTLY OLDER VERSION) AND DOWNLOAD A VERSION BASED ON THE 2011 OPEN PLATFORM FIRMWARE AND YOU WILL BE FINE. READ THE FIRST POST IN THE THREAD AS THE METHOD OF ACTIVATING THE ANDROID MARKET IS A LITTLE DIFFERENT WITH THIS VERSION. YOU HAVE TO DOWNLOAD ONE FREE APP IMMEDIATELY AFTER YOU ACTIVATE THE MARKET WITH YOUR GMAIL ACCOUNT (YOU DO NOT NEED TO USE TWO GMAIL ACCOUNTS LIKE YOU DO WITH THE S10 VERSIONS).
TO REPEAT, IT IS OK TO LOAD OPEN PLATFORM 2011 FIRMWARE OVER THE TOP OF 2010 (CLOSED EREADER) FIRMWARE AND GO FORWARD. JUST DON'T GO BACK ONCE YOU DO THAT.
IT IS *NOT* OK TO LOAD 2010 BASED VERSIONS OVER THE TOP OF ANY OF THE 2011 OP VERSIONS WITHOUT TAKING PROPER PRECAUTIONS FIRST. TO DO SO WILL CAUSE A FLASH LOOK AND RISK BRICKING YOUR DEVICE. IF YOU MUST REVERT BACK TO A 2010 VERSION, THE INSTRUCTIONS TO DO THAT ARE HERE.
IT IS NOT OK TO LOAD ANY FULL 2011 OR 2010 FIRMWARE VERSION ON THE NEW 2012 WHITE NOVELS WITH SL20 FIRMWARE. IT *MIGHT* BE OK TO INSTALL THE A LA CARTE GAPPS MARKET FLASH AND REVERT THE FRAMEWORK BUT IT IS RISKY AS THE ORIGINAL FIRMWARE IS NOT AVAILABLE TO THE PUBLIC (YET). HOPEFULLY PANDIGITAL WILL RELEASE IT SOON.
Here are the firmware links on my site for the various mods. Later releases may be available on slatedroid.
KEWLGUY'S A LA CARTE MODULAR FLASHES:
Modular mod flashes for SH20 firmware
OPEN PLATFORM SH20 FIRMWARE WITH MARKET:
V1.1.2 - my update of roebeet's OP SH20 1.1.1 based on 1/27/11 OP firmware
V1.1.2 updater (updates roebeet's OP SH20 1.1.0 & 1.1.1 to 1.1.2
ORIGINAL S10 FIRMWARE WITH MARKET:
V5.02B - my port of roebeet's work to Pandigital 11/19 firmware release with all fixes and calendar in one flash
V5.1 Updater (updates V5, V5.01, V5.01V, & V5.02 to V5.1)
V1.02B for v1 system boards with video stutter only (no soft buttons, boot with external sdcard out)
Last updated 09/22/2012