$100 Portable Wikipedia


OpenMoko, the company behind the FreeRunner open-source phone, released their latest product today: WikiReader. It’s a small mobile device for browsing Wikipedia. Rather than use a wireless network to pull data off of the web, it has local copy of the database on a 8GB microSD card. This approach has been used before, and it lets the WikiReader be compact and really cheap. It uses a Kindle-esque touch-screen display that allows it to run on 3 AAA’s for about a year. The device itself costs just $99, but you can choose to receive updates by snail mail for just $29/year. Alternatively, you can just download the +4GB file and dump it on the card.

Like the FreeRunner, this project is also open-source. The code isn’t available yet, but they say it will be released soon. With luck, the device will be really easy to hack.

78 thoughts on “$100 Portable Wikipedia

  1. Surf the internet on CD and without all those annoying images! I guess if I want to see an image of the flag of Senegal, I’ll have to put away the wikireader and take out my $50 phone that I’m already paying web access on.

    I’m very enthusiastic about the project though. They’ll soon be on ebay for $10 and then I can take advantage of that nice touch screen and modification-friendly hardware.


    This project is based on Epson’s S1C33E07 processor with SDRAM, a serial EEPROM and a SD card slot attached. Along with UI input/output devices, of course.

  2. Not only is this not forward looking, I think it is a step back – sounds more like a desperate money-grab to me. They honestly can’t expect this product to have much of a lifetime with the web proliferating as quickly as it is through the mobile market.

    Seriously…100 bucks for a monochrome LCD that reads a free encyclopedia off of an SD-Card?

    If it’s e-ink, I’ll bite my tongue somewhat, but it really doesn’t look like it is.

  3. I dont understand it either. If they keep articles compressed on SDcard then you can only search based on article name. On the other hand database is on slow card + embedded system = full article search would not work anyway. Im guessing replacing bgzip with 7zip could shrink that 5GB to 4GB.

  4. this thing is a good idea. as when you really need to look something obscure up, like say if a snake is poisonous, there will be no cell access. id like to see something like this with the 700gb of pics though….sigh.

  5. Everybody reach into your pocket and pull out the shiny thing with a screen you make phone calls on…that is the 10-year evolution of this device. I don’t know of a single cell-phone that requires cell service to read off its SD-Card AND it’s in color(yay!).

    I had a dictionary version of this many years ago in grade-school…

    And if it wasn’t enough of a blast-from-the-past, my favorite part:
    “you can choose to receive updates by snail mail for just $29/year”

  6. The $30/year thing seems a bit overpriced at first, but you *are* getting 2 4GB (at least) microSD cards.

    I also think that right now, this would be the best device to send back in time. Its not perfect, but it’s the best we have. Question: how far back could we send it (and where) so that people would be able to make a power source within 1 year? How far could we send it if we translated it first?

  7. “you can buy Siemens S65 16-bit color TFT display with 132×176 pixel resolution for $10, wonder why they used STN one.”

    Because the 4GB file includes only text and color isn’t so useful for text. I imagine the power draw would be higher as well. Give me the monochrome screen.

  8. ipodlinux and wikipodia is free (if you have an ipodlinux compatible ipod) Not the best interface, but it has been very useful countless times, and it didn’t cost me $100, oh yea, and it plays music,video and even has some games!!! ROckbox. pz

  9. @anon
    keep in mind its 5 gigs of compressed TEXT were talking about images sounds and all other multimedia comes direkly from wikimedia an are not included in the DB dump.

    but really i join all those who say what about the pictures and monochrome? come on why not use one of those miniature monochrome crt while your at it pfff :P

  10. Metapedia is a lot less biased and leftist than wikipedia. People need to lose the dependence, not exacerbate it.

    Now a HACK would be making these capable of reading other sites and not just wikipedia (like HAD). Otherwise I can see a lot of mindless people carrying these things around trying to sound more professional and intelligent but doing nothing but repeating the opinions of other liberals.

  11. If you have a computer/iphone/kindle, then I can understand why you wouldn’t be thrilled by this device. However, I’m very excited about the possibilities in urban education — I think it can find applications in schools, GED programs, literacy programs, etc. Especially in lower income areas where people may not have access to a computer except at a public library, this device opens up a world of knowledge to someone who otherwise might not have that opportunity. Whether you’re a techie or not doesn’t matter, except for updates. Community groups (or Libraries) could set up programs to bring in your device and have it updated bi-yearly.

    There are a lot of possibilities for the device, though there are a few hurdles to overcome. Even though the $99 is relatively cheap, it would need to be heavily subsidized or covered by a grant in order for it to be affordable in low income areas.

  12. actually this is a very good idea. even being me, with a phone, i’d love to just have one of these simply because phone-net is slow and being in a hick town i don’t have wifi everywhere for my archos 5.
    this is actually really cheap, all things considering, and it’d be really really helpful.

    i’d like to see further versions of this, i know that having a digitized pocket-sized merck index would help me and several classmates a lot rather than carry around that giant “book.” maybe carry more detailed information, such as MSDS sheets on all the chemicals?

    i can definitely see a market for a somewhat cheap encyclopedia system. pay a hundred bux for the unit, $5 for each encyclopedia edition on an SD card, maybe with free updates? this could be what students are using in the future.

  13. @terry – for most of the stuff on wikipedia, politics have no correlation whatsoever. stuff such as the boiling point of a chemical, or machining standards. if you could give some examples of what you think is left-biased on wikipedia, maybe your argument would hold a little water, but for now you seem to be trolling.

  14. @Terry Phillps

    And with 5000 english articles, Metapedia is much more useless, too, compared to the 3 MILLION articles from Wikipedia.

    Btw, about the screen: they clearly say:
    “WikiReader is excellent for reading in bright sunlight.”
    Maybe it *is* an e-ink screen, no?

  15. I understand “let’s make a single-purpouse , simple , minimalistic device, anti-thesis to all the multi-function devices out there..”

    This could have been a great starting point for hacks. a nice touchscreen in a nice case (and open-source hardware) can be a good platform for home automation panels for example, or any interface you’d want for your stylish diy project.

    but why make the sd slot so hard to reach?? you have to take the batteries out to access it(??)

    but to get wifi on this you would need a wifi-sdio card, which will cost more $$ and deplete the batt.

    and thanks for showing me the Zipit Z2. so much for 50$!

  16. @ scott/Mephistopheles, just checked the wikitravel database. exports everything in the same file as wikipedia, so i dont see why you wouldn’t be able to load any wiki page dumps on to this thing. Wookiepedia in my pocket? hell yeah :)

  17. Hehehe….

    if you followed the FreeRunner and read sometimes the blog of the developers, this device look like the solution to the following (pure fictive) discussion:

    Sean Moss-Pultz:
    O.K. guys, finally we are blown up with the freerunner. We need to start from scratch with something else, any ideas?

    Oh lets see…
    * Lets create something totally independent from this fuc*ing mobile carriers who finally ignored and killed the freerunner!! In fact it should not depend on any of this bloodsucking carrier services

    * Lets create something specialised in one thing which it does at best instead of developing something which aims to do everything but nothing of that right.

    * Lets come up with something without a billion dollars competitors who just need his weekly pocket money to create some anti-campaign against us.

    * Lets start with something which is really cheap enough, so that even “normal” people will not worry to buy it in addition to there mobile phone, netbook, laptop, smartphone, ipod….

    * lets create something without the need of close source agreements with this as*holes of chip manufactures to allow us to develop open and free driver free of charge for them

    * lets start with something which does not need a 100k$ licence pack and dev kits

    *lets build something which works at time of delivery

    * lets create something which can be easily sold to other countries without the needs for hundred of different radio-licences and test certificates.

    * and finally lets create something which is useful not only for nerds and geeks.

    Oh great ideas, I see we all learned a lesson from the FreeRunner

    So if the device has a e-ink and if the processor is in the range of a ARM 500 MHz… and (cite “the device will depend on open source”) I guess it will run some embedded Linux … it will be beside of the intentional usage maybe the most interesting hackable device in 2009….

    Go OpenMoko Go…. I will definitely buy one for 99 $

  18. reminds me of “Encyclopodia- the encyclopedia on your iPod” but with a badass touch LCD Screen to read from and of course up to date.(i think Encyclopodia was still on 2007 maybe at latest 2008)

    i love reading about devices like this. it always reminds me of a star trek “tricorder”.

  19. @zacco: except not one of those are good for reading with sunlight, their battery doesn’t last 90+ hours and the gameboy doesn’t have a touchscreen for easy input, nor the DS supports AA batteries for long off-the-grid usage.

    Sure, those devices can do more than read text, but many people don’t need a gaming device.

  20. I just wonder if it will be able to take advantage of those SDIO WLAN cards. Is so you could add WiFi and with the right card still have storage. Could then be used as a Smart Home remote control and status display.

  21. Haha it’s so amusing that colbert first came up with the hilarious gag ‘the truth clearly has a liberal bias’ and truthiness, then a few years later the republicans are actually daft enough to re-introduce it as a serious statement, it’s hilarious and at the same time deeply sad, and it’s what keeps half-way aware non-americans thinking the same of america as they did, so perhaps it’s good they keep re-affirming what the world is dealing with so they don’t forget.

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