E-readers

Almost two years ago, I wrote a post about reading ebooks on my iPod Touch. At the time, the only two practical apps for this were Stanza and eReader Pro, with the latter being my preferred reader then. Interestingly, just a few weeks after that post there was a software update that rendered eReader useless on the iPod (it would crash on startup), and it took a few weeks for a fix to show up – I used this period to switch to Stanza, and I haven’t looked back (but it was only a few weeks ago that I finally uninstalled eReader).

In any case, there are a few more options nowadays, both for apps and for devices, and I thought I would write a bit about what I’ve been doing.

I have three devices I’ve been regularly using as ebook readers, none of which is a dedicated reader: my old iPod Touch (1st gen), an iPad (also 1st gen) and an Android phone (a Nexus S, which has recently replaced a Nexus One). I have (unfortunately) different readers in all three, and more than one on each, for the simple reason that not all readers will let me read all books, not all are available on all devices and, even when they are, not all features are on all devices. Also, the fact that my iPod is too old to run iOS 4 doesn’t help (fragmentation? what fragmentation?). Let’s look at them…

Kindle: the Amazon Kindle app is one of only two I have on all three devices (plus my desktop computer, in fact), and it is by far my preferred reader: the reading experience is great, the integration with a dictionary works flawlessly, annotations are very useful and the synchronisation between devices is very, very nice. But it could be better. Part of the problem is that it does not offer the same features on all devices: for example, you can use it to read books not bought from Amazon as long as they are in the MOBI format — but only on the iPad (and it won’t sync your reading position on those across devices); the integrated dictionary is only in the iOS devices; and, curiously, only the Android version supports reading periodicals (newspapers and magazines). I’m not a great fan of the DRM in the ebooks brought from Amazon, either, but that is more of a philosophical position than a practical consideration right now.

Stanza: this app now also belongs to Amazon, and I wonder whether it will ever merge with the Kindle app. It allows reading ePub books (and a few other formats, I believe) and it has some integration with a few books stores (including O’Reilly and Fictionwise, but this last one has been broken for several months now). This app is iOS only, but it works quite well on both the iPad and the iPod; loading external books is easier on the iPad, but that’s because of iOS 4 features (it would work equally well on a more recent iPod or iPhone). A big problem is the lack of synchronisation between devices, and (despite users asking repeatedly for it) I don’t think it’s coming any time soon. The reading experience itself is very nice, and the appearance is very configurable, so it is a very good app, and I use it for almost anything not in MOBI format.

iBooks: this is iOS 4 only, so I only have it in my iPad; I have never used the iBooks store, but this app doubles as a very good PDF reader, and that’s how I’ve been using it. Loading books is very easy (if you don’t mind iTunes) and the reading experience is reasonably good, but the app seems quite simple – there’s no progress indicator, for example, and I have no idea whether it syncs your position if you use it in multiple devices (I would be honestly surprised if it does so for non-Apple books).

Google Books: this is the other app I have on all devices (and the desktop computer, as a Chrome web app); one of the biggest advantages of this app is that allows one to see both the text of the books and the original scanned pages (where available), which then include all the original illustrations (but may be less readable for some older books). The biggest problem, though, is that for anyone outside the US this app can only be used to read public domain books. I haven’t used it long enough to form an opinion about it, but it seems aesthetically very nice. Another drawback: no way to load books other than from Google.

Kobo: I originally installed this app as a possible replacement for Stanza, but it didn’t quite live up to my expectations — at least not enough to make me ditch Stanza on the iOS devices. The iPad app is very flashy, with social network integration, reading statistics, “badges” etc. However, just as with the Kindle app, on my iPod there’s no way to load books I already have other than buying them again (so I don’t bother running the app there); the non-tablet versions are also much less on the flashy side, but that’s not really a bad thing. No cross-device syncing of books not bought with the app, either. Still, it’s my app of choice for non-Kindle books on my Android phone.

And that’s it. I have to say that using the iPad to read has “spoiled” me and I don’t use the the iPod that much anymore (or the phone, but that one ends up getting more use simply because it’s always with me…). In any case, if I could have one wish it would be to be able to use a single app on all devices, with a reasonably similar experience on all of them (and syncing everything across them would be a bonus).

1 comment so far ↓

#1 mpp on 03.23.11 at 6:36 pm

Is that one of the big drawbacks with these ebook apps? They’re closed-source so no matter how desperately you want new functionality, you’re at the mercy of the vendors. Maybe one day they’ll give you the ability to include plugins, and everyone will be happy?

In the future I do hope that these region locking practices become obsolete. Running apps virtually from a location in the US is a possibility now if you have good bandwidth. Bandwidth is ‘tight’ in this country compared to some others, but mobile bandwidth is tight everywhere. Unless we see technology come to a point where bandwidth for virtualisation is very low!

One thing I would be interested to hear about is how kind the iPad (and similar devices) are on the eyes when doing large amounts of reading. This should be one of the benefits of dedicated eBook readers, they’re kinder on the eyes. Battery life, say for long-haul flights, would be another consideration for travelers.

I’m anxious to see what comes of the next generation Android tablets.

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