Saturday, May 21, 2011

An "App-ic" Battle (groan)

Yeah, okay, I admit it—that title's lame. Sometimes we have to embrace our inner cheesiness (ooh, gooey!).

The apps I want to talk about are e-reader apps. Some people have dedicated e-reader devices (i.e., Kindle, Nook, Sony eReader, etc.), but smartphones and tablets seem to be taking over the world. There are lots of apps available, so I've been checking them out.

In case you missed it, I'm kind of opinionated about this sort of thing.

All of the apps listed are free (though the books you read may or may not be), and I'm testing them out on my iPhone 3GS.

The contenders:
  • iBooks (by Apple)
  • Kindle (by Amazon)
  • Nook (by Barnes & Noble)
  • Kobo (associated with Borders)
  • Stanza (by Lexcycle)


Pros: This is by far my favorite when it comes to the interface. Looks and feels "bookish," with page-turning animation that's fast enough, yet smooth. Appearance of the text is comfortable to read. Six fonts to choose from. One-tap access to ToC. Notetaking/highlighting are the easiest of any of the five apps. Easily my favorite for reviewing my own manuscripts. I also like that I can email my ePub file to myself, and my phone gives me the option to open in iBooks.

Cons: Can't lock orientation to portrait or landscape, which can be annoying if reading in bed. You can turn full justification on or off in the main Settings menu, but this often forces things that are supposed to be centered to become left-aligned unless the publisher was very careful in the coding of the file. Also, in certain lighting situations, white text on a black background is preferable, and iBooks lacks that option. (I know, I can achieve it using the Accessibility settings, but that requires leaving the app and turning everything else on my iPhone to a negative image as well. Annoying.) Also, the iBookstore reportedly has less selection than many of the alternatives, though I've yet to come across a title I couldn't find there. (I also haven't shopped much yet.)


Pros: This one has the white-on-black option (yay!). Interface is pretty simple. LOADS of eBooks available on Amazon, some free or cheap (often self-published), and others from big-name publishers. Formatting looks good as long as the publisher did their job right (which lots of the self-published don't quite manage, unfortunately). Also able to open .mobi file attachments directly from my email into the app.

Cons: Also can't lock orientation. No choice of font type (though size is adjustable). If there's a way to take notes/highlight within this app, I'm missing it. I know you can on the Kindle itself, but if the function exists on the app version, it's well-hidden. A lot of the books I've checked don't have a linked table of contents, and when they do, it looks like a page of hyperlinks. (Not a problem, just not very pretty.) It can be a problem when the font size I was comfortable reading with turns out to be too small to easily get my finger to tap the right chapter link. Also, if there's a way to specify what type of alignment you prefer (left or justified), I haven't found it.


Pros: White-on-black option. In fact, page, text, and highlight color are highly customizable. Eight fonts to choose from. This one can lock orientation. Can turn full justification on/off and publisher settings on/off. Note-taking/highlighting is reasonably easy, though it takes you to a separate screen to choose between a note or a highlight, rather than the small, unobtrusive pop-up menu of iBooks.

Cons: The only one I can't open my own eBook file with. As far as I can tell, unless I bought it through B&N's website, I can't read it here. Also, the margins are a bit wide on the books I've looked at, varying from just-a-touch to more-margin-space-than-text-space. The app has a margin setting with two options (narrow/wide), but changing does nothing to most of the books I have, and another book already had too-wide margins on the "narrow" setting.


Pros: Lots of options, including page-turning style (page-flip animation, page-fade, or scrolling continuous), alignment (publisher default, left, or justified), orientation lock, and four fonts to choose from. Can open files directly from my email.

Cons: It is SLOW. The "social networking" features and "achievement badges" are distracting, annoying, and possibly contribute to the slow performance. Note-taking/highlighting are done similarly to iBooks, but the page often attempts to turn when I want to highlight (even in the middle of the page), and to highlight more than one word, I first have to get it to select one word, then use the "handles" to expand the selection.


Pros: Black-on-white option (in fact, several regular and nighttime color themes and customizability). One-tap access to ToC. More fonts than I care to count. Ability to use your own background image and set opacity. Select alignment (full, left, right, or center ... though choosing full had the effect of forcing my centered scene break markers to the left). Slider control of margins, line spacing, paragraph spacing, and indent. Orientation lock. Choice of page-turn, page-slide, or none. Sliding your finger up and down the middle adjusts the brightness—that's kinda cool.

Cons: Took me a while to figure out how to select something to highlight or annotate. Again, it takes the text to a separate screen, and you have to broaden your selection from there if you want more than one word. Not quite as arduous as Kobo's, but more bother than iBooks or even Nook. The page-turn animation is either jerky and distracting or too slow, depending on the duration settings—just not as smooth as iBooks'. Tapping to bring up the menu options seriously clutters the screen and blocks the text with a "Chapter/Page/Percentage" text box right in the middle.

So, there it is. If someone took these pros and cons into account, they could easily make a perfect e-reader app ... for my personal preferences, anyway. (Doesn't the world revolve around me? Too bad.) For looking over my own manuscripts, I'll stick with iBooks for now, since its note-taking feature is the most comfortable. If/when I get to the point where I'm interested in buying a lot of eBooks (rather than hard copies I can keep on my classroom shelf for my students to borrow), I may reevaluate.

Anyone know of other e-reader apps I should check out? Have more pros or cons to share about those I've listed? Have I missed something in my quest for supreme nitpickiness? Let me know.


KellieM said...

Wow. You are extremely thorough! Have you considered being a tech writer too?

R.C. Lewis said...

Thanks, Kellie. Some consider it more "OCD" than "thorough." ;-) And I did take technical writing as my advanced English requirement in college, so I guess it paid off.