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eReader Roundup: Hunting for the Best iPhone eBook Reader

Posted by Bonnie Eisenman on January 24th, 2011

Dedicated devices like the Kindle remain popular among book lovers—but did you know that you can get your eBook fix on your iPhone or iPod, too? There are a ton of great apps out there, most of them free, which put all that eReading power right at your fingertips.

Which one to use, however? In this roundup, we take a look at some of the top eReader contenders on the App Store. Scroll to the bottom to see which app we like best! Please note that this roundup focuses on the iPhone and iPod, not the iPad, though many of these apps are universal.

Amazon's Kindle app has a lot going for it. First and foremost is the Kindle Store, which is probably the most robust of all eBook stores and has relatively good prices. Kindle owners should be happy to know that you can transfer any Kindle eBooks attached to your account straight to your iPhone with this app! Reading ebooks in the Kindle app is also a breeze—the app's interface is clean and simple, with some customizability and quick response times. I particularly like the free sample chapters. Keep in mind that Kindle books have their own DRM, so you can't transfer them to other eReaders.

Stanza was arguably the first successful eReader in the App Store, and it remains a contender. Stanza allows you to import your own eBooks from a variety of formats and offers the most customization options out of all the eReaders. (It was the App Store pioneer of the reversed black-screen-white-text option, which is beloved by those reading at night.) Additionally, Stanza makes it easy to access Project Gutenberg's archives of free classics as well as integrating with a number of partner stores. Alas, Stanza lacks the coherency of the Kindle or Nook book stores (and their lower prices!). But if you want total control over your eBook library, Stanza remains the way to go. Note that Amazon now owns Stanza, giving them two strong contenders in the eReader ring!

Formerly the B&N eReader, Barnes and Nobles' NOOK eBook app is similar to the Kindle app in that it comes tied to B&N's preexisting eBook store. So, if you own a NOOK, you can access your full B&N library from your iPhone. Barnes and Nobles' store seems to be somewhat smaller than Amazon's Kindle store, but still boasts an impressive selection and low prices. The iPhone app itself is gorgeous, featuring colorful book covers and the usual bevy of customization options for the reader. The reader responds snappily. One unique feature to Barnes and Nobles' eBook approach is the "LendMe" feature, which lets you share books with other users. Nice!

Kobo is relatively new, and focuses on new and best-selling books. The glossy interface focuses on being pretty, but there's a fair amount of functionality here, too. The store section of the app works wonderfully, with a number of handy categories. One new book is offered as a free download each week, and the prices are fair. Unfortunately, some trouble comes with the reader aspect. While the interface mostly stays out of your way and feels quite natural, it also suffers from the occasional crash. Ah, well; Kobo remains a nice contender, and it does support Instapaper integration.

You'd think that Apple's own pet bookstore would have shown up earlier, right? Unfortunately, the iBookstore leaves much to be desired in terms of both pricing and selection—I don't think it's comparable to Barnes and Nobles' selection yet, let alone Amazon's massive Kindle Store. Additionally, iBooks has a nasty habit of crashing right when you're getting to the exciting part. I complained about many of these issues last June, and yet many of the problems persist half a year later.

The Conclusion
There are many strong contenders in the eBook space, and almost all of the popular apps are very, very good. If you own a Kindle or a NOOK, stick with the corresponding app. None of the eReader apps are sufficiently advanced to warrant giving up your existing library.

Otherwise, it's a much tougher decision. After careful deliberation, I favor Kindle for iPhone. The Kindle app works wonderfully, with few bugs and a consistent history of updates. Additionally, its massive Kindle Store provides more eBooks than you could ever read. It's a close race, but the Kindle app's confident competence makes it the winner in my book.

DECISION: Kindle for iPhone

Gameloft Invades the eBook Space with War in the Pacific

Posted by Blake Grundman on January 17th, 2011
iPad App - Designed for iPad

It is pretty safe to say that World War II was one of the most influential conflicts in the history of humanity. One area of the conflict that was especially brutal throughout the war was the Pacific front.  This was brought to a head when the United States dropped nuclear bombs on both Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  But the war wasn't just about two bright flashes of light on the western horizon, it was far more than that.

Of all developers, who do you think would be bringing the story of this conflict to life?  If you guessed Gameloft, then you would be correct, but at the same time, you should also question your sanity.  In a huge departure from what they have traditionally developed, the influential iPhone developer has decided to branch off into the realm of eBooks.  Here is how they describe, War in the Pacific, their newest foray into the iOS space:
War in the Pacific by Richard Overy is a beautiful 56-page book filled with hundreds of outstanding photographs, works of art and maps, providing a unique interactive experience on the iPad that brings the past to life. It takes Book Applications to a whole new level.

This interactive experience brings the era and events to life as never before: Turn some of the darkest pages of history, zoom-in on high-quality photographs, watch animated maps and archive videos retrace events and interact with carefully selected documents of the time.

What sets this eBook apart from others in the medium is the extensive use of interactivity and multimedia to help the reader gain a better grasp of the scenarios surrounding the war.  This is the kind of specialized content that the iPad was designed to consume.  If you don't believe us, check out Gameloft's debut trailer for the app and see if that doesn't convince you.

As long as they can get past the hefty $9.99 pricetag, readers will be in for a historically inspired treat.  If nothing else, let's hope that it will act as a reminder to everyone of the tragic cost of war throughout history and the sacrifices made by soldiers, all in the name of their homeland.


Dracula: The Official Stoker Family Edition for iPad Review

iPad App - Designed for iPad
By Chris Kirby on December 1st, 2010
Our rating: starstarstarhalfstarblankstar :: AHEAD OF THE CURVE
The future of the ebook is here, like it or not.
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MegaReader Review

+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
By Brian Hudson on September 10th, 2010
Our rating: starstarstarblankstarblankstar :: JUST ANOTHER FREE BOOK READER
MegaReader is competing in a crowded and highly competitive corner of the App Store, and while it isn't a bad app, it doesn't have the weapons to win the war. It simply isn't offering enough to entice most users away from the likes of iBooks or Kindle.
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iBooks on iPhone: What Apple Needs to Fix

Posted by Bonnie Eisenman on July 12th, 2010

iBooks is a gorgeous app, but it's driving me crazy.

There. I've said it.

When the iPad launched, iBooks was trumpeted as a gorgeous, easy, seamless app that would mix digital books with Apple's typical ease-of-use. Sounds dreamy, right? And I suppose iBooks on the iPad must be good, because everyone raves about it.

But iBooks has been out on the iPhone for a little while now, and while I was initially excited to use it, it's frankly frustrating. iBooks doesn't act like an Apple app should; it crashes; and while it does lots of things well, other parts feels unfinished. Here, then, is a list of my complaints—things that Apple really ought to have fixed prior to release.

It Crashes.
Please tell me I'm not the only one with this problem. Do I read too quickly for the poor app or something? About once every ten minutes, a page turn for me results in the app crashing—and it also forgets where I left off. Ugh!

Furthermore, when I attempt to open a downloaded book, I sometimes get the error message, "The requested resource is unavailable," and iBooks will refuse to open said book until I restart the app, or even my iPod. These two errors are far too common, considering that they interfere with the most basic function of iBooks: reading!

Where Are the Books?
What's the point of convenient, digital books if...you know...you can't buy them in the first place? For me, the iBookStore is simply too small right now. "Tens of thousands" of books versus Amazon's 600,000 for Kindle...hmm. As an avid reader, I was disappointed to find that many of the books I wanted simply weren't available in iBooks. I'm not looking for the impossible, either. (Say, the 1980s Dragonlance books, or Harry Potter, which isn't available anywhere; I'm talking modern, fairly successful authors like Naomi Novik!)

Screen Lock.
For those of us whose devices don't allow for orientation-lock, this is immensely painful. When reading in bed, it's easy to accidentally trigger a switch from landscape to portrait or vice-versa. Unfortunately, at least on an iPod Touch 2G, iBooks takes forever to make the switch—and while it's struggling to rotate your book, it also freezes, preventing you from reading further. Fantastic.

No Inversion?
Why can't I switch the text to light-on-dark for nighttime reading? Dimming the screen works, but it still strains my eyes more to read dark-on-light text at night. The screen-lock problem already makes reading in bed hard enough!

The Bookstore.
First, selection is horrid. Secondly, prices are high—I can often order a real-life paperback for less from Amazon.

Third, and just as aggravating, is the store itself. There is no way to buy iBooks from your computer; and the iPhone screen is terribly small for browsing for books. Furthermore, the store is riddled with issues. When you go to "browse," an alphabetical list of authors is displayed, split between "Top Paid" and "Top Free." Now tap on "Categories," chose one, and look. Now it shows you the top paid authors in that category...but if you click on "Top Free," it'll boot you back to the Top Free authors overall. What the heck?

Additionally, the store has no landscape view, and suffers from numerous other design issues. Not to mention the download errors.

In Summary.
iBooks isn't a bad app. In fact, it's got plenty of strong points—being able to browse for books right on the device is something I've wanted for a long time, and it's a very robust reader. Bookmarks, highlighting, annotation...there are some really nice features baked into iBooks.

And that's why the above issues make me so irritated. Apple is perfectly capable of making a fantastic eBook reader app. Regretfully, however, this version of iBooks isn't it, at least not for iPhone / iPod Touch users. There are too many bugs, too many design flaws, and not enough books. It's easy to tell that iBooks was crammed onto the smaller screen. And that's a shame.

For now? I'll be juggling Stanza and Kindle for iPhone as my two eBook apps of choice. Sorry, iBooks; I'm waiting for your next update.

Calibre: iBooks' Ideal Desktop Companion - Convert and Organize Your eBooks

Posted by Zach Sims on June 15th, 2010

The iPad is, along with the Kindle and the Nook, one of the first devices to bring the pleasures of eReaders to the masses. Unfortunately, it has brought the struggles of digital media along with it, casting users into a sea of confusion with new acronyms like ePub and mobi, among others. The most basic users will undoubtedly simply stick to Apple's included solution and purchase all of their books directly from the iBooks store. This remains an incredibly simple and turnkey solution that even advanced users should consider. Other book sellers, like Amazon and Barnes & Noble, each include similar storefronts, allowing purchases from the desktop on their websites and simple delivery to the iPad. Each of these interactions requires little more than several clicks and files never need to be transmitted from the desktop to the iPad itself. But what's the more advanced user to do if the iBooks/iTunes combination isn't enough?

[caption id="attachment_39307" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Calibre\'s Conversion Dialog"]

[/caption]Those that dare to wade into the more advanced waters of eBook reading will need a quick primer on their device's capabilities. The iPad's native reader, iBooks, currently only supports the open ePub format, although support for PDFs is promised in a forthcoming version showcased at WWDC alongside iOS4. It's important to note that eBooks downloaded from any of the aforementioned stores (Amazon, B&N, and iBooks) may come in the ePub format, but each is locked down with its own proprietary digital rights management system, making files from one online bookstore unreadable in another company's reader.

Yet there are a multitude of sources for unencrypted eBooks, including stores who sell books without DRM. Formats may become an issue in this case, with lit, mobi, and more serving as the defaults for several other popular mobile readers. In this case, a user's best option for books management is Calibre, a terrific open source program that works with a wide variety of eBook formats and readers. I'd say Calibre is the iTunes for your digital book library, but I like to think of it more as iBooks' desktop companion.

iBooks' Best Friend

Calibre, available free of charge, deftly converts eBooks from most formats to ePub, PDF, and more. It's as simple as dragging and dropping into the app and selecting an output format. Calibre can also download metadata and covers so iBooks properly organizes your book when it's displayed on your iPad. The app also centralizes your books on your hard drive so there's always somewhere to go to find the original eBook, just as iTunes attempts to centralize your music library in a folder on your hard drive.

Calibre offers simple solutions for moving these books to your iPad, with a recently unveiled "push-to-iTunes" feature that will seamlessly add books to a connected iPad. Otherwise, users have to go into their Calibre library folder and drag the books to iTunes' iBooks panel (when an iPad is syncing). If you're not an iBooks user, Calibre works perfectly with Stanza, one of my favorite apps.

Like to Read? You'll Love Calibre
Calibre does what any good app does - removes the strictures of formats and medium and instead leaves the text itself as the most important part of the reading experience. A simple drag and drop enables users to convert books from any format to any other format with ease. The developers are great and the app sees frequent and innovative updates. Like most open source projects, it makes me want to donate - the software's almost too good to be true. It does much more than converting eBooks, though, and it's worth a look for anyone interested in reading, whether on your iPad or off. Get it here.

Stanza Updates for the iPad

Posted by Zach Sims on June 7th, 2010
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
Our rating: starstarstarstarhalfstar :: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED :: Read Review »

[caption id="attachment_38764" align="alignright" width="225" caption="Stanza\'s Options and Reading Screen"]

[/caption]Lexcycle, acquired last year by Amazon, released a version of their popular iPhone/iPod touch eReader Stanza for the iPad last week. Stanza was my eReader of choice on my iPhone and I'm thrilled it's finally been ported to the iPad. It's a terrific reader that's compatible with a wide variety of different formats. Before Stanza for iPad was released, I used Calibre to convert my eBooks to iBooks' required ePub format. Stanza allows users to read in a whole bunch of formats, and the 3.0 release adds PDF, DjVu, and Comic Book Archive support to Stanza's already extensive library of readable files.

Stanza includes the most customizable reading interface I've seen on a mobile application. It allows you to customize nearly everything, from the page turning animations (a slide like the Kindle's or a page turning animation like iBooks') to the background and color of the text. Stanza really does make the experience all about the text - the user is able to customize everything about the way the book is viewed. Barnes and Nobles' app was lauded earlier this week for including the same customization but their application locks you into using their bookstore. Stanza lets you load your own books onto the iPad or iPhone. It also, however, allows you access to a variety of other eBook stores directly from the phone.

[caption id="attachment_38765" align="alignleft" width="225" caption="Stanza\'s Text Descriptions"]

[/caption]Perhaps the application's best feature is Stanza's Detail views for text. Highlighting text using the traditional copy and paste mechanism in iBooks yields a tooltip that lets you bookmark (highlight) and look things up in the dictionary. It's a more complicated scenario in Stanza but one that offers one additional option - the ability to share text on Facebook, Twitter, and through email. The detail view pulls up the paragraph in question in an iPhone-sized window and makes it easier to select text.

Stanza works perfectly with Calibre, my app of choice for eBook conversion. It now allows for a really simple workflow to get eBooks from the desktop to an iPad. It's possible to move books by utilizing a computer as a wireless server, or by pushing them from Calibre into iTunes. It's also possible to drag books into iTunes and into Stanza.

Stanza is the ideal reading experience, with customizable colors, animations, and more and compatibility with dozens of different formats. The Lexcycle team has succeeded in bringing the great iPhone app to the iPad and I, as an avid reader, am glad they did so.


+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
By Bonnie Eisenman on November 2nd, 2009
Our rating: starstarstarstarhalfstar :: MAGICAL
QuickReader is a speed-reading tool that can produce remarkable results. I was shocked by the rate at which my speed improved. Your mileage may vary, but if you're a frequent reader you owe it to yourself to give this one a go.
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B&N eReader

iPhone App - Designed for iPhone, compatible with iPad
By Bonnie Eisenman on July 21st, 2009
Our rating: starstarstarstarblankstar :: EXCELLENT
The B&N eReader is a fantastic piece of software that is far superior to Amazon's Kindle for iPhone app. But without a killer piece of e-ink hardware, B&N's app might not be widely adopted...yet. Regardless, I'm ecstatic that there's a new player in the e
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Kindle for iPhone

+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
By Perrin Stewart on March 4th, 2009
Our rating: starstarstarstarblankstar :: RECOMMENDED
While not the most robust ebook reader around, Amazon has just laid down the gauntlet in the iPhone / iPod Touch ebook war. Get instant access to over 240,000 books, even ones you've previously purchased for your Kindle!
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+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
By Perrin Stewart on December 24th, 2008
Our rating: starstarstarstarhalfstar :: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
Stanza is one of the preeminent ebook readers on the iPhone / iPod Touch, with an intuitive interface, support for a wide variety of ebook formats, and an online store.
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iPhone App - Designed for iPhone, compatible with iPad
By Jeff Scott on November 24th, 2008
Our rating: starstarstarstarhalfstar :: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
Classics is a collection of 13 classic novels presented with a fantastic user interface
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