Thursday, June 24, 2010

Let's talk eReader Applications.

Yesterday I blogged about my growing tolerance for reading electronically. I've only read a handful of eBooks, and all of those on my iPad. I'd like to play with one of the readers with eInk, just to see the difference, but I'm not sure I could justify a dedicated reading device at this point. After all, my iPad also plays movies, games, and can use a number of somewhat productive apps. Also, as I'm not ready to give up my dead tree books yet, a dedicated device might be wasted on me. Currently, at least.

That said, I have been fiddling around with the four main reading apps (iBooks, Kindle, Stanza, and B&N reader) on the iPad. Most of the eBooks I've downloaded have been free or 'specially priced' but they've given me a chance to become accustomed to eBooks and the apps which the iPad uses to display them. I have come to the following conclusions

Aesthetics of ebook: 5/5
Ease of use: 4.5/5
Shopping/browsing: 2/5

When you first open iBooks, the first thing you notice is that the program interface is gorgeous. Covers are displayed on a digital 'shelf' (complete with wood grain and shadows) that boasts the most customization of title order of any of the applications I've encountered. Holding your finger over the cover image allows you to drag your 'books' around the screen and rearrange them to whatever order you like. You also have the ability view the books in lists, which will auto organize them by bookshelf order, Title, Author, or category (genre). The 'interior' of the books are also the most cosmetically pleasing, in my opinion. The edges have 'pages and book binding' type graphics, and with the flick of a finger the page turns. The text can be adjusted by both size and font. The brightness can be adjusted and pages can be viewed in white or sepia. Tapping on a word gives you the option to look it up in the dictionary or search for all occurrences of the word. You can also highlight passages and add notes to the text. These notes show up as tiny yellow stickies in the margin. They display only the date made unless you click on them. These notes and highlights can also be viewed in a convenient list by clicking a button on the top of the screen in the book. While reading, ibooks tells you what page you are on, and how many pages remain in the chapter. All and all, reading books in ibooks is enjoyable and very aesthetically pleasing. Unfortunately, the ibooks store is the least friendly I've encountered. If you don't know what you want to buy when you open the store, you are unlikely to find a book you are interested in. The 'browsing' capabilities here are slim to none.

Kindle App
Aesthetics of ebook: 3.5/5
Ease of use: 4/5
Shopping/browsing: 5/5

(Note, I am referring to the ipad app and not the kindle eReader as I have not used the eReader.) When you open the app, all your downloaded books are displayed, floating in space on the screen. They can be sorted by Recent purchases, Title, and Author, which for me, is irritatingly limited as I like to sort by genre and then by author and I prefer to keep my TBR separate from books I've already read. I currently keep my kindle books sorted by author, but they always look like a chaotic mess whenever I open the app. Moving on. The interior of the ebook is simple and elegant. No fancy page graphics here, but if you want page flipping animations, these can be turned on in the options. The text can be resized (but there are no font options), the brightness can be changed, and the page can be displayed in white, sepia, or black (with white text). There is the option to jump to certain preselected locations in the text and to bookmarks or text the reader marks. The default setting lets you see all the passages other people who have read the book have highlighted (which I find obnoxious, but might be useful in textbooks), this option can be turned off in preferences. Notes and highlights are both possible (but not dictionary look ups or word searches). The notes are very unobtrusive, which could be good or bad. They won't distract you while your reading, but you might also over look them. That said, there is the option to jump directly to notes from a self populating list. The page numbering in kindle is slightly confusing and I find the fact it tells me what percent of the book I've read more telling than the 'location' marks. The kindle apps biggest draw is the store. Most people have shopped amazon before and are familiar with its layout. You might not be able to browse exactly the same way you could in a brick and mortar bookstore, but there are browsing opportunities, logical groupings, and of course, the feature 'recommended for you' (which I adore). The kindle app might not be my favorite app, but it is definitely the easiest to buy books with.

B&N eReader
Aesthetics of ebook: 3/5
Ease of use: 4.5/5
Shopping/browsing: 4/5

The B&N eReader just recently came out for the iPad so I have less experience with it than the others. That said, I did grab it immediately and have been playing with it because, well as a brick and mortar store in which I often write, I have a fondness for Barnes and Noble, so I want to give their program a shot. Aesthetically, it is a very 'crisp' and elegant looking app, but like the kindle app, the book covers just sort of float out there in space. Also like the kindle app, the sorting capabilities are limited to author, title, and recent. Again no manual organization option, but to add an annoyance factor, the app includes 'sample chapters' of new release best sellers which I didn't ask to download. So, these books I have no interest in further clog up what I already perceive as a chaotic jumble of titles. The interior of the book is simple but efficient, no graphics or page animations, but it displays the text nicely. As well as giving you the option to change text size and font, this app also allows the reader to adjust the margins and the line spacing. Unlike the other apps, a full customization of colors is available. You can pick from a color wheel to adjust the color of the text, page, highlights, and links. Highlights and notes are both available (and the highlighting in this reader is actually the very easiest to do as it takes only one drag of the finger instead of selecting a word and then dragging a box around the rest of the highlighted section.) Notes are indistinguishable from highlighting when reading the text and cannot be read on the page. To read a note the user must go to the information box and view the drop down list of notes and highlights. Speaking of information, this is the only app that includes a drop down that displays info about the books and gives you the option of auto searching 'more by this author'. Speaking of shopping, buying books on B& is fairly easy. While the browsing can't match the capabilities on Amazon's site, it is far more user friendly than the iBooks.

Aesthetics of ebook: 2.5/5
Ease of use: 4/5
Shopping/browsing: 5/5

Presentation-wise, Stanza is the least visually interesting ereader app. No bells or whistles here. Books are displayed in a list with extremely limited (and not exactly clear) sorting options. The book interior is pretty standard, with the ability change font and text size and color. Interestingly enough, in this app you can add an image behind the text as you're reading (I'm not exactly sure why you would do this, but you can.) While it isn't much to look at, what really makes Stanza stand out is the fact it can read just about anything. If you head to it's 'catalogue' it automatically connects to several of the independent eBook sites as well as sites like Project Gutenberg. If you have ebooks you've downloaded to your computer, these can easily be added to Stanza by importing them into the app in iTunes and then syncing the ipad. This is the 'if nothing else reads it, this app probably will' reader.

Okay, so there it is, my break down of eReader apps for the iPad. Keep in mind this breakdown is simply my own opinion and derived from my own personal use of the applications. I heard from a lot of people yesterday who said they read eBooks and enjoy them. Which devices/programs do you use? Have you tried multiple eReaders? How would you rate your reading experiences?

Have a great day everyone!

(**Note: Images are from the web and do not reflect my actual libraries) 


Lexxx said...

I'm so glad you put this up, Kalayna. I'm researching the iPad and its kind of foreboding-- not really knowing what you're going to get yourself into. Thanks!

Marcia Colette said...

I love my netbook. If I read an ebook, it's my reader of choice because I can use it to write,too.

Kalayna Price said...

No problem Lexx. It was a great procrastination tool. LOL.

Marcia, first off, can I say that I am absolutely loving Stripped? It is spectacular. Also, I agree that devices that perform multiple functions tend to be the best and most practical. Of course, I also like shiny new tech. What a toss up. ^_~

KarateMonkey said...

What a conicedence, I go to check out the author of the e-book I'm currently reading's blog only to find that she's deep in a discussion about e-books.

You might also try the Kobo app, available at I don't have a smartphone or ipad to try it myself, but I've been reading e-books pretty much exclusivly for most of the last year on an e-ink reader, and I'm rapidly starting to think of them as my favorite store. That's especially true post agency model change, since Fictionwise and Books on Board got hit hard.

Kobo seems to be the most serious about making sure that books from their store can be read on as many devices as possible, and I find that very appealing.

Actually, if you've got 40-50 minutes to kill there's a great presentation one of their execs at a technology conference in Canada. It's about their first year in business, and all the interesting things they've learned about e-books and ebook readers.