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Reading with iOS 101, a reading app guide – Revisited

Last week Brian posted an update of reading apps for Android devices. Today I’m revisiting the major reading apps for the iPad, iPad Mini, iPhone and iTouch. Because of the prevalence of the iPhone and iTouch devices, all the images here are from the iPhone/iTouch except for the Marvin reading app which is designed for iPad and iPad Mini devices only.

All Apps are free unless noted.


Screenshots from Kindle App

Screenshots from Kindle App

The Kindle reading app is my main reading application but primarily because  it is the only application that reads encrypted books purchased from Amazon. There are a few other apps that will read/view nonencrypted Mobi or PRC files, but this is the only app that will work with books purchased at Amazon (unless you strip the DRM or purchase a DRM free file).

Amazon pioneered the sync feature  between devices. If you start reading on your Kindle, you can pick up at the same place you stopped on any other device or even using their cloud reader.   A 5 GB cloud storage is provided for each account  and the homepage  gives you the option of toggling between  viewing the books on the cloud or on the device.  Amazon also provides a program called Personal Document Service which allows you to email yourself books and documents as well as converting a limited number of formats.  Last year Amazon introduced Whispersync for audiobooks and if you purchase the audiobook through Audible and the digital book through Amazon, you can begin to read where your audiobook left off and vice versa.

As it pertains to customization, you can change the font as well as the font size and the space between individual lines of text. Amazon provides three set themes of white, black, and sepia.

You can highlight in four different colors and make notes as well as share highlights  via Twitter and Facebook. I think this sharing feature is very limited and would like to see Amazon increase the options for sharing, such as including the ability to share the email or text message. Given the purchase of Goodreads, readers should also be allowed to update their good read status from inside the Kindle book as well as share quotes.

There is access to a dictionary as well as a search the web/wikipedia feature.

There are no organization features which is a major wish list item for many Kindle users.

PROS:    Personal Document System; and whispersync feature works for both  e-books purchased from Amazon as well as those books that you email to yourself via the personal document system and audiobooks purchased via Audible.  I consider this a killer feature.

CONS: No  organization features; lack of ability to share highlights and notes via email, text message, or other means of communication other than Twitter and Facebook.  Notes and annotations and highlights for sideloaded books or books part of the Personal Document Service cannot be shared publicly via the Amazon profiles for readers.

Screenshots from iBooks App

Screenshots from iBooks App


Apple’s default reading program has really grown on me since it  was first released. One of the features that I really love about iBooks is the ability to look at your notes  and highlights sequentially and generally, in full.  Most other apps, only show the first few words of a note or highlight.  iBooks also has a scroll feature which scrolls the text from top to bottom instead of from side to side. For some reason, this type of reading experience really appeals to me.

iBooks has introduced collections which allows you to create different folders or groups of books.  By pressing the “Edit” button on the shelf page, you can easily move books between shelves, either individually or in groups.  It’s a painless way of creating reading lists on the fly.

Apple offers seven different fonts in a limited number of font sizes as well as three themes: white, night, and sepia.   You can highlight in five different colors or underline text.   You are also allowed to share text via mail, message, Twitter, Facebook as well as copy  from those books that allow copying.

You can read any iBooks purchased ebook or non encrypted ePub.  You can sideload via iTunes or simply email yourself a compatible epub (or access it via dropbox or some other cloud storage program) and use the “open in” feature to open that book into your iBooks program.

iBooks also has a nice dictionary included as well as the ability to search via web and Wikipedia.  iBooks has syncing across iOS devices for the books purchased but it does not have a built in cloud storage or the ability to sync sideloaded documents.

PROS:  Easy organization through “collections” and ability to share via email, text message, as well as social media platforms.

CONS: No syncing for sideloaded documents.

Screenshots from Nook App

Screenshots from Nook App


I generally only advise to use the Nook app if you buy books from B&N because it is not the most feature rich reading app for ePubs.  I have even deleted it off my iDevices and had to reload it just to do this blog post.  Nook, like Amazon, requires you to have an account to use the application but unlike Amazon you must have a credit card attached to your account. Amazon does not require this.

Nook has a thing for the number three.  You can choose between six different fonts and six different font sizes.   There are six themes from Night to Gray to Butter.  There are three line spacing choices and three margin sizes.

One nice feature is the “Info” button which allows you to see a thumbnail of the cover and read the blurb attached to the book.  Nook allows syncing of last place read, but many readers have reported troubles with syncing of notes and highlights made on the PC and iOS apps.

You are not allowed to copy or share any text and there are no organization features.

You can sideload books either using the iTunes application or via email or other cloud storage.  Those books appear on your homescreen as well as in the “My Files” section.  You can choose to “read” or “delete” but not “archive” any sideloaded book.  Sideloaded books do not sync across devices.

PROS: The “info” button allows you to readily refresh your memory as to the book’s cover and blurb; Sideloading is permitted.

CONS: You must have an account with a credit card attached even if you use it to just read ePubs purchased at another store or free ePubs.  There are no organization features.

Screenshots from Kobo App

Screenshots from Kobo App


Kobo offers  in app rewards such as banners and stars for interaction with the app.   It can report you how long you have read or when you read the most and you can earn badges for various activities.

Like the Nook app, Kobo offers an overview button, accessible through the Table of Contents screen. It’s less intuitive than the Nook info feature and takes one more tap but it gets there.

Kobo offers ten different fonts and a number of different font sizes as well as the ability to change text alignment and transition style. Unfortunately, Kobo spreads these features around different screens instead of combining all the settings into one so you have to either remember exactly what each icon stands for in order to get to the right customization section.  For instance, the brightness icon holds the themes as well as the brightness slider where as the wrench allows you to change the justification.

You can share highlighted text via Facebook, Twitter and eMail and look up words via an onboard dictionary.

Kobo allows you to create shelves and add books to your shelves for organizational purposes.  You create a new shelf and then when pressing edit, are presented with a scrollable list of all your books that you can easily add or delete from your new shelf.

Kobo also syncs across Kobo devices and apps for Kobo purchased books and will read sideloaded non encrypted ePubs.

PROS: In app stats that tell you how long it took you to read a book.  Organization via shelves.

CONS: In app badges.  Seriously I find this kind of annoying at times.  There seems to be a new badge for everything. I highlighted something and I got a badge for “inverted comma”.

Screenshots from MegaReader App

Screenshots from MegaReader App

MegaReader ($1.99)

The greatest benefit of MegaReader is that it reads your Calibre catalog, much like Stanza of old.  It also allows you to tweak the look and feel of the app for one of the most customizable reading experiences.  One of the best features is the ability to change the tap zones.  Tap zones are the areas on your phone or tablet where you press to advance or go backward.  You can also increase or decrease the brightness with a swipe of your finger upward or downward.

There are over 19 preset color schemes but you can set your own background color and font color as well.  There are a number of fonts and font sizes as well as the “heads up” display which uses the camera on your phone or tablet to present a background so you are essentially seeing behind your phone or tablet while you are reading.   In the pictures above, you can see the keyboard on my Macbook from the reading screen.

There is no way to organize your library.  The app simply lists the books in order of most recently opened or most recently downloaded.

However, if you use this app you sacrifice three major features of other reading apps and that is highlighting + annotations, bookmark (other than last place read) and searching.  For me, that this does not allow a bookmarking feature is a deal breaker but others might appreciate how it connects to a Calibre or other OPDS catalog.

PROS: Lots of customization for the look and feel; “Heads Up” feature; and connection to Calibre catalogs.

CONS: No bookmarking, highlighting/annotations, searching or dictionary feature. No organization features either.


Tomes ($4.99)

Tomes is basically the updated version of the iBookshelf, one of the very first iOS reading applications ever written. I had to jailbreak the iThing way back in the day to get this app on it.  Now you can buy the feature rich app directly from iTunes.  The real question is whether it is worth the $4.99 price tag.

Essentially it is a better version of MegaReader (or MegaReader is a pale imitation of iBookshelf now known as Tomes).  Everything that MegaReader does, Tomes does as well including give you access to your Calibre database.  Even better, Tomes uses Bonjour to look for Calibre catalogs that are nearby so you don’t even have to add them.  Tomes should be able to recognize Calibre if your Calibre library is on the same wifi connection. 

Tomes also reads the most formats included non encrypted Mobi and PRC files (in addition to Plain Text, HTML with images, FictionBook2 with images [.fb2], ePub archives (see ePub notes), PalmDoc / AportisDoc [.pdb], Plucker with images [.pdb], Compiled HTML with images [.chm], MIME HTML with images [.mht], RTF and Word 97+ (newer word versions lose formatting).

Unlike MegaReader and like the retailer apps, Tomes syncs between iDevices.  It also allows you to set parental controls and privacy settings so documents and folders are completely hidden (and masked) until the correct passcode is entered.  You can organize your files by folders and search as well as look up words in an included dictionary.

You can add bookmarks, but it’s not a simple tap in the upper corner. Instead, you have to hit the Table of Contents/bookmarks icon and then select “Bookmarks”, press the “+” sign and then title the bookmark. It’s almost easier just to add a note where you would have a bookmark appear.  There is no highlighting or sharing but you can copy text to paste into other applications.

Tomes chunks text or processes shorter amounts of text at once. This takes some time to get used to and can be annoying but it also allows for faster movement between larger files.  Additionally, you can only scroll to read in this application, meaning your pages move up and down instead of right to left. Pages are a paper artifact but for those used to reading paper books, this transition can be awkward.

If you loved Stanza, Tomes is probably your best replacement.

PROS: A solid replacement for Stanza; huge customization options; syncing between iDevices; reads Mobi books; loads books via your Calibre catalog.

CONS: No highlighting and bookmarking is really awkward; scroll to read is the only option; has a slight learning curve.

Screenshots from BlueFire App

Screenshots from BlueFire App


Featurewise, this is the best ePub reader out there because it allows you to read ADE encrypted ePubs as well as unencrypted ePubs.  You can also add ePubs via sideloading or via dropbox/email.  Plus, you can use this app for library downloads (although Overdrive is the “official” library app).

Despite BlueFire being very feature rich, I use iBooks instead but this is primarily because I rarely, if ever, buy encrypted ePubs and I think the iBooks interface is just slightly more elegant in look and feel that BlueFire. This is largely a personal preference.  If I was a heavy purchaser of ePubs, however, I’d probably use BlueFire.

The number one thing that bothers me about BlueFire is that it requires a long swipe to turn the page. Most other apps require a simple tap.

Bluefire has the most customization features of any app mentioned in this post other than MegaReader.  There are over 20 fonts you can choose as well as precise line spacing, as many colors for background and text as you can imagine or you can choose one of the many preset themes provided by the developers. You can select  between five different margin sizes as well as a swipe up and down for brightness.

You can highlight in one color, copy text, or share text via Facebook, Twitter, and email.  As with Kobo and iBooks, you can create collections and select books to add into those collections to help organize and prioritize your reading.

PROS: Lots of customization for the look and feel;  organization; broad access to library books and other ADE books such as those sold at Google, Sony Reader, Diesel, ARE, and Kobo.

CONS: Almost too many features and frustrating long swipe to turn the page which interferes with reading experience. Sometimes response to taps are slow.

Screenshots from the Marvin App

Screenshots from the Marvin App

Marvin (Free but additional themes cost $$)

This is an iPad/iPad Mini ebook reader only and is really one of the best out there.  Marvin touts itself as  creating a different type of reading experience through its use of artificial intelligence. When you turn on the “Deep View” feature, it creates a text index of names, places, and other words.  Those names, places, words are then sorted by importance (number of times the word appears in the text) or by appearance (when the words first appears in a text).  You can flag certain words and names and instruct Marvin to create a summary.

For example, in One Hit Wonder by Elyssa Patrick, “Damon” appears 166 times, first appearing in Chapter 1 and “Jane” appears 118 times, first appearing in Chapter 1. While this might not be helpful with a fiction book, this summary feature could be incredibly helpful for non fiction and educational purposes.

Marvin uses the swipe ability in new ways.  Swipe to the left and you are greeted with four options: Share, mark read, flag new, and delete.  For sharing, you can store up to five email addresses of people that you often communicate with regarding your books.

In the recent updates, you can now organize your books into different folders and/categories.  Another newish feature is the ability to edit the Metadata of a book on the fly.  In most applications, you are stuck with whatever the publisher included and sometimes that varies from publisher to publisher. In Marvin, you can switch around the Author (from first name, last name to Last Name, First Name) or the Title or even add the series name.  You can even add a cover image from your Camera Roll for those books (like from Random House or HarperCollins) that don’t include a real cover for the digital book.

You can highlight in five different colors and copy text and share it via eMail, Twitter and Facebook.  There is also direct integration with Dropbox and Calibre catalogs.  The look and feel of Marvin App is one of my favorites.  I like the clean, elegant interface and design to it.

The big problem is that Marvin only reads unencrypted epubs.

PROS: Elegant look and feel; organization; deep view; and connection to Calibre catalogs.

CONS: Available only for the iPad and iPad Mini. Reads only unencrypted ePubs.


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Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. RachelT
    Jun 09, 2013 @ 09:28:10

    I think that all the customisation features you mention in Bluefire can be found in Marvin. In fact, with the exception of reading encrypted epubs, it can do most things I see mentioned in other apps. I particularly like how easy it is to adjust he space between paragraphs – this really helps with some poorly formatted books. It’s creator, Kris Guill, keeps up a daily dialogue with users through a thread on MobileReads and is very receptive to suggestions for new features. He is currently working on an i-phone version and has an android version in his future plans.

  2. MaryK
    Jun 09, 2013 @ 15:47:53

    I recently learned that you can set up a “send to” feature in Calibre and email books/your own content directly from Calibre to your Kindle email address. The really cool thing is that when it sends the file it inserts a summary page of the book’s metadata including tags and blurb. I find this very helpful since most ebooks don’t include the blurb.

  3. Keishon
    Jun 09, 2013 @ 19:41:35

    Thanks for the write-up. I downloaded Marvin and will try it out. I am back to reading on my tablet via Kindle reading app. I seem to read faster on it, too.

  4. Jane
    Jun 09, 2013 @ 21:46:46

    @Keishon – let me know what you think.

  5. PW
    Jun 09, 2013 @ 22:12:49

    I have all the listed apps. Blue fire, nook and kobo never get used. Ibooks gets used only for pdf’s because Marvin can’t read those. Marvin is my main app. Ibooks crashes if heavily loaded. Marvin doesn’t. Ibooks is limited in page layouts. Marvin has multiple possibilities. Aside from its benefits that you already mentioned, IMO it’s by far the best app out there. It’s limited reading options hold it back. But as for the app itself, it’s stellar.

  6. Newnet
    Jun 09, 2013 @ 22:34:29

    I would really like to see the e reader apps advance to include voice command. It would be a huge help for handicap individuals that have difficulty holding the device for extended periods, or are unable to tap the page. Being able to say turn page would be excellent!

  7. Anne
    Jun 10, 2013 @ 07:33:41

    Thanks so much for this round up! I have most of these apps and it makes me want to take another look at them.

    You didn’t mention the Sony Reader app. I have it and really like it. My favorite feature are that I can change the brightness of the display by swiping up and down the screen and it’s got an easy to use bookshelves/organization feature. I was a Sony Reader owner before I got my iPad, and it brought in my Sony book purchases. I don’t buy much from Sony, so that didn’t mean much to me, but I still like the app.

  8. Maureen
    Jun 10, 2013 @ 09:53:29

    Bluefire is a great app, but it’s not the only one to support ADE encrypted ePub files; Readmill does as well, although it’s more of a social ebook reader.

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