Jul 13 2008
You may not have heard, but Friday saw the release of the newest iPhone. It’s a 3G phone that sold for $199 (8 GB) and $299 (16 GB). Also released on Friday was the newest firmware for the iPhones and iTouches which made available third party applications for the first time*.
Two of the third party applications were for ebook reading on the iPhone. I’ll review them both here. The eReader application is made available through Fictionwise and Bookshelf is coded and designed by an individual by the name Zac Bedell. My favorite is definitely Zac’s Bookshelf and while it costs money ($9.99), it is definitely worth the price.
We’ll start with the eReader application. eReader is the software program that reads Secure PDB files. These Secure files are wrapped in a DRM that is unlocked by your name and credit card associated with your account at either Fictionwise.com or eReader.com. I believe that eReader.com is the only place you can currently purchase eReader books.
There is no way to add eReader books or any other previously purchased books NOT in ereader form to the iPhone using the eReader program. This is hugely important to me because the majority of my purchases are NOT in ereader form. Thus eReader is largely NON functional for me at this time.
It’s lack of functionality due to format differences, however, is not the only reason I’m disappointed with the eReader application.
- It is buggy. It crashed on me twice while I attempted to read a book I had purchased. Second, the page turning bothers me.
- Page turning. I think the eReader tried to emulate the look of an e-ink reader and thus it features an animation that mimics a page turning. Compared to the smooth scrolling of other ereading software on the iPhone, this seems clunky and unnecessary. Further, the page turning lags (probably due to the animation). You must brush your finger across the screen to turn the page instead of a simple tap. Sometimes I had to brush my finger two or three times and sometimes I had to wait a few seconds to achieve the page turn.
- Look and feel. The title of the eReader stays visible at all times, taking up 2-3 lines of text. In landscape mode, the title remains in regular mode.
- Find feature. There is a find feature so that you can search the text for a word or phrase.
- Modifications. The only personal modification that you are allowed is to change the font size from small, medium, large, and huge and the font from Georgia, Helvetica, and Market Felt.
- Location in book or percentage of book read. There is a small indicator bar at the bottom of the reading screen that fills with blue the farther along you are in the story.
- Advancement through the story. The only way to advance farther into the story is through the find feature or through the table of contents. The table of contents is accessed by tapping the open book icon on the lower lefthand side. You cannot scroll through the book or advance any set number of pages or go to a certain page.
- Deleting files. You press the edit button in the bookshelf and are presented with the red delete button. That allows you to delete files from the iPhone.
- Bookshelf. You can access both the eReader accounts and Fictionwise accounts but only one at a time and only if you have different login information (username/password combos) for each. If you mis enter the username or password, the Bookshelf will look empty but you are not informed of your error. This needs to be changed. I thought the Bookshelf access was simply not working for the longest time. You can download individual books or the entire bookshelf. Do not try to download the entire bookshelf when accessing the Fictionwise.com bookshelf. You’ll get lots of errors and few complete downloads.
- Over the Air eBook Purchasing. You can purchase an ebook from eReader.com from the iphone using the credit card you have on file. The purchase only requires the three digit code from the back of your credit card. There are four screens, I think, that you are required to go through to make your purchase. The ereader.com site is not iPhone optimized and it took 5 tries before I was able to successfully complete a purchase. I’m not sure if the eReader.com site was being hammered on Friday or what, but it was slow and frustrating. That said, once I did complete my purchase, I was able to go to the eReader app on the iPhone, access the Bookshelf and the new purchase was available for download.
- Fictionwise.com Issues. I had 7 or 8 books I had purchased at Fictionwise.com that were secure ebooks but when I logged into my Fictionwise Bookshelf from my iPhone, I had no idea which books were eReader books and which were the various other formats. I have over 300+ ebooks in my Fictionwise library and I was only able to download one successfully. I must have totally screwed up something because I haven’t been able to download another ebook from my Fictionwise Bookshelf.
Things the eReader is missing:
- No autoscroll or hands free reading.
- Landscape control. I read in bed alot and if I lay on my side, the iPhone accelerometer senses that the phone should go into landscape mode. This is fairly inconvenient as I struggled to position the iPhone “just right” to get the phone in regular portrait mode. Other iPhone reading apps have a lock to prevent the phone going into landscape mode.
- Alternate backgrounds. There are no alternative backgrounds. This is somewhat important because even at the lowest brightness setting, the black on white text is very bright in the dark. Having a white on black setting or an offwhite on a dark grey background would be better for your eyes. Previous iterations of the eReader allowed for a number of different backgrounds for personalized reading.
- No Bookmark feature or annotation feature. eReader remembers where you left off in your book when you close the application but it does not allow you to make any personal bookmarks. It does have a table of contents feature accessed by the small book icon in the lower left hand corner. There is also no way to make a note or annotate the ebook in anyway.
- No organization of content. The books are downloadable from eReader and Fictionwise, but they are listed alphabetically by title. There is no other way to organize the books. There is no rating system, no tagging.
The eReader program is bare bones. It has little features and for those who have an extensive existing library of ebooks not in eReader form, this is not functional. Despite the free price tag, I haven’t opened since I purchased the book for review purposes. Until and unless eReader makes it possible for a reader to convert existing books into eReader form and then allow them to get those books onto the iPhone, the eReader app is only good for those who buy eReader books or for Iphone users new to ebooks. The one and only advantage that I see that eReader has over Bookshelf is the ability buy on the fly. Even if the eReader app had a way to get existing ebooks onto the iPhone, I was still very disappointed in the look and feel of the application.
This application costs $9.99 and is well worth the money. There are flaws to the application. I found it very buggy for longer files but have communicated these issues directly to the programmer and have been informed that upgrades are on the way (maybe as early as next week). The real amazing thing about this program is that Bedell has created a very easy way for users to get ebooks that they have already purchased onto the iPhone.
- It is buggy when reading long files. I read the entire Susan Mallery, Irresistible, on the Bookshelf App Friday night. (Great book by the way and read on the recommendation of reader Jennifer. Thanks Jennifer). It crashed several times and the scroll to the next section feature scrolled so far in advance each time that I had to backtrack. Today, I broke up the file into chapter segments and experienced no issues at all but I would rather not have to do this. I also suffered some random crashes and freezing while attempting to change preferences.
- Page turning. I prefer the page turning capabilities of this program much better than the eReader. The page turning is essentially a scroll feature. Tap toward the bottom and the next paragraphs scroll up immediately. I never experienced a lag.
- Look and feel. The title of the app disappears and reappears with a tap allowing the reader to enjoy a full screen of text. On a small screen like the iPhone, every pixel of real estate matters.
- Modifications. You can change the font and the font size based on any font that is recognized by the iPhone. I didn’t count all the fonts, but there were alot. There are five color themes: White on Black, Black on White, Blackboard (a softer black), Emerald on black, and Black on Cream (this was more yellow than cream).
- Landscape lock. You can lock the accelerometer from recognizing the phone is in landscape mode.
- Autoscroll. Alot of people like this feature, but I have never really used it. It scrolls the text of the book at various speeds so you don’t have to tap to advance the story.
- Bookmarks. You can add your own bookmarks to a book and because you can name the bookmark itself, it could be used as a tiny annotation feature.
- Deleting files. You can only delete a file using the trashcan while you are in the file.
- Bookshelf. This is the best aspect of Bookshelf App and I would have paid $9.99 just for this functionality alone. Two caveats, you must have java machine working on your computer (most computers do but you can download the Windows version here) and I recommend reinstalling Bonjour downloadable here. Shelfserver is a small java based program you run on your computer. It allows you to access any folder you authorize from the iPhone. With some help from JS Wolf at mobileread and Zac Bedell, I was able to set up a Shelfserver on my home computer that I can access anywhere and that I can allow other iPhone users to access. I hope to be able to collate some of free fiction and extended excerpts for iPhone romance readers through a Dear Author ShelfServer some time in the near future. Soon I’ll give step by step instructions on how to set up the Shelfserver to be accessed over the internet. Essentially this means I can access every ebook I have purchased anywhere I am so long as I have my Iphone. It does not require a wifi connection.
- Content Organization. You can organize content on your computer and when you download the book from Shelfserver, it keeps the same folder structure. It also lists items alphabetically but because I can organize my own content, I can name my folders with last name, first name of the author or any other way a person like.
What the Bookshelf App does not have.
- No Over the Air eBook Purchasing. Bookshelf App does not read secure ebooks and therefore, you cannot purchase new ebooks to be read over the air, even unencrypted ones from Samhain or LooseId. I encourage those epublishers, though, to contact Bedell and find a way to allow readers to purchase books and download them over the air using his program. I would think that would be a win for everyone.
- Find feature. There is no find feature.
- Annotations. No annotation feature.
- Advancement through the story. You can scroll through sections of the book that are loaded but not the entirety of the book. You cannot advance a set number of pages or go to a specific page.
- Location in book or percentage of book read. In a different ebook app, the programmer had placed a faint percentage indicator to let you know how far into the book you where. I really like to know where I am in a book and its hard to know when you are reading a digital file.
Both programs have their issues and neither make the iPhone into a Kindle Killer yet. Currently the Bookshelf App is the one with the most features and it is the only one that allows you to access your existing files. Currently it supports the following formats.
- Plain Text [.txt]
- HTML with images [.html]
- FictionBook2 with images [.fb2]
- PalmDoc / AportisDoc [.pdb]
- MobiPocket (unencrypted) [.pdb, .prc, .mobi]
- Plucker with images [.pdb]
I’ll likely continue to buy MS Lit books and convert them. I recommend Bookshelf App, even at the $9.99, for anyone who has an existing ebook library.
*Note: The third party applications were the first legitimate release. If you had jailbroken the iPhone before, you would have been able to install third party apps not sanctioned by Apple.