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REVIEW: Ereader and Bookshelf App for iPhone

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.

EREADER APP

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.

  1. It is buggy. It crashed on me twice while I attempted to read a book I had purchased. Second, the page turning bothers me.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

  4. Find feature. There is a find feature so that you can search the text for a word or phrase.
  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.
  10. 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.



  11. 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:

  1. No autoscroll or hands free reading.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

BOOKSHELF APP

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

  4. 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).

  5. Landscape lock. You can lock the accelerometer from recognizing the phone is in landscape mode.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. Deleting files. You can only delete a file using the trashcan while you are in the file.

  9. 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.



  10. 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.

  1. 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.
  2. Find feature. There is no find feature.
  3. Annotations. No annotation feature.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She 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

33 Comments

  1. Keishon
    Jul 13, 2008 @ 08:26:31

    I think this is just the beginning and we should really see some good stuff in the near future regarding book apps.

    As for the ereader accessing the Bookshelf at Fictionwise, anytime I access it, it automatically pulls out of the 236 ebooks I’ve purchased, the multi-formatted books that offer the ereader format to read on my iPhone. Surely, you must have a few of those around? I think it is amazing but as usual limited by format because ereader was not my format of choice early on and I can’t read all of my ebooks either.

  2. Jane
    Jul 13, 2008 @ 08:34:52

    Yes, I do have several multiformat books but the problem is there is no way to differentiate between the MSLit and the Mobi and the eReader and the Multiformat from Fictionwise.

    I can read all of my books using the Bookshelf App which is why it is a winner for me. I read on your blog that you finally got the ShelfServer to work. I just think that is the neatest thing.

  3. Jaci Burton
    Jul 13, 2008 @ 09:12:45

    holy crap. You know, I’d love to have an iPhone, but I lack the techno skills to do all the fun stuff to it.

    So I can just ship it to you and you’ll put all the cool doodads on it for me and ship it back, right Jane? ;-)

  4. Jane
    Jul 13, 2008 @ 09:17:04

    Jaci – with the new AppStore, it does not require much any any techno skills. The Bookshelf App’s only issue is getting the ShelfServer working and if you can download and install programs, you can get the program to work with minimal techno skills.

    But sure, ship it to me. :)

  5. Jaci Burton
    Jul 13, 2008 @ 09:39:03

    You’re talking to someone who spent two hours on the phone with the Blackberry people just to get email to work. Trust me. I’m less than minimal on the techno skills.

    ;-)

  6. Ally Blue
    Jul 13, 2008 @ 09:51:00

    Wow, thanks for that detailed and informative review! I have to admit that I covet the new iPhone probably way more than is healthy *g*

    Question: how’s the battery life? Does using the Bookshelf or ereader drain the battery faster? Might be a dumb thing to have to ask, but if I’m reading on my phone I want the battery to last. Also, and this is not related to the reading functions at all, but is it worth the cost of the AT&T service, considering what all the iPhone does? My tracfone might be a bottom of the barrel piece of equipment, but it’s relatively cheap to use. As long as I only expect it to make phone calls. And at this point I’m kind of wanting an all-in-one gadget. Thus the iPhone lust O_O

  7. Simon Dick
    Jul 13, 2008 @ 09:55:53

    apparently ereader don’t consider the program finished either, I think they were concentrating on getting something usable out that they could update easily later

  8. vanessa jaye
    Jul 13, 2008 @ 10:21:07

    The contract on my Motorola Razor has one more year to go, then I think I’ll be upgrading (waaaay up) to an iphone. I’v bookmarked this post to refer back to at that time. Thanks Jane.

  9. Kim Lenox
    Jul 13, 2008 @ 10:29:04

    Jaci,

    I’m a non-techie who just got a new Blackberry too. I really like it! I bought a flowery purple hard case for it (pre-tteeeeey) and figured out the e-mail, calendar and phone functions. I do need to try and get my Outlook Express e-mails on it, and after reading today’s posts, I just downloaded the Mobipocket Reader. I’ve always been a steadfast paper book reader, but I’m going to give it a try. In August. Once I get through my current deadline … sob! I figure a couple of new e-books can be my reward.

    Kim

  10. Steve P.
    Jul 13, 2008 @ 10:41:33

    Hi Jane(s),

    This is Steve from Fictionwise.

    We do realize this is a bare bones release. We thought it was more important to have something out there at the time the app store opened, because we have gotten hundreds of support tickets in the past few months asking us to support iphone, rather than have a release months later that had every last bell and whistle. By far, our customers have enthusiastically supported us in this philosophy. They wanted to be able to read their ereader purchases right away on iphone, even if every last option was not available right away.

    You have to realize that Apple only released the iphone SDK in march, and it was a major effort to get everything up and running in that short time. No other encrypted ebook vendor was able to be in the app store at launch, even though they are owned by multi-billion dollar corporations who have almost unlimited programming resources (Amazon/Mobi, Adobe, Microsoft being the other well known secure ebook software vendors).

    Yes the current release does just support ereader.com and fictionwise.com, but within the next week or so we will open that up to any site that offers ereader files, which includes places like manybooks.net, diesel-ebooks, booksonboard, etc. We will also support Palm Doc and plain text in the near future. We will never be all things to all people, though.

    We are coming out with a new release in just about 3 weeks which will address many of the shortcomings you mention, and we will continue to add features going forward, and in a timely manner.

    We have not had anyone else so far report crashes while reading books. Could you let us know which book you are reading so we can debug it? I have personally read 4 full length novels already using this and never saw a crash yet.

    When you connect to your fictionwise account, only multiformat and secure ereader books will show up on the iphone/ipod touch. Anything you see on the device is readable on the device.

    It is not possible for us to support encrypted mobipocket, encrypted microsoft reader, etc. from your prior fictionwise purchases. Those companies do not allow other software vendors to decrypt their content. We can support unencrypted multiformat and secure or unencrypted ereader files. Certainly there are going to be other readers to support many other kinds of unencrypted files and just as in the PDA world at large, most ebook enthusiasts will use a variety of readering software.

    This is a first release and we are committed to improving it. Currently, ereader is the only app on iphone that can read encrypted content from large publishers who require encryption.

    Take care,
    Steve P.

  11. Rosario
    Jul 13, 2008 @ 10:48:23

    Fantastic post, Jane. I’m kind of vaguely considering the idea of getting the iPhone, so hopefully this might come very useful in the near future.

    BTW, Both Demon Bound and King of Sword and Sky? Are you trying to torture us? ;-)

  12. Jane
    Jul 13, 2008 @ 11:14:41

    Ally – I can read about a book and a half until the battery drains down to 20% and I get a warning signal. I try to keep my phone plugged in whenever I am not using it. Using the reading apps does drain the battery but I think it is based on the usage of the backlight so it doesn’t drain the batter “faster” but it does use up the battery.

    As for the cost of the AT&T Service, I guess I don’t know because I don’t know what the comparable rate plans are. I think that with the data plan, it costs about $70? for the lowest talk plan.

    Mr. Fictionwise! Hello, and thanks for commenting. I can appreciate that eReader is trying to be responsive to its customers and I think that is great. Unfortunately because so many of my books are not in ereading format, the current eReader software is unusable. I look forward to seeing the upgrades in 3 weeks and I’ll be sure to do another post about it.

  13. Ally Blue
    Jul 13, 2008 @ 12:51:14

    Thanks to Jane for the answers and to Steve for the info on upcoming eReader updates. I’m keeping my eye on this thread, it’s very informative :)

  14. Pieter de Rijk
    Jul 13, 2008 @ 13:00:20

    Hi Jane,

    Liked your review, very good indeed, with just the same concerns I have as an avid e-reader.

    I'ts just because Bookshelf crashes all the time, I can’t really recommend it. I have a lot of Mobipocket files in my library, the server Works fine, but the program itself crashes on opening the files. Is this because they are encrypted? (In that case what does unencrypted mean? And shouldn’t Bookshelf be more specific about this?)

    When I read you had sent Zac Bedell an email I got jealous: how did you do that? Because however hard I looked on the site of Bookshelf, I could not find any emailadress. Can you help me?

    I use both programs for my iPod Touch, by the way.

    Kind regards,

    Pieter de Rijk.

  15. Jane
    Jul 13, 2008 @ 17:05:37

    Pieter – Bookshelf App only reads unencrypted books. If you have a book that requires authentication to read it, it is “encrypted” and only Mobipocket readers would allow you to view the books.

    Bedell’s email is on his website: iphonebookshelf.com

    Good luck!

  16. katiebabs
    Jul 13, 2008 @ 17:14:18

    Jane, I may tackle you for your Iphone in San Fran. :P

  17. BevQB
    Jul 13, 2008 @ 22:37:37

    Hey Jane… Thanks for taking one for the team, as usual.

    I have a kinda-sorta OT question: What format converter(s) do you use? Are you happy with the way the books are converted? I use ABC Amber for converting PDF to LIT and I’ve never been very happy with the job it does.

  18. Caffey
    Jul 13, 2008 @ 22:45:47

    I don’t use a cell phone, but used a PDA before and for me, so small a screen! But it does have where you can make the font bigger, so maybe it easier to read?

    I use the ebookwise reader and love it. Thanks for the great info!

  19. Gotcha!
    Jul 14, 2008 @ 10:54:19

    Jane,

    Who is better than you?! Thanks for the seriously detailed review. I’ve been watching and waiting anxiously for the new iPhone to be launched so I can have all my goodies combined into one. Now I just have to wait until the store is stocked again! Sigh…

  20. Tazallie
    Jul 15, 2008 @ 07:14:34

    Well I downloaded bookshelf having hummed and hawed for ages over which one to go for (So thanks Jane your great review really helped) and I love it!…yes it has some annoying habits as Jane mentioned…but overall its a great early application and I have no doubt that as the few bugs are ironed out it will be an excellent application. Finally i can read books whilst camping! (dont have space in my backpack for real books and my iphone does not get reception in the wilds of the peak district(UK)for readdle that I was using)
    I am eager though to see what future developments come forward for the ebooks and the iphone.

  21. James
    Jul 15, 2008 @ 07:47:22

    Hi- have you tried TextonPhone? It has many of the features you were assessing the other two apps against, although I don’t think it supports purchase of new encrypted titles.

  22. Jane
    Jul 15, 2008 @ 08:23:24

    I have not tried TextonPhone. I’ll look for it in the App store though.

    Tazallie – I tried Readdle yesterday but I saw you had to pay a monthly fee for storage service. I don’t really like the thought of that. I hope that Bookshelf works for you.

  23. thedigitalist.net » links for 2008-07-15
    Jul 15, 2008 @ 08:31:29

    [...] REVIEW: Ereader and Bookshelf App for iPhone | Dear Author: Romance Book Reviews, Author Interviews,… Detailed review of the UX for two of the ebook reader apps for the iPhone (tags: ebooks reader device application iphone) This entry was written by delicious and posted on at 1:31 pm and filed under delicious. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL. These icons link to social bookmarking sites where readers can share and discover new web pages. [...]

  24. michael
    Jul 15, 2008 @ 17:44:13

    Jane said, “I can read about a book and a half until the battery drains down to 20% and I get a warning signal.”

    Approx. how many minutes is this? Some can read a book in 3 hours, some in 13.

    And thanks for the review — very informative!

  25. Devon
    Jul 15, 2008 @ 18:02:25

    Hooray! Thanks for the review. I’ve been using readdle with my ipod touch, since I couldn’t get the hack done. It was a simple app that I found through the apple site, but it was very basic. If you had a pdf, sometimes things would look wonky, and you couldn’t zoom in.

    So I shall have to check out this bookshelf thing. Sounds better for my needs.

  26. Jane
    Jul 15, 2008 @ 21:53:24

    michael – About 4 hours with low backscreen light.

  27. Shanna
    Jul 15, 2008 @ 23:25:07

    I considered buying bookshelf but I think I’ll wait until they add pdf to the formats you can read. I prefer the flexibility of bookshelf over ereader and I’m looking forward to seeing what other apps may spring up for reading ebooks. BTW I lurrrve my new 3G iPhone. It was worth the 6 1/2 hour wait.

  28. Jess
    Jul 16, 2008 @ 18:36:41

    I’m a big eBook reader, so I’ve been trying to decide which app I want to install on my iPhone when I get it (8/31, can’t wait!!)…BookShelf was in the lead until I saw Stanza. I’d be really interested to hear your take on the program in comparison to BookShelf.

  29. Shanna
    Jul 16, 2008 @ 23:34:14

    Thanks Jess, I just downloaded Stanza since I saw that it supports pdf. Also I wanted to add that it comes with access to a bunch of free books.

  30. Teq
    Jul 28, 2008 @ 19:23:16

    Thanks for the review, Jane. I’ve been a long time user of eReader – first on the Palm, then on a Windows Mobile powered device.

    I was really looking forward for eReader for iPhone/iPod Touch, and I am impressed by the results. Users who are already familiar with eReader on other platforms (i.e., Palm, Windows Mobile, PC, etc.) will find it very easy to use. While the program doesn’t have the full functionality of the other platforms yet, it’s certainly a promising first release. I expect that future versions will address these missing features (some of which you note in your review).

    One of the features I have always liked about eReader (which you don’t mention in your review) is the dictionary integration: I’m not a native English speaker, so it’s convenient for me to look up unknown words while reading. Fortunately this is already supported in the intial release.

    So, IMHO, for those familiar with eReader and an existing library of eReader format books, this is a great addition to the supported platforms.

  31. The Elements of a Perfect eReading Device | Dear Author: Romance Book Reviews, Author Interviews, and Commentary
    Aug 31, 2008 @ 04:00:17

    [...] PDA/Smartphone [...]

  32. Herve Kabla
    Jan 03, 2009 @ 17:23:52

    Same as Teq, dictionary integration is a must for me. Stanza and BookShelf don’t provide any dictionary.

  33. Alek
    Jan 08, 2009 @ 00:06:48

    Hi. Good site.

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