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Reading with Android – Mantano Reader

There are a lot of reading apps out there for Android and everybody has their favorite one be it Moon +, Cool Reader, one of the many store apps (Kindle, Nook, etc.) or the well known Aldiko.  A new app, called Mantano, has jumped into the fray with both feet and quickly become popular among many users.  A friend of mine described it as ‘better than Aldiko with much better PDF support’, not a bad recommendation.

While Mantano if fairly new to Android devices the folks behind it have been developing reading software for ePaper devices for a number of years and you can tell that by the refined feel of the Android app.  Mantano requires Android 2.1 or greater and supports both regular Adobe Adept DRM as well as the password based variation used by Barnes & Noble.  The full version is available from the Android Market, Amazon Appstore, AppsLib and SlideMe for $4.99.  The Android Market, AppsLib and SlideMe also have a full featured 7 day trial version so you can give it a workout before spending any money.

 

Upon launching the app you’re presented with your library.  Library view can be customized for viewing with options for a simple list, a detail list or cover thumbnails only in three different sizes (list and detail also show small cover icons), cover thumbnails in all views have a graphic in the corner telling you if it’s an ePub or PDF.  Books can be tagged from detail view or also by tapping and holding on a book to bring up its detailed information.  The library can be sorted by Title, Author, Rating, Date Added and Date of Last Access. At the bottom of the screen are menu options for ‘Syncronize’, ‘Explorer’, ‘Filter’, ‘Views’, ‘Search’ and ‘Settings’.

‘Syncronize’ will search your device for compatible ebook formats (ePub & PDF).  You’re presented with a list and you can select all or put a checkmark next to each book you want to add to your library screen. ‘Explorer’ offers you a file browser as another way to import books.  ‘Filter’ lets you filter the books seen by all books, authors, tags, publishers and formats. ‘Views’ lets you switch between the library viewing options described above. ‘Search’ can be used to look for a book in your library when you have a long list to look through. ‘Settings’ is where you enter your Adobe ID and also has options for the Library, Reader and Lexicon (under the Lexicon option you can download various dictionaries).  You can also turn on expert mode which hides button titles and get access to tips, help, a way to submit requests and download a user manual.

Across the top of the library screen are tabs for ‘Library’, ‘Lexicon’, ‘Notes’ and ‘Bookfinder’.

‘Lexicon’ can be used a couple of different ways and it seems to me it would be most useful for a student or perhaps someone learning a new language.  The way it works is if you highlight a word and look it up either via one of the three default web based options (Google, Wikipedia and Wiktionary) or via one of the ten downloadable embedded dictionaries you can also add that word, along with it definition if using an embedded dictionary, to your personal lexicon for later reference. The dictionaries that can be downloaded are English, English-German, English-Spanish, French, English-French, French-English, Spanish-French, French-Spanish, English-Polish and Polish-English.

‘Notes’ give you quick access to all your notes.  Notes can be sorted by creation date or title, filtered by type and location and also searched.  Another useful feature is that you can also use the notes area as a notebook to create either written or drawn notes that are unassociated to a specific book.

‘Bookfinder’ connects you to a way to look for books (both free and pay).  It’s associated with the Bookari website  where you can create an account to customize things such as preferred language (although when going to preferences I kept getting an error).  When you search your results supposedly come from a pool of more than 50 ebook catalogs including Barnes & Noble, but I found results to be incomplete at best.  Every author I searched for was missing books and sometimes specific titles returned no results, yet checking B&N shows that they are available there.  Also I found that after browsing for a while tapping a book started giving a blank page instead of the books details. When you do find a book you get a link that takes you to its source site for purchase or for free books from places like Feedbooks you’re given a download link.  All in all I found Bookfinder to be of little use, just like I’ve found similar things in other non-store released reading apps like Aldiko.  It’s just not a feature I’m likely to use.

 

Now on to reading.  ePub reading is pleasant and much like other reading apps.  Page turns are done by tapping or swiping and can also be set to volume button control.  You can create both written and drawn annotations, highlight in various selectable colors and change font size via a + or – style control or by swiping up or down on the page.

There are built in themes for default (black on white), night and sepia, but you can also create custom themes.  Custom themes include font (via a free downloadable font pack or you can add your own), line height, text alignment and margins (although sometimes margins fail to work, I’m assuming due to something in the CSS or Page Template of some ePubs overriding things).  Text and background colors can be set to anything you want via a color picker and there are also options to force bold and italic text.

The menu also has search and dictionary option and one thing a lot of readers don’t offer Text To Speech.  TTS appears to work pretty well, but as I’m not generally a fan of it I’m not likely to catch any big problems other might have (one nice thing is it works with the screen off so you can save on battery use).  Brightness can be changed by simply sliding your finger along the left border of the screen. You can also at any time access the books info including, if available, it’s description/blurb, bookmark pages and access the table of contents.  There is no two page mode in landscape like the Nook app has, but the developers have mentioned adding that feature in the future.

I found PDF reading to be great, and I can’t say that about most readers that handle them. Like with ePub you can annotate (both written and drawn), highlight, bookmark, use TTS, do dictionary lookups and search.  There are also options to fit screen, fit horizontally and fit vertically and can also custom fit the PDF with the crop tool. You can also zoom and pan the PDF or switch it to reflowable mode and read it more like an ePub. In a PDF with columns a double-tap on that column will cause it to fit to the screen. I generally find PDF reading painful in anything that’s not a dedicated PDF app like EZ PDF or RepliGo, but for me this app can replace the need for a separate PDF reader.

 

Overall Mantano is one of the best reading apps I’ve ever used and has replaced Aldiko for me.  It’s my go to reader when I’m not using something like Kindle for Android.  While it’s not perfect I find the willingness of the developers to not only listen to, but implement requested features a sign that it will get nothing but better in fact they fixed one problem I found before I even got this review finished and posted.  At $5 some will consider it expensive in the world of free apps, but I’ve found it to be well worth the money.

 

Below is a Youtube video of Mantano running on and Archos 7 (from the developers)…

Review: The Asus Eee Pad Transformer

Review: The Asus Eee Pad Transformer

Since its release on April 26th of this year the Asus Transformer has been one of the most popular Android tablets on the market.  It’s price ($399 for the 16GB version) combined with a very nice IPS screen and a fairly unique keyboard dock have ensured that this tablet sells out almost as soon as retailers get them in stock.  Thankfully Asus has ramped up production this month and some of the component shortages have been lessened so folks who want one should have an easier time of it soon.

 

The hardware of the Transformer is similar to other 10.1” Honeycomb tablets such as the Motorola Xoom and the Acer Iconia.  Its got a 1GHz dual core Tegra 2 processor, b/g/n WiFi, Bluetooth, 1GB of RAM, front (1.2MP)  and rear (5MP, no flash) cameras for pictures, 720p video recording and video chat, and can be had with either 16 or 32 gigabytes of memory.  It also has a microSD card slot for additional memory.

It has a built in mic, a 2-in-1 audio jack (headphone/mic input), a mini HDMI 1.3a port and dual speakers.  There is also a G-Sensor (accelerometer), light sensor, gyroscope, e-compass and GPS.  Battery life is quoted as 9.5 hours for the tablet itself, extending to 16 hours when adding the optional dock (more on the dock below).

The device measures 271mm x 171mm x 12.98mm (about the thickness of the iPad 1) and weighs in at 680g.  The back is a curved textured plastic and makes the Transformer quite pleasant to hold.

 

The 1280×800 10.1” IPS screen is quite nice with a 178 degree viewing angle, nice colors and dark blacks.  While the mirror like gloss of the screen makes it near impossible to read from outside in bright sunlight it’s pretty good when reading out of direct sun.  The screen also uses Gorilla Glass which makes it very durable.  Two complaints I’ve seen associated with the screen are its responsiveness and light bleed. There is a bit of light bleed on my unit, but as it’s only really noticeable when in a dark room with a dark background and the brightness cranked up so I’m not too bothered by it.  I’ve noticed no responsiveness problem at all in fact the screen response is quite snappy.  Some of the responsiveness complaints may have been a Honeycomb 3.0 issue that was fixed with the 3.1 update.  As my unit updated over the air when I first set it up I never tried it with 3.0 at all.

One thing that makes the Transformer different than other tablets currently on the market is its optional $149 keyboard dock.  While there have been tablet PC’s over the years with similar concepts they’ve never really lived up to their potential in my opinion so I was eager to try it on the Transformer.  Due to demand (or just a shortage from Asus) the cheapest I could find a dock when I ordered my Transformer was $200 which I was unwilling to pay, but thankfully shortly after my tablet arrived they started showing up for MSRP at Amazon and other retailers so I was able to grab one.

This dock essentially turns your tablet into a mini laptop or netbook.  It gives you a full QWERTY keyboard, a touchpad for navigation, and audio jack, two USB ports (I tried a thumb drive and a mouse and both worked fine) and an SD card reader.  It also has a battery built in which extends the Transformer’s 9.5 hour battery life to 16 hours.  Docking the tablet is simply a matter of sliding the bottom edge of the Transformer into the docks hinge.  To separate the two you simply slide a small latch and pull them easily apart.

While not quite full size I found typing on the keyboard dock pleasant enough and certainly the way to go when typing longer documents.  In fact I’m typing this post on the Transformer with dock right now.

As long as we’re talking about keyboards I’ll also take a moment to mention the on screen keyboards, there are two.  There is the stock Honeycomb keyboard which works fine and also Asus has added their own keyboard which adds a number row and a few more customizable settings than the stock keyboard.

 

Now that we’ve talked about the hardware side of things let’s take a look at some of the apps that come pre-installed on the Transformer.

My Transformer came with two reading apps installed, Kindle which we’ve covered before and MyLibrary which is unique to Asus.  Since we’ve covered the Kindle app before I’ll just quickly comment that it works quite well on the Transformer and move on the MyLibrary app.

I found the MyLibrary app to be pretty decent surprisingly.  It’s pretty bare on features, but works well for the most part.  MyLibrary works with ePub, PDF and txt files which you can add via USB, download online or buy from the Asus @vibe store.  I found the @vibe store a pain to navigate and very slow, any books you buy are stored in you @vibe cloud library & I saw nothing that mentioned you actually being able to download a file. I doubt I’ll be heading there for books anytime soon.


The reading experience for ePub’s is pretty decent.  In landscape mode you get two pages side by side with animated page flips and stuff.  It kinda made me think of a not as good imitation of iBooks actually.  The app also adds any Kindle books you have on your device you your library shelf and tapping those books automatically launches the Kindle app.  This might be kind of handy as a one stop shelf for all your various books except while it also shows your B&N books it tries to read them itself, instead of launching the nook app, and all it displays are blank pages. It doesn’t display books loaded to the Kobo app at all. While it works with standard Adobe ID based DRM it appears it doesn’t support the Adobe Password based DRM that B&N uses.

MyLibrary supports bookmarks, notes, highlights, a built in dictionary, text-to-speech and search.  You can also have it translate a highlight into eight different languages.  It does not support hyperlinks or tables of contents and has no night reading mode.

MyLibrary frankly sucked with the PDF’s I tried, the text was completely blurry and unreadable. I recommend ezPDF, my preferred PDF reader on Android, or RepliGo as the top ways to do PDF. Polaris Office which comes with the Transformer does a pretty good job with PDF’s as well.

 

Are you a newspaper reader?  The PressReader app that comes pre-installed on the Transformer might just be the killer app for folks who do. PressReader provides access to more than 1,800 newspapers from 94 countries.  Newspapers are displayed just like their printed counterparts with the same layouts and pages as the print edition.  You can pan and zoom to navigate a page or tap an articles headline and the article will be reformatted into an easy to read layout for your screen with text-to-speech, sharing options and adjustable font sizes.  I found this apps text to speech to be one of the better implementations I’ve listened to.  The app can also be setup to automatically retrieve your newspaper subscriptions.

If I had to fault this app it would be cost. It’s $29.99 a month which is great if you read a bunch of different papers (you get access to all of them), but as someone who hardly ever reads a paper it seems pricey.  You can also buy single issues for $.099 which is what I did to try it out.  Still even though I’m obviously not their target audience I found myself impressed with this app (they also have an iThing version).

 

My Transformer also had the Zinio app installed.  For those unfamiliar with Zinio they sell magazines in digital format.  The Zinio app works nicely although after playing with PressReader I can think of a few ways they could make it better.  I found navigating a magazine to be simple and work well.  My biggest complaint would be that all of the magazines on the Zinio website aren’t yet available for viewing with the app.  Prices for subscriptions appear to be about the same as print or higher.

 

The Transformer also comes equipped with Polaris Office 3.0 and this is where the optional keyboard dock can really come in handy.

With this app you can create, open and edit documents in familiar formats like .doc/.docx (Word), .xls (Excel) and .ppt (Power Point), it also makes for an OK PDF viewer as well.  This thing gives you a pretty full featured word processor as well as allowing you to do spreadsheets and presentations.

 

The Transformer also comes with the Asus MyCloud and MyNet apps.  MyCloud has a couple of functions, the first of which is to access Asus Webstorage which is a cloud storage service like DropBox or SugarSync.  The other thing MyCoud lets you do it remotely access and control your home computer (PC or Mac) kind of like the Windows remote desktop.

MyNet allows you to stream music, movies or photos from any DLNA compatible device to your tablet, although I couldn’t get it working on my network.

 

I used a DVD resolution video I created and Youtube to test video playback. Video from both was smooth and looked great.  Although the built in speakers aren’t anything to write home about, and I wish they’d positioned them up higher on the sides so I don’t sometimes cover them while holding the tablet, they get the job done OK.

Streaming music via Google Music (beta), Amazon Cloud Player and Pandora worked great.

 

Asus has put out a solid device in the 10” tablet arena at a better than average price and while I look forward to Google polishing Honeycomb a bit more and the marketplace needs more tablet centric apps I think the Transformer is a winner.  The optional keyboard dock gives it a real boost for someone looking to do basic tasks and leave their laptop behind.  As a reader it works quite well although I’ll stick with eInk for long reading sessions.  Overall I’m quite pleased with it and find it a well rounded device.