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Books on a Phone; Bye Bye, Stanza; Hello, Kobo!

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PART I: BOOKS ON A PHONE

I use my iPhone heavily for reading books. It may sound strange and the general perception of straining your eyes may lead you to think of this as an unhealthy practice. However, on closer examination you would realise that text size on most phones’ eBook readers is scalable, which means that you can resize the font to any level you’re comfortable with. Another reason why people are shy to jump into this domain is because they believe that most phones’ screens are too small to practically read books. In fact, this isn’t the case at all! Most of today’s smartphones are perfect for reading. Think about it; when you’re reading a physical book, your window of attention doesn’t encapsulate the entire page. It doesn’t even cover half the page in most cases. The window of attention is just a tiny block covering four to six words sideways and two to three lines vertically. In this way, a phone’s screen is a very suitable medium to display Books. A third argument people pose against reading eBooks is the concept of the phone emitting harmful rays that damage the eyes. Well, scientific research has shown that this is just a cautionary tale and has no basis to prove its validity. Also, reading in dim light also doesn’t cause any damage to the eyes. Often, my parents tell me to switch on the lights when I’m using my phone in the dark. When I tell them that the light’s purpose is to bounce off non-luminescent objects so that our eyes can perceive them and that phone-screens produce their own light, they don’t seem convinced and remain worried 🙂.

Well, coming back to reading eBooks on one’s phone. If you’re somehow taken by the idea of switching your reading life over to the electronic world, but are inhibited from taking the next step because you don’t have an iPhone or a fancy Android phone, don’t worry! Before I had the iPhone, I had the Sony Ericsson K810i. This phone supports Java applications. There’s a PC application called TequilaCat, which allows you to convert text/doc/pdf files into mini Java apps. You can customise these JARs to the font size, font colour, screen colour and other formatting of your choice. It’s such a wonderful application that I have read at least five books on my K810i without any problems at all. TequilaCat books will work on most phones that support Java apps.

PART II: BYE BYE, STANZA

Last night, I upgraded my iPhone to iOS 5. In the process, I lost the untethered jailbreak that I’d been clinging on to since iOS 4.2.1. I didn’t have much to regret, however, since most of the jailbreak features I’d been using on 4.2.1 have now been covered by iOS 5, out of which, notifications is the most important.

However, one thing hit me like a punch to the jaw by Iron Mike: Stanza, my favourite eBook reader no longer worked. On launching, I got an unwelcoming Unhandled Exception popup, which kept reappearing every time I touched Continue. If you haven’t heard of Stanza, understand that it is a beauty of an app. In my opinion, iBooks, Apple’s own eBook reader is a feature-lacking skeuomorph that doesn’t do any justice to book-lovers. It may have a fancy page-turn effect for aesthetics, but what else does it have? The margins on iBooks are too wide and leave very little space for legible text. The page turn effect is irritating to initiate and is very distracting. Moreover, there is no option to turn it off. Stanza, on the other hand, allows to you to choose between a page turn effect, a slide effect (which is what I had used) and no effect at all. It lets you categorise books based on title and author. It allows you to edit book titles, modify author names and download book covers from within the app. Not only this, but it also lets you transfer your ePubs via iTunes file sharing. iBooks, however, relies on the clunky sync-through-iTunes method. It ties you down to one computer. It’s pre-historic and over-promoted. Stanza did everything to satisfy my reading needs. I was not at all prepared for the shock I would receive after the iOS 5 update.

Frantically, I Googled “Stanza iOS 5 Unhandled Exception” and started racing through forum posts to find some answer. Any little fix! There was none. I found out that the developer who created Stanza had been hired a while ago by Amazon – makers of the Kindle eBook reader. Now, Kindle already has an iPhone app and it could have been a conflict of interest situation for the developer to have continued working on Stanza. In effect, this means that Stanza may never recover. However, many forum users pointed out that there’s another app called BlueFire. Although this app isn’t as good as Stanza in terms of editing titles and changing their book-covers, it does the basic job, at least better than iBooks. However, I didn’t like BlueFire enough to make it my prime Reading app. The page sliding was clunky and uncomfortable, the menu was too distracting and the settings were not extensive enough. I needed something that would fill the gap between Bluefire and Stanza.

PART III: HELLO, KOBO!

Kobo. Kobo is an eBook reader made by Toronto based Kobo Inc. Kobo is an anagram of Book. Very pretty. Kobo, however isn’t nonsense. I had heard of the app before, but had never bothered to download it since I had Stanza to do my bidding. Last night, I reached out to this neglected child after the first born had abandoned me 🙂 . Kobo has proved to be an exceptional eReader app. I must confess that it’s better looking than Stanza. It’s got a good choice of settings where I can change the font size and brightness. It lets me flip to night-mode (light text on a dark background) and a sepia background. In addition to that, you have a choice of four fonts. The text renders beautifully and the app hasn’t crashed (yet!) However, the thing that I like most about this app is the vertical scrolling ability! I can’t tell you how badly I wanted this. Every other eBook reader has a somehow inexplicable page-turn concept, where after finishing a block of text on the screen, you have to swipe horizontally to encounter another block. On a psychological level, this didn’t feel very satisfying and it fragmented my reading experience. I had previously read many books on my computer. There, the natural tendency for me was to scroll vertically. Why would I ever want to flip horizontally across unsatisfying chunks of text? The good people at Kobo somehow read my mind and their app lets you scroll vertically for the entirety of a whole chapter, after which, you touch the > button to go to the next chapter and start the process all over again.

One shortcoming I noticed in Kobo was the inability to search books. Yes. You can’t do a random search via text. You have to scroll through your book-list. You can’t sort by author and you most definitely can’t edit book-info and author-info. Downloading book covers is out of the question. However, as I have mentioned above, I was looking for something that filled the gap between BlueFire and Stanza. Had Kobo been as good as Stanza, it would’ve been number one since the beginning, as it scores better in the looks department. However, now that big brother is ill, little brother can have its moment in the sun. Let’s hope the developers see this as an opportunity and enhance the app. So, until the next big thing comes out, Kobo is my eBook app of choice, and it may even continue to be so because of its vertical scrolling feature.

If you have tried any of these apps or know about a better eBook app, please do share your experience. Also, do let me know what you feel about reading eBooks in general. Do you find reading eBooks emotionally satisfying? Or do you prefer the charm of flipping pages while sipping on a coffee, never worrying about running out of battery?

Written by parrymathur

October 15, 2011 at 1534

Posted in tech

Tagged with , , , , , , , ,

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