As the popularity and affordability of mobile devices skyrockets, the ability for people to engage in convenient reading grows along with it. The unbridled success of dedicated devices such as Amazon’s Kindle and B&N’s Nook undeniable demonstrate that the demand is there for accessible electronic reading content, along with the advantages it brings: easy bookmarking, customisable fonts, search, quick dictionary lookups, access to huge electronic libraries and much more. Features which paper books can only dream about. Not so suddenly, the joy of reading has become exponentially more available to all, on everything from phones to large tablets.
Unfortunately, one of the things which has holding back the growth of E-book reading apps (especially on Android) is the lack of decent tablet hardware to go along with it, but as this changes rapidly in the coming months (read my review of the Nook Color), Android users are spoilt for choice when it comes to the software which will form the hub of their reading experience. Let’s tally and see what’s on offer:
Notes: * Network Library refers to network accessible library, such as on the internet, from within the app itself. * OPDS Catalog refers to Open Publication Distribution System, a popular method to distribute books. With OPDS ability, your library can be as large as you want, by adding more OPDS repositories. * Cloud Sync refers to the ability to sync reading lists and books with the cloud, accessible and configurable from another machine or browser as well. * Some features, such as stay awake and auto rotation, are also influenced by system settings, such as screen timeout and orientation settings. * Scroll direction toggle refers to the ability to toggle horizontal or vertical scrolling. * Aldiko does support custom OPSD catalogs, which is missing from the above graph. FBReader (Website, Free)
First up, FBReader, an open-source app with a solid history in the e-book market, with versions for Windows/Linux/FreeBSD. It has a huge array of functions, is very customisable and also supports a large range of file formats. Individual text segment styles (such as headings, titles) can be individually customised as well. I found usage to be decent, with adequate performance, although it was unusual that pressing ‘back’ while reading a book led to a program exit, rather than back to the library. Perhaps a toggle for this would be wise. In addition, for some strange reason there is a lack of ability to browse all locally stored books by Title. There are also a range of addons available for FBReader, such as the FBSync, which allows for the saving of your book position to the cloud for resuming on another device.
Laputa Reader (Website, Free)
With it’s 3D page flipping effect and polished look, Laputa is miles ahead in the visual stakes. Unfortunately, it was missing some crucial options, such as font style adjustment, a quick jump and the ability to load local files easily, as well as the ability to search network catalogs all at once. Overall still a decent option, although it feels somewhat incomplete, especially when compared directly with some of the other options here.
Aldiko (Website, Free)
Aldiko has been around for a long time on Android, and it’s latest 2.0 iteration brings a large amount of improvements. It’s a very slick and responsive experience, although it also lacked finer adjustability of font appearance, though it did have it’s own built in book store. The library view was especially user friendly, even with the ability to create custom collections of books. PDF support is included as well.
Amazon Kindle App (Website, Free)
The one and only Kindle App brings Amazon’s huge selection of 800,000+ ebooks, magazines and publications to Android, packaged in a user-friendly interface. Any purchases made on Amazon (marked with ‘Kindle’) can be read in the app, and new purchases are synced periodically so you always have your personal library available. You can purchase new books through the app, though this takes you to an integrated browser, which displays Amazon’s mobile site in a somewhat clumsy fashion. It’s worth noting that you can only read Amazon’s selection from here, not books from OPDS catalogs you add, though the ability to share your progress in a book shows social awareness, or can be used as a reminder to self. One welcome feature is progress bars on the library view, which visually shows how far you are through each book. An Amazon account is required to use the app.
Google Books App (Website, Free)
This is a recent and interesting addition to the arsenal of Android ebook readers. With it’s clean interface, Books functions in much the same way as the no-fuss Reader application, although it in turn sacrifices much functionality of some of the other apps listed. It also includes a built-in book store, with Google Checkout functioning as the payment method. What makes this app interesting is all the progress Google has made in scanning and archiving documents from libraries and institutions, then running them through OCR to create electronic books to add to its library. This of course means two things, the first is that at any time during reading (if you are reading a scanned book), you can toggle between the electronic text format or a picture of the original book itself. The bad news is that very rarely, there may be an error in the OCR, leading to strange results, though these are not common at all. There are also documents within Google’s library that are nobody else has converted to an electronically available format. Any books you add via the website or mobile site are also synced up automatically.
Moon+ Reader (Website, Free)
Moon+ Reader can be intimidating, due to it’s absolutely mind-boggling amount of options. However, if you are an avid book reader and lament the lack of customisability in other e-book readers, Moon+ Reader, with it’s large range of supported file formats, themes and font customisation will definitely leave you tweaking for a long time to come. I found performance a bit sluggish at times, and the customised in-book menu was inconsistent in it’s position (sometimes falling underneath the notification bar on some devices), but overall reliable and solid.
Out of all this, one thing can be sure, and that is one e-book reader by itself is not enough. There are resources in Amazon and Google’s respective libraries that are not available anywhere else, leading to their automatic inclusion. As for a third e-book reader with local and OPSD file access, my pick is FBReader. It’s feature-laden and has everything you need, though it may take a little while to set everything up just how you like it. Unfortunately, Aldiko and Laputa, both visually superior in their polish and interface, just simply fell behind in their feature set. However, to each their own, some features might not be important to some.
If you have an existing library of books in various formats and want to convert them to the universal .EPUB format, I would recommend the open-source Calibre software for that (which conveniently enough, has syncing functions and OPDS hosting as well).
Any thoughts / comments / suggestions? Leave a comment!