Right now there are at least four good options for eReaders on the iPad, and all are free and carry free books. Thereís iBooks, Kindle, Kobo, and Barnes and Noble. But which one is the best? Which one is the go-to reader when you first want to look for a book? Which gives the best reading experience? Theyíre all good, but one does stand out from the others.
Iíve rated each service on three general categories, quality of the store, quality of the book library, and then finally the quality of the actual reading experience. Each one has itís strengths and weaknesses in these areas. Letís take each category one at a time.
iBooks was meant for the iPad, and you tell that best as you navigate the store. The look is clean with easy ways to search categories of books and lists of bestsellers. B&N and Kindle are similar in quality, albeit a step below the iPad. Kobo is the worst, with a too simple interface that limits the options of the searcher. Yet all 4 have a search capability which is more of less equal.
Here Koboís simplistic layout is a benefit and not a hindrance. Koboís site simply looks the best, with the least amount of clutter and the books prominently displayed in an attractive manner. The iBooks site isnít as good, but still does a good job organizing the material. B&N and Kindle suffer from the fact that they simply took a webpage design. For the iPad, that equals too much needless clutter. It also shows a lack of effort in making their stores attractive for the iPad device, where Kobo and iBooks was clearly designed with the iPad in mind.
I searched each bookstore for four books: Landmark (an excellent book on the newly passed healthcare reform law), the Book of Sapphire (a bargain book I really enjoyed from B&N, I think originally written in French), the classic Danteís Inferno, and the seminal A Random Walk Down Wall Street. The results from this simple survey were telling. No one had all the books. Not surprisingly, no one had the Book of Sapphire. But only Amazon had all the rest. B&N came in second with two of the three, and iBooks and Kobo came in last, only finding Danteís work.
So overall I have Amazon and iBooks in the lead with Kobo and B&N close behind. Since selection is probably the most important of the above, the lead goes slightly to the Kindle. But thereís more to come . . .
There was quite a variety in the ways books were displayed. The iBooks came in strongest with a really nice wooden bookshelf with strands of grain to complete the look. Kindle and Kobo did nicely as well, with an interesting and changing background for the Amazon service, and a nice clean look for Kobo which really brings out the title covers. B&N fared the worst, with a fairly pedestrian display.
Here there wasnít a lot to separate the contenders. I give iBooks a slight edge here since it had slightly more sorting options than the others. But theyíre all fine and easy to identify that book you are looking for
Now iBooks has taken the lead. The Kindle falls back to second place with Kobo nipping on its heels. B&N is falling behind . . .
Quality of the Table of Contents
Now iBooks is really kicking butt. It had by far the most pleasing and functional table of contents/bookmark page. It wasnít close. Kobo did a really nice job here too, with easy access to these features, although I would have liked the TOC to look nicer. Amazon and B&N did not fare well here at all, either having no table of contents to speak of or poor navigation to it.
Ability to Change the Look of the Page
This is where B&N strikes back! The options for B&N to change page color, font size, type, and color, and page brightness is far and away the most complex of the group. I could have deducted points for perhaps being too complex, but I didnít. Kobo fared strongly here as well, with a smaller but no less powerful set of features. iBooks and Kindle were unimpressive here, although adequate enough to get the job done.
Guess whoís back on top? Yep, iBooks. They really put a lot of effort into page turning so that itís really cool. Kobo takes a familiar second place, with page turns that fold over similar to iBooks. Both of these apps are trying to capture the look of a book being turned and do a pretty good job. Amazon and B&N went with a unimaginative page swipe effect that works fine enough, but isnít anything to talk about.
So where does all this leave us? iBooks takes the prize by a fairly comfortable margin. It wasnít the best in every category, but was the best in most categories. Thereís your go-to reader. Kobo came in second place. It isnít perfect, and does have some glaring issues, but clearly they put a lot of effort in making an app made for the iPad. Itís simplistic look is a nice design that usually works in its favor even though sometimes itís a determent. Coming in a tie for last are Amazon and B&N. Again, all 4 readers work and are fine, but I would have liked these guys to have put a little more effort in making apps for the iPad. Instead, they feel like rushed ports to be updated at a later date.
So there you have it. I have all four on my iPad and will probably use all four, but Iíll start with iBooks, then move to Kobo if I canít get my title from Apple, move on to Kindle if I am still having issues finding what I want, and then settle on B&N as a last resort.