A Tale of 4 eReaders

Discussion in 'iBooks' started by mossman, Jun 6, 2010.

  1. mossman
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    mossman iPF Novice

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    Right now there are at least four good options for eReaders on the iPad, and all are free and carry free books. There’s 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? They’re all good, but one does stand out from the others.

    I’ve 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 it’s strengths and weaknesses in these areas. Let’s take each category one at a time.

    Book Stores

    Ease of Navigation
    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.​

    Look of the Store
    Here Kobo’s simplistic layout is a benefit and not a hindrance. Kobo’s site simply looks the best, with the least amount of clutter and the books prominently displayed in an attractive manner. The iBooks site isn’t 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.​

    Selection Test
    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 Dante’s 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 Dante’s 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 there’s more to come . . . ​

    Library

    Display of Books
    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.​

    Navigation of Books
    Here there wasn’t a lot to separate the contenders. I give iBooks a slight edge here since it had slightly more sorting options than the others. But they’re 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 . . . ​

    Reader

    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 wasn’t 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 didn’t. 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.​

    Page Turning
    Guess who’s back on top? Yep, iBooks. They really put a lot of effort into page turning so that it’s 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 isn’t anything to talk about.​

    So where does all this leave us? iBooks takes the prize by a fairly comfortable margin. It wasn’t the best in every category, but was the best in most categories. There’s your go-to reader. Kobo came in second place. It isn’t perfect, and does have some glaring issues, but clearly they put a lot of effort in making an app made for the iPad. It’s simplistic look is a nice design that usually works in its favor even though sometimes it’s 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 I’ll start with iBooks, then move to Kobo if I can’t 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.​
  2. USBill
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    USBill iPad Enthusiast

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    You forgot Stanza (my go to reader on the iPod touch), which also supports the iPad.

    I"m not a fan of the visual style of iBooks. The bookshelf is clumbsy looking, the page turn animation attracts too much attention to itself. I don't read books to see cute little animations. The the wasted screen spaced used to show the pages does nothing but look silly. If you're on page one, or page three hundred the "book" looks the same.

    iBooks is a good reader, but it's way too self concious for my taste. I like Stanza and the Kindle reader. They get out of the way and let me get to the content.
  3. Matth3w
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    Matth3w iPad Ninja

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    Will Stanza support all of my books I have already downloaded?
  4. NumbLock
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    NumbLock iPad Ninja

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    Excellent writeup!

    I was also going to ask about Stanza. For me, the ability to invert the text to white on black is a must, as well as the ability to turn the Brightness WAY down.
  5. arshield
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    arshield iPad Fan

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    I like stanza's brightness and there are lots of good options. And I can get books off of dropbox into stanza fairly well.

    I do not like ibooks animation. I know a lot of people do, and it does look good, but I think it detracts from the actual reading.

    I personally give more weight to the library because if I can not get it to read, it does not really matter what the reader app looks like
  6. Matth3w
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    Matth3w iPad Ninja

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    So will it import books I already got from iBooks?
  7. USBill
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    USBill iPad Enthusiast

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    That would depend, I suppose on which format the books are in. Why not download Stanza and find out if you like it? It takes only a few seconds, and costs nothing.
  8. Matth3w
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    Matth3w iPad Ninja

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    It's the ePub, I didn't realize it was free I guess (brain fart)..I'll give it a whirl.
  9. Matth3w
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    Matth3w iPad Ninja

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    Wow the first 3 out of 5 most recent reviews state that stanzas latest update crashes or potentially destroys your library. I think I'll pass.
  10. Photo1017
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    Photo1017 iPF Novice

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    Key factor for me was finding new books - amazon lists new releases to include a 50 yr old recent scan. Makes it difficult to find recently written books.
    Ipad is replacement for iPhone and kindle, freeing me up to shop anywhere to find new scfi releases (I'm old enough to have read many 'classics' as first editions!
  11. USBill
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    USBill iPad Enthusiast

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    Wow. Stanza is solid on the iPod touch/iPhone. I haven't read much with it on the iPad yet...

    No reason you couldn't load the docs again if it did die.
  12. Matth3w
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    Matth3w iPad Ninja

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    True, but I honestly don't have a huge problem with iBooks anyhow. I have a problem with ONE book I bought that lags like crazy but it appears as if the book I bought is the culprit, not iBooks. Between the table of contents and the first page there is like 1200 blank pages or something. Very odd.
  13. cherhall
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    cherhall iPad Enthusiast

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    I've had no issues with Stanza so far, and use it to accress the first ebooks I ever bought, from Fictionwise. I use the Kindle app to read my Kindle books. But I much prefer iBooks, and will use it from now on, unless they don't have what I'm looking for! (I like the page turning animation in iBooks, hate it in Stanza)
  14. mossman
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    mossman iPF Novice

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    Ooops . . . A Tale of 5 eReaders

    There were quite a few good responses to my original post, and I can’t believe I missed Stanza. I was just talking about Stanza to a co-worker earlier this week! Sorry about that. I went ahead and plugged Stanza into the mix, and this is how I rank this app:​

    Book Stores


    Ease of Navigation
    Ranking the store for Stanza is a difficult exercise, because there is no store per se, but links to other stores. Each store differs in interface, but I’ll just note that Stanza lists the stores in a nice way. And it features my publisher, Smashwords, to boot, so it has already earned a soft spot for me (shameless plug – check out the ad for my book on Smashwords below!). It’s worth pointing out that Stanza’s search function makes it easy to search each store. You have to go into each store separately, but you only have to type your search criteria in once. Stanza provides lots of links to free books and to current paid titles as well. Overall, I think Stanza does well here, but I still put it behind iBooks.


    Look of the Store
    Again, this is a tough category to rank given all the different store options. Most links take you to sites originally designed for the iPhone/iPod. Thus the good news is that these stores fare better than the web-based interfaces of Amazon and B&N. But on the flip side, they are not that attractive, being mainly text based (although there are book covers,they don’t seem to stand out prominently). For this, Stanza falls into the middle of the pack.


    Selection Test
    Stanza caters best to free books, including classic works, and independent publishing. There are mainstream titles here, including best sellers, but the selection isn’t great. Stanza fared no better than iBooks and Kobo for its selection. The king remains Amazon, and it isn’t close.


    At this point Stanza is tied for the lead. And to think I left it out . . .


    Library


    Display of Books
    Stanza does a solid, if not simplistic, job of displaying books. I would have put it in a tie with B&N at the bottom were it not for one really cool feature. There is a pie chart which shows if you have read the book or not, and if you’re in the process of reading it, it shows your progress. Neat! Stanza is just behind iBooks in this category.


    Navigation of Books
    Stanza does a solid job of being able to search your library. It’s not a great job – a search function would have been nice – but otherwise it is the equal of most of the other apps.


    iBooks remains in the lead at this point, but Stanza stands with the Kindle for second place. Will it make a late push into the top spot . . . ?


    Reader


    Quality of the Table of Contents
    Stanza does not do well here at all. I couldn’t find any way to book mark pages, and I couldn’t find an example of a TOC that was anything more than just another page of text (let me know if I’m wrong about this, I only looked at a few books). Stanza sits at the bottom with Amazon and B&N here.


    Ability to Change the Look of the Page
    Stanza sits well with B&N and Kobo in terms of being able to adjust the look of the page. It’s not as involved as B&N’s options, and it’s not as easy to use as Kobo’s slick minimal interface, but it does a good job of giving options that can’t be found in the remaining readers. A solid performance in this category.


    Page Turning
    Nothing special to report here. This works almost exactly like the Kindle, which I did not think much of. Although I must acknowledge one of the prior posts who put in a counter argument quite well. The page turning is functional and does not get in the way of the reading experience. I don’t think the iBooks page turning gets in the way, but I can see the poster’s point. Page turning is certainly functional here and maybe that is all that should matter. But in my calcs, iBooks still takes the top spot.


    The new tally? Stanza sits strong in a tie for second place with Kobo. I still like iBooks the best. But Stanza’s store selection, including its emphasis on independent publishers and free books, make this my new second go-to reader. And did I mention that you can buy my book through Stanza on Smashwords . . . ?​

    Oh, right. I did. Just making sure you heard.​
  15. CMFox
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    Do any of these apps allow you to preview a book before you buy?

    Thanks.
    CM
  16. cherhall
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    cherhall iPad Enthusiast

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    Kindle let's you get the first chapter to preview. iBooks also has preview, but both things I've tried so far, I ended up with the title page and table of contents and no real preview.
  17. mossman
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    mossman iPF Novice

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    It's kind of hit or miss, but all of the services provide some sort of preview or sample. I think that it is governed more by the publisher then the reading service. I know that with my book, I made 50% available as a sample.
  18. CL
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    CL iPF Novice

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    Thanks for sharing - good info.
  19. mossman
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    mossman iPF Novice

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    Since I wrote my initial review, including the follow-up to include Stanza, I have realized that there were a few key features that I neglected to include. They are Annotations/Notes, Highlighting, and Dictionary functions. The first two I don't use much, but it occurred to me that other people might, and so they should be discussed. The Dictionary function is really neat and once again supports iBooks and Stanza as the top two readers on the iPad. Before I get into that, let's review what each app does or does not feature in terms of these three things.

    iBooks does not allow for notes or highlighting of the text. You can bookmark sections of text which is a poor man's substitute for highlighting in a pinch, but other readers clearly do this better. iBooks does have a dictionary where you can get to a definition in two taps of the screen. It's also the quickest app to pull up the relevant information.

    Stanza does not have highlighting either, but does feature annotations. Oddly enough, I found that when I added notes, it would kick me out of the app once I left the note. The same was true for deleting it. While this is a big issue for now, I am sure it will be fixed in a future update. The notes are hard to pull up once they are placed in the text, so I'm not that fond of this feature in this app. Stanza is the only other app to have an internal dictionary. It's a little slower to pull up than in iBooks but only takes two finger taps to bring up.

    Kobo, is one of my favorite apps from an aesthetic point of view. However this app does not feature any notes, highlights or dictionary functions. Swing and a miss! I know they were going for a barebones, elegant design, but they really could have done more in this area.

    Kindle has no dictionary, but does feature annotations and highlights. I found Kindle to be the best at being able to pull up notes placed in the text. A little blue box marks the presence of the note, and you only have to tap on that to see the note.

    B&N has annotations and highlights. However the former are hard to access, much like with Stanza. B&N does have a dictionary function, but you need 3 clicks to get there and then you taken out of the app and placed in Safari! What a waste.

    Since I don't use notes or annotations, I won't comment on their usefulness specifically, but I do want to raise a point about the dictionary. Ever read a word in the book where you don't recognize it, and you want to know what it means, but the context is enough to get you by and you just don't want to pull away from the story to look up the word? Basically any attempt to define that word is a pain in the ass, so by default, you just keep moving along. The dictionary function changes that. You can look up a work quickly (especially in iBooks) such that it doesn't ruin the flow of the story. I really enjoy this feature and use it a lot, especially as I find myself reading classics from 100 years ago or more that use pieces of language that are quite uncommon in today's vernacular.

    Hopefully I've covered all the salient points of the apps by now, but if I've missed something of interest to you, let me know and I will add that to the review.

    Well, one last thing! A co-worker showed me how to change the brightness in Stanza. All you need to do is swipe up or down the center of the screen. Down to darken, up to lighten. Pretty cool!
  20. rdharper
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    rdharper iPF Novice

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    iBooks uber alles, for all the reasons mentioned. I would add the word link also gives a quick link to google or wiki, as well as other occurrences within the same book. Very useful!
    Last edited: Jun 10, 2010

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