So you bought a shiny new Android phone or tablet, and now it’s on to the important stuff: How can you read your books on it? Admittedly, there aren’t the same number of ebook options for Android as there are for the iPhone, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have a decent selection of options! Rather than review each one individually, I thought it might be best to do a roundup/quick overview of the major readers available. There are several ePUB readers, and several apps use the same or overlapping sources for the books you can download in-app, so I’m looking to focus on the features each application brings to the reading experience. I’ll be looking at Aldiko, FBReader, Wordplayer, Shortcovers, eReader and Ibis Reader. We’ve got quite a bit to cover, so let’s get started!
Note: For any apps available through the Android Market, I’ve included the QR codes; if they are direct downloads I just linked to the download website.
This is a clone of the long-standing ebook reader for Windows, Linux, and various tablet devices. Currently it can only read non DRM’d ePUB and a few minor formats, though there are intentions to add more in the future. It is very barebones, but does include a night/day mode, so you don’t light up the room reading late at night.
If you dig into the “old settings” menu, there are some options to adjust the background colors as well. There are no built-in links to bookstores, though FBReader does include an explanation of how to download and add books to the program. It is stable, bookmarking and table of contents work great, so while it isn’t anything special it certainly reads books without a problem.
This is an interesting reader program, especially if you use Calibre. Wordplayer gives you the opportunity to add books via your SD card, through an in-app gateway to Feedbooks and Smashwords, or wirelessly from your Calibre library. The app also offers background color changes, font changes, orientation and navigation options.
Only non-DRM ePUB is supported. The user interface isn’t spectacular, but from a pure reading perspective it is fast, customizable and works quite well. I have not yet tested the Calibre integration, though I plan to cover it when I do an overview of Calibre (look for it in the next few weeks!).
This app is the Kobo Books Android app. Currently Kobo plans to update it with new branding and features in the next few months. Until then, unless you really love Kobo’s offerings, I don’t recommend this app. The app works great in that you can read your Kobo books on it, but you can’t bookmark specific pages, just broad chapters. And if that’s not enough to turn you off to it, books aren’t actually downloaded to your device. All the reading you do is actually through the internet; the app is just a nice wrapper around Kobo’s web reading options. So don’t settle in for a plane ride or head to a poor signal area and expect to be reading your books. There’s also a dearth of settings options, and you’re stuck with a nastily bright white background.
I’d like for this to improve, since Kobo runs an excellent ebookstore, and is the only mainstream store available other than eReader for Android. But in its current incarnation it is badly flawed. If or when Kobo updates the application, I will have a follow-up review revisiting the experience.
Oh eReader. It’s the granddaddy of ebook readers on mobile devices, but lately it has been showing its age. For starters, eReader’s very name has become muddled. Barnes and Noble, who bought eReader/Fictionwise last year, have been calling their BRANDED reader for smartphones an “eReader”. However, the version for Android is for eReader.com, so it can only read PDB books (not ePUBs like its Barnes and Noble cousin). So the only books guaranteed to open through eReader’s app are the ones bought through the titular site, rather than through Barnes and Noble. Confused yet?
If you already have a deep eReader library, this app might be more attractive to you. However, beware: it is very much half-baked compared to the versions available on other platforms. Aside from the font, the settings are very lean. No background changing, no annotations, just straight ebook reading. At the same time, if you are looking to read New York Times bestsellers and other commercial titles, eReader is going to be a more flexible and enjoyable one than Shortcovers. Also, Barnes and Noble says they plan a branded version for Android, and if/when it is released there may be more fine-grained settings.
You can download the eReader for Android app here.
Ibis feels a little bit like a solution in search of a problem. The concept of a cloud based reader is a good one, but the reality falls a bit short. Part of the issue is that Ibis runs entirely through your web browser, no software download required. It looks great on a full computer browser, but through a mobile browser navigation gets messier.
A long press brings up the Ibis menu, which is impressively full featured for a web-based app, but it is just too unstable to be useful, especially when there are perfectly good ebook reading options already available on Android. Scrolling also proved very problematic. Sometimes it went one page, sometimes it took me 5 chapters ahead. If I have to work that hard to If Apple ever throws all non-iBooks options out of the App Store, Ibis will be useful, but until then it’s not worth wrestling with it.
I saved this for the end because it is my personal favorite. Not only does it have a really nice user interface, it also has just about every setting you could dream of for an ebook reader. In-book brightness is adjustable, as are everything from fonts to background colors. Even the navigation options are varied; you can choose top/bottom or left/right taps for page turns, and Aldiko gives you the option of using the volume keys for page turns as well.
As far as content, the app offers access to Manybooks, Feedbooks, O’Reilly and Smashwords. And you can add your own books, as long as they are digital rights management-free ePUBs. I tried to be objective throughout, but I’ll be honest: Aldiko is my go-to choice for ebook reading on the Droid and the Camangi, due almost entirely to the customizable nature of the app. The easy access to several ebook store options helps too!
As I said, my favorite is Aldiko. However, of these, you can’t go wrong with FBReader, Wordplayer or Aldiko. The others are on a case by case basis; if you like or have a need for a feature they offer, there’s nothing WRONG with them, I just find them to be less useful. Did I miss your favorite app, or do you disagree with my mini reviews? Share your thoughts below!