Books to Go: Reading eBooks on the iPhone/iPod Touch

When most people think of eBooks, they think of something that’s just never going to catch on. Like the electric car, solar energy, and other “radical” ideas, people think that because something is so different than normal, it won’t work. However, given the chance – eBooks are both cheaper and more convenient. The eBook format itself isn’t what stops everyone, it’s the reader you use (or think you have to use).

When it comes to eBooks, the Kindle is great but let’s focus on another great eBook reading platform – the iPhone / iPod Touch

eBooks on the iPhone / iPod Touch:

Now that you’re used to reading email, websites and games on the iPhone, you’ve become accustomed to it’s screen size. In landscape mode, It’s actually a good size to read with. For those who think the screen is too small and the text will be even smaller, the multi-touch zoom function is perfect.

Like music, with eBooks there’s a huge mess of formats such as PDF, CHM, LIT, PBD, DjVu and on and on. What to do? Depending on the format, there are certain readers that can handle each. Other formats unfortunately don’t have a reader that can handle them, yet. If this is the case for some of the eBooks you want to read, just use OS X’s print to PDF function to convert the eBook to PDF format. Unfortunately you will loose any chapter formatting so if it is a large eBook, break it down into a PDF of each chapter.

Note: In my experience, I’d heavily recommend breaking down large PDFs into more useable sections / chapters. It’s easier to read and in the case of a PDF with a large filesize, it’s easier for the iPhone / iPod Touch to deal with. While you will lose any chapter / section formatting if you convert via Print to PDF, you make it back with a PDF of each chapter / section.

Reading Software for the iPhone / iPod Touch:

There’s a few different Apps out there that handle eBook reading. Some are free, others aren’t. Here’s my review of the one’s I’ve used.

Air Sharing ($):

Air Sharing really is a great App from the App Store. Transferring files is incredibly easy, it works in landscape mode and it handles PDFs, Word Documents, Excel Spreadsheets, Text Files and Power Points. The price is reasonable and it works like a charm. However, it does not have any ability to store bookmarks. This is huge for me when it comes to technical documents – I don’t want to flip back 300 pages if I need to look something up. Another annoyance is the lack of a “Go to Page:” box. I’d love to be able to jump exactly to a page without scrolling or hitting the next page key 90 times.

Readdle Docs ($):

Readdle Docs is also a recommended reader. It also handles Word, Excel, Powerpoint, PDFs, Apple iWork files and text documents, all supported in landscape mode. Big features of Readdle Docs include the ability to store multiple bookmarks for one document, and menu bar hiding in both normal and landscape mode for increased viewing area. Unfortunately, the downside of Readdle Docs is getting your documents into it. You must sign up for a free account, upload to a server and then download it into Readdle Docs.

Note: If you are skilled enough to jailbreak your iPhone / iPod Touch and know how to use a FTP program, you can also get your documents into Readdle Docs this way.

Like Air Sharing, Readdle Docs doesn’t have a “Go to Page:” box and as the most expensive reader out there (by far), there’s no excuse for it not to have this feature.

Text Guru ($):

Text Guru is more of a text editing program for coding on the go than a reader, however it will read text files, Office documents and PDFs. A big bonus for Text Guru is Cut/Copy/Paste. Transferring files in is similar to Air Sharing, you run a program on your desktop / laptop (The Text Guru File Server) which sends / receives files with your iPhone / iPod Touch. I like Text Guru, it’s quick and simple but its really a text editor, not a reader.

Stanza (Free):

Stanza is a free reader that can handle almost every file format you can throw at it. HTML, PDF, Word Documents, RTF files, unprotected Amazon Kindle format, LIT, MOBI, Palm documents, it does them all. Transferring files onto your iPhone / iPod Touch can be done with the free Stanza Desktop application. You can also choose different layouts to suit your personal reading style. However, it only does text. So if you are reading something with heavy illustrations / diagrams like a text book, Stanza isn’t the reader for you. Since it’s free and you can use it to open those hard to handle formats, download it.

eReader (Free):

eReader is also a free text based reader which supports PDB and PRC format eBooks. It also supports bookmarks and it allows you to highlight text. Getting files onto eReader can be done by enabling file sharing on your desktop/laptop and a quick upload. Honestly, Stanza does all this and more so unless you want to purchase and download eBooks from Fictionwise, just use Stanza.

Docs (Cydia):

Docs, is available through Cydia if you have a jailbroken iPhone / iPod Touch. It supports PDF and Microsoft Office documents. I found Docs to be very similar to Text Guru and it’s quite the useful program. However, there is a banner advertisement at the bottom taking up valuable reading space. This banner is ridiculously annoying. Trying to disable the ad via editing your hostsfile renders the app useless. Advertisements have their place and I encourage support of independent developers like BigBoss, although advertisements that get in the way of usability are pretty damn annoying. Oh, and Docs doesn’t do landscape mode – another big minus.

My Recommendation:

Personally I really found Readdle Docs to be my favorite. However, this is purely because of its bookmarking functions. I also found it to be extremely over-priced when compared to its competitors. For the extra $10 it costs compared to Text Guru and Air Sharing, it better have a Go to Page function. (Unfortunately, it doesn’t.)

Other than that minor wish of mine, Readdle Docs is really the best reader for me but I encourage you to try the free Apps and decide for yourself on the paid ones. Air Sharing is just as good, the main difference is the bookmarking ability.

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