Android free eReader apps reviews

Thursday, August 9th, 2012

As I suggested in the Cheapskates podcast segment, what I thought would be an easy task (reading eight ebooks using eight different Android Apps) proved to be quite the ordeal. Here’s a quick rundown of my experiences of each of the apps I was able to successfully use and some of their positives and negatives.

Kindle: This was a logical first Android app to try, given that I already owned the $79 Kindle eReader. It connects and syncs smoothly between my dedicated eReader device and the phone app, which is useful. The program is solid and stable (I don’t ever remember it crashing), and, of course, it gets a place on my phone as the only one that can play the Amazon file format. The controls are fine – you’re either tapping the edges or swiping left and right to change pages. This results in a feel less like a book and more like reading a stacked sheaf of papers in a manuscript. It also probably does the best job of any of the apps I tested in handling images – you can double tap to get a full image, with the ability to “pinch” in and out and look at the images in detail.

Other options are bare-bones, however – you only get one font style, but can make a few basic changes in size, line spacing, borders and colors (a day, night and in-between with “sepia”). For as stripped down as the app is, it’s a bafflingly large program on my space-strapped phone – currently 4.5 MB. Still, when it’s the only one with a popular yet exclusive format, you deal with it.

From Kindle, I moved on to apps using more universal formats, starting with:

Nook: This was a logical next step for me, as Nook is the main competitor to Kindle and runs on the popular epub format. It has a nice page turn effect, that changes dynamically depending on where you “grab” the page and how you turn it, making for a more “authentic” page experience – at least as much as a tiny computer screen can give you. This was probably my favorite feature of the Nook app. You do also have more options as far as font styles and other visual options go, vis-a-vis Kindle.

There were major problems with the app however, the first of which is the unusually large margins for such a small screen. I was able read about two sentences each time before I had to flip to the next little mini-page, really pointing up the “book on a Post It note” sensation that’s so annoying on phones. Next, the Nook does a horrible job handling images. You end up being able to see a little bit of the upper left hand corner of images, with no way to see the whole thing or zoom in or out. The biggest problem is the size of the program, however – again, we’re talking multiple megabytes. Kindle survived on my phone where Nook did not, simply because other programs could do basically the same thing with less space.

Such as:

Aldiko: This program was recommended to me by my local library for reading the epub format, but it initially did not appeal to me. For starters, shame on them for trying to sell book 7 of Lost Tribe of the Sith (which is free!) for 79 cents through the Aldiko store.

The layout of Aldiko is more appealing than the Nook, but setting it up can get pretty absurd. You have to have a web connection to even get started, then once that’s done, getting DRM protected books to read on the program can get absurdly complicated. For example, importing books from the Barnes & Noble/Nook store required me to input the name on my debit card with the card number as my password before it would open up the DRM protected file – which was completely non-intuitive and frankly absurd.

Visual options were again pretty baseline – one font with the option to change size and margins (however, I think you can download others if desired). The sliding page turn is similar to the Kindle app, with the added benefit of being able to use the volume rocker button on the side to flip pages. This is a great feature for one-handed operation, and I find myself wishing I had it in the Kindle app.

Another helpful feature is being able to slide up and down the left hand side to quickly adjust the brightness – the setting I’m usually tweaking the most.

The program seems a little less stable than Kindle and Nook – I’ll often have it crash unexpectedly doing simple tasks, such as switching from day to night settings.

But ultimately, Aldiko won out over Nook for reading ePub files for a simple reason – it’s less than a megabyte and fits better on the phone’s memory.

Kobo: Starting on using the Kobo app, I started to get the first inklings that my little experiment was going to be a tougher job than I expected. Kobo was a clunky app, with lots of unwanted and unneeded features. Foremost among these features were “Accomplishments” and “Reading Life” – giving you little digital badges met specific milestones or did certain things. These were pretty absurd for anyone who’s a serious reader. Truly, who ever got into reading for virtual “awards” – get rid of them and use the programming space for something useful. In contrast the “Statistics” feature was actually pretty interesting (although potentially eye-opening about just how much time you spend with your nose in a book – eep!)

Each page flips quickly, at least until you switch from landscape to portrait orientation or vice versa, or when you go from one chapter to the next. When these happen, you’re sitting annoyed for about five seconds or so while it’s thinking and loading. Kobo also has the rocker button feature to change pages, which is helpful. I also appreciate that it calculates the page number for the actual digital screen rather than the huge “location” number on Kindle, which is hard to translate into anything meaningful.

On the downside, there’s little for page transition – they blink and disappear and it’s pretty disorienting. Options are limited – you get the choice of serif or sans-serif on fonts. But the worst is the required and extensive online setup at the beginning. This nearly had me delete it out of hand from the start.

Good thing I didn’t however, as from here on out, some desperation set in to find another four eReaders that would actually work.

Moon+ Reader: First off, Moon+ was my absolute favorite in terms of options. The page turn effect is incredible – you can even see the print translucently on the other side of the page as you turn pages. It has a huge number of background and contrast options. The key functions are highly customizable to be exactly what you want. It’s easy to change brightness by sliding along the left side of the screen. It will even remind you to rest your eyes after an hour or other time period that you define.

My favorite option is the auto-scroll feature – give the phone a little shake and it starts scrolling up at a pace you define. It’s a great feature anytime you’re doing dishes or otherwise need your hands free while you read at the same time.

Basically, whatever your preference for how you read ebooks on a phone app, this program can probably make it happen.

Except for this: its compatibility stinks. In particular, if you want to read a book with DRM protection, you have to illegally strip off the DRM before you can even read it. (I got around this by using Adobe Acrobat professional to convert the free pdf available from Del Rey into a straight text file).

This one fact meant Moon+ went away from my phone. Too bad.

iReader: With iReader, my desperation for another working eReader is readily apparent. The look is cartoonish at best and the instructions are given in nearly unintelligible English. Moreover, it’s extremely limited in terms of file formats it will successfully read. Even with all these drawbacks, it’s still a memory hog with more than 3 MB required and no way to move even part of that to the SD card.

On the positive? Well, it does have the autoscroll option I like, and it has a nice page turn effect.

But needless to say, it was deleted back off my phone almost immediately.

HAL eReader: Yep, it’s named after the HAL of “2001: A Space Odyssey”, and it’s one of the few eReaders that did a competent job of doing the text-to-speech feature. Of course, text to speech is really its only feature. Still, this one was a surprising dark horse – I didn’t expect how useful it would be. This was a good free option for those who prefer to listen or are sight impaired. It doesn’t take up much space, either, and works decently.

Still, HAL has quirks (much like the movie namesake, if less homicidal ones). For example, it reads out symbols in a monotone (“Asterisk. Asterisk. Asterisk”) and has a lot of trouble with book-specific words (Jedi comes out “Gee-Dee.”) It’s also hard to keep your place in the book if you close the program. You’re pretty much stuck keeping it open until you’re done – meaning you’ll want to limit yourself to short works. Again, file format compatibility was limited, meaning a lot of annoying conversion or simply not playing a lot of works.

Digibooks4All: This one was really scraping the bottom of the barrel. Digibooks4All works, but only just barely. You have to put pdfs into “reflow mode” for them to be at all readable. The software is slow, and it often skips pages, or even gets stuck in a loop on a single page. I never figured out how to make epubs work in the program, though it claims it can read them.

I wouldn’t use this for anything longer than a novella, but why would you even bother? There’s better readers out there that do the same thing and are likely to leave you with more hair.


The Boneyard:

These programs got left by the wayside on my journey to bleach in the sun. These didn’t work for me at all.

Sony Reader: For a decent competitor on the eReader market, I would have thought this would be compatible with my phone.

It wasn’t.

Ebook Reader: An uncreative and inaccurate name. It simple doesn’t work the way its description claims it does, at least with my phone. It appears to download the book, but it never actually opens up. What’s more, it’s 4.42 MB and doesn’t let you put any of that to the SD card. Ick!

FB Reader: A constant crasher. Useless.

Google Books: For coming pre-loaded on the Android system, it’s truly worthless for the cheapskate. There’s absolutely no way to sideload books onto the microSD card, meaning the only way to download any books is through the Google Books market – which means you essentially have to pay for any books you want to read with it. If Android let me delete it, I’d do so in a heartbeat.  


2 comments on “Android free eReader apps reviews

  1. James A. says:

    Too bad FBReader doesn’t work for you. It is my favourite, but I’ve had problems with it in the past.

    You might want to check out Cool Reader. It also supports a lot of formats, and like FBReader, it’s open source.

    Thanks for the book reviews.

  2. acpracht says:

    Well, keep in mind that my Android phone is a baseline smartphone, which is likely part of the issue. It might be that Google Play is incorrectly saying that it’s compatible.
    I didn’t mention it (mostly because I forgot in the flood of unsuccessful programs I tried), but I did try Cool Reader as well… without success. 😦

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