So I was doing some random reading on the Web about Android apps (as I often do), and I found myself looking up comparisons between different e-reader applications from the Google Play (formerly Android Market, and I miss “Android Market”) store. I thought that perhaps some people might be interested in my own thoughts on the issue, as certainly ebooks have a clear relationship with writers and writing these days and indeed, into the future. Since my blog here is going to focus on my writing and on information of interest to libraries and librarians, it seems a good thing to do.
I used to own a Nook Color, which has now been (re)-gifted to my lovely wife Julie, since I obtained an Asus Transformer Prime tablet (which I have reviewed elsewhere). When I got the Prime, I knew I’d have to at least download the Nook App so that I could still have access to the books I had previously purchased from Barnes and Noble. Of course, it’s possible to strip DRM since B&N books are at their core basically epubs with security levels added, but that is technically not legal and generally I avoid piracy as such. Note I’m not passing judgment, it’s just that I don’t do it as a rule.
Anyway, back to the Nook Color. I loved that e-reader. I am still convinced that alongside the Nook Tablet, it far outshines the Kindle Fire as an e-reader. Now, as an entry-level tablet, there’s little doubt that the Amazon app store brutalizes the Barnes and Noble app store. B&N has a long way to go in terms of actually listening to their customers as far as updating the available applications on their store. That the official Facebook app, the official Blogger app, and a number of forum apps such as Proboards are not available on the Nook is criminal. That B&N requires users to pay for things like Angry Birds is criminal.
However, as an e-reader, the Nook Color and Nook Tablet are head and shoulders on top of the pile. Their magazine reading functionality and the in-store benefits from taking your Nook to a brick-and-mortar store launch it ahead of the Kindle, as does the simple fact that you can put an SD card in it; to be perfectly honest, Amazon’s Apple-like insistence on forcing users to rely upon their cloud service makes me uncomfortable at best. I like local backups of my data, and I don’t like to relinquish control of my data to some huge corporation’s nebulous file servers, thank you very much.
But how does this all relate to me reviewing Android reading apps? Well, I wanted to prepare you by way of full disclosure for the fact that I’m a Nook fan to begin with, so my review here may be a little biased. I’d just like to be clear that this blog is discussing why I think the Nook app is the best, not a comparison/contrast review of several apps (though as you’ll see below I do discuss Aldiko a bit).
So I knew I was going to have to grab the Nook app when I got my tablet, to keep my existing library of ebooks, and my magazine subscription. I also, however, have an extensive library of free ebooks from Feedbooks.com, and PDF files of various articles, gaming books, etc (mostly purchased from drivethrurpg.com, RPGNow.com, and similar sites). Since the Nook was never very good at PDF rendering (it really does fall short in that area), I thought that perhaps I should take a look around and see what else was out there, if I could find a better all-in-one application. So I hit the Google Play store and started checking out reviews. Honestly, after trying out several, including Aldiko, Kobo, ebooks.com, Google Books, and MyLibra, as well as the Kindle App, I came to the conclusion that the Nook App is still the best, most full-featured application out there. Aldiko is a close second, and remains on my tablet as the best PDF rendering program out there, but it falls short in several areas: the ability of the reader to control how the text is rendered (fonts, margins, page color, etc.) is limited, and the ebook stores are not only poor, but painfully overpriced. Another drawback of Aldiko is that when importing books into your library, it doesn’t simply index them and place them into your shelf—it reads the book’s metadata, determines where it should be, and automatically makes a copy of the file, complete with its own folder, elsewhere on your device (thus leaving you with two copies of many books in two different places on the device, which can be a bit of a clutter for a tablet or phone which has limited space to begin with). Worse, if the file doesn’t have any metadata (as in the case of one of my personal PDFs) it will claim it added the file to your shelf, but the file will not show up ON the shelf, forcing you to go find it to open it up. So Aldiko has a way to go as far as allowing user control of shelf organization. However, again, its capabilities for rendering PDFs are second-to-none.
The Nook, however, does handle PDFs and does so adequately for an e-reader. The interface is pretty bare-bones, and PDFs with heavier formatting may take awhile to render, but they will view, and view pretty nicely.
As a standard e-reader, however, for books, newspapers, and magazines, the Nook app is still head and shoulders above everything else that’s out there. Its text rendering is crisp and sharp, you have unmatched control over how you want the text to display in terms of text size, font, margins, color of the page (everything from “night mode,” or white text on a black background, to sepia to white, to “butter”), even page-turn animations. The Nook app allows you to very easily annotate any file you open in it; it has an intuitive and easy interface access for bookmarks, comments and contents and the interface for page turns is smooth—the animations are a very nice touch in mimicking the experience of reading a physical book, but these can be shut off for those who prefer not to use them.
In addition the magazine reader is also way above anything else out there (remember, I’m talking Android, here; I’ve little experience with the iPad). The text is crisp and clear, particularly after the latest update, and the additional “ArticleView” mode is a great touch, which pulls the text from an article and formats it in a neat column over top of the standard layout, for easy readability. It’s quite simple to jump back and forth between ArticleView and standard mode, making for a seamless and enjoyable periodical experience. Newspapers, by contrast, read a lot like standard e-books (at least, the one newspaper to which I subscribe does), which can be daunting if one takes the time to look at the page number you’re on—many newspapers end up with a 900-odd-page count. However, each paper begins with a “top stories” section which allows you to jump to any article after reading a brief blurb. The table of contents is also quite complete, so newspaper reading is actually a really nice experience. Still, whether you love or hate the newspaper functionality, that’s far from a deal-breaker since most people get their “print” news from feeds like Google Reader, Pulse or directly from the paper’s website these days. The only drawback I see to the format of the e-newspapers is for those who want the experience of reading to be combined with the traditional newspaper layout. But then, that could feasibly be a bit cumbersome.
Syncing across devices, of course, is something that the Nook, Kindle, and iStore all tout. The Nook’s syncing is very nice, but unfortunately (and I suspect it’s the same with Kindle and iStore purchases on their respective devices), it only works with those books you buy in the Nook Store, because these books can be tracked in-app and in your online library (one area where the cloud acts as a benefit).
Finally, the Nook app has recently been updated to handle comics. The interface for comics is easily as good as that you’ll find on the ComiXology, Dark Horse, or Marvel apps, including a panel-view reading mode that jumps you from panel to panel if you’d like a guided experience, and where the other apps offer “collections” that comprise storylines, the Nook store has actual, honest-to-goodness graphic novels, which is a serious bonus if you’re like me and you like reading collected editions. Barnes and Noble claims to have the largest selection of e-graphic novels and while I haven’t actually compared it with, say, the Kindle store, I can say it’s impressive. The graphic novels are exceptionally large in file size, so you may want to download when you’re on a high-speed wifi network, and remove them from your device when done, but that’s to be expected for something as heavily formatted and graphics-heavy as a comic.
In short, if you’re looking for a great e-reader app, you can’t go wrong with the Nook App from Barnes & Noble. It shines above the Kindle app for the Kindle’s refusal to support the industry standard epub format, and its wealth of features including the ability to view comics, magazines, newspapers, and PDFs in addition to the sheer amount of user control you have over the way you view your text is outstanding.
Hands down, as e-reader apps go, the Nook wins.