Book lovers have many choices for reading eBooks on the iPad and iPhone — too many, really.
Every major (and minor) digital bookseller has an app, plus there are several not attached to a specific store. And, of course, iBooks.
The best eReading apps have comfortable, customizable reading experiences and an easy to use interfaces. There are two contenders for the top spot on iOS: Barnes & Noble’s Nook and Bluefire Reader.
Best Store-Specific eReader App: Nook
Of all the contenders, the Nook app has the best reading experience because it gives users the most customization options. Users can choose different fonts, line spacing, and margins. You can also change the color scheme to minimize eye-strain. Change the background, font, and highlights to a wide range of colors, then save as a theme. Brightness controls are right within the app as well.
I prefer the magazine reading experience here as well. Instead of just offering text and maybe one picture like the Kindle app, you see the magazine laid out just as it is in the print version. For those who prefer just text, it’s easy to bring up Nook’s ArticleView and read or browse the magazine that way.
All the usual eReader functionality is on board — notes, highlights, bookmarks, searching inside a book, sync last page read, dictionary lookup and Barnes & Noble’s LendMe feature. And if you downloaded a book but forgot what it’s about, the synopsis/jacket flap description is available from the library or inside the eBook.
The biggest con for this app is that it doesn’t have some of the functionality the Android version enjoys. First, thanks to Apple, users can no longer purchase books from within the app. You’ll have to visit the store in Safari, log in, make your purchase, then go back to the app and sync. It’s not a big hassle, but less smooth than the experience on Android.
There’s also no MyFiles function which allows users to sideload non-B&N eBooks to the app so you can read everything in one place.
Google Books — Large selection of public domain books; no bookmark or highlight functionality; unattractive UI; few customization options
Kindle — Good selection; can sync documents; few customization options; ugly magazines
Kobo — Too much emphasis on social sharing; few customization options
iBooks — Opens PDF documents; good library management options; few customization options
Best Independent eReading App: BlueFire Reader
There’s a world of eBooks outside of the big, popular booksellers like Barnes & Noble, Amazon, iBooks and the like. For readers who buy outside of traditional stores or just want to read all of their books in one app, Bluefire Reader is the best.
Bluefire can read ePub and PDF files with Adobe’s DRM or with no DRM. All the user has to do is authorize the app with a free Adobe ID and sync books either through iTunes or Dropbox to get them in the library. Since the app supports Adobe’s digital rights scheme this is also one of the few apps that can access eBooks on loan from public libraries.
Figuring out the whole DRM shuffle can be confusing. Thankfully, there’s a short but informative User Guide included with the app that walks you through the steps.
Users can also download free eBooks from Feedbooks directly to the app or browse for books from other independent stores.
BlueFire Reader offers a comfortable reading experience and a wide range of customization options, including color themes, line spacing, font choices, and more. Users can create and browse through notes, highlights and bookmarks. eBook info is also available from the library or inside the book.
I wish that Bluefire supported other formats beyond ePub and PDF. Most new books will come in these formats, but .mobi and Reader files are also still popular among longtime eBook lovers.
Stanza — Once the top pick for anyone looking for a store-independent app, Stanza has lost a lot of fans recently due to an app update. An upgrade for iOS 5 users broke the app’s ability to work on devices running iOS 4 or below. As this problem has been ongoing for over 2 months with little feedback from the developers, I wouldn’t advise using this app even if you are running iOS 5.