The transition from print to digital reading hasn’t been an easy one for most voracious readers. It was the same with me. There’s just something about the smell, the feel, and the intimacy of holding a dog-eared copy of your favorite novel and curling up under a cozy blanket that you just don’t get with an eBook reader.
But people change. Traditions change. Times change. And if you’re reluctant to, circumstances sometimes compel you to change. My first brush with eBooks was when I downloaded some free classics from the goldmine that’s Project Gutenberg. In case you’re unfamiliar with them, I’d suggest you give them a try right now. This free collaborative website hosts thousands of some of the world’s most popular classics as well as other DRM-free eBooks, in multiple formats and with one-click download options.
Well, I loaded up the classics on the iBook reader that came for free on my iPhone (get it here), and conveniently forgot about it. Then one lazy Saturday afternoon, I got tired of evading flesh-eating gorillas and suddenly remembered the eBooks. I opened the first one, The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka, and started reading. Surprisingly, despite the measly 4-inch screen, it wasn’t that hard after a few pages. But this was the first time that I wished my phone had a larger screen like those on the mammoth Samsungs.
Before long I was reading entire novels on my phone, starting with Aravind Adiga’s 40th Man Booker Prize winning The White Tiger. You never quite forget the first time you do something, do you, no matter how small or inconsequential it seems. The advantages of going digital are manifold. Firstly, there’s availability. Just read Stephen King’s glowing review of Dona Tartt’s The Goldfinch in the New York Times and can’t wait to read it, but don’t want to bother putting on man pants and running down to the local bookstore? Simple, get onto Amazon, pay less than half of what you would’ve paid for the hardcover version, and get the digital copy onto your Kindle in minutes. Don’t have the time to actually READ read the book? Get it as an Audiobook, narrated in the soothing, sonorous tones of your favorite literary, or even entertainment, celebrity. Don’t have a Kindle? Get it in one of the many other available formats from Barnes and Noble or other resellers. If, like me, you just have your iPhone, there’s always the popular epub format to your rescue.
Then there’s the ease of use. If you’re travelling for a considerable amount of time, there’s not always enough space to lug around too may books. Airport bookstores don’t help much either, unless your reading list is populated solely with what they pejoratively call airport novels. Novels are heavy things to lug around, and this is where digital shines. They’re also ecological burdens, with more than 30 million trees being cut down every year for our reading pleasure. In contrast, eBooks are just bits and bytes on the electronic frontier. Most eBooks comes in file sizes that are in MBs, and sometimes even less. It doesn’t matter how much free space you have on your digital device, you can load hundreds of them just by deleting that old video of a cat wearing a party hat, that you keep on your phone to “entertain your nephew.”
That’s just what I did, downloading and reading novels until the screen size began to bother me quite a bit. I began seriously considering buying a specialized eBook reader and started exploring my options. First I considered the usual suspects, the Kindle family and Barnes and Noble’s Nook. Sony also had a few readers with good reviews and so did some Indian companies that were also substantially cheaper. I liked the idea of reading into the wee hours of the morning without having to keep the light burning, so non-backlit readers were out first. This is also insurance against your partner smothering you with a pillow someday, trust me. If you take frequent office trips with your colleagues and have to share a hotel room with them sometimes like me, this also keeps the working relationship healthy. But the choices dwindle down rapidly when you’re looking for a backlit ebook reader. After considering most of the options, I narrowed them down to the Kindle Paperwhite and the Kobo Aura HD.
But then I thought, why spend hard earned dough on something that serves only one purpose, in this day and age of multitasking. Especially when you can add a little more and get a full-fledged tablet. The arguments for and against are solid here. For heavy reading, there’s nothing that comes close to eBook readers with their e-ink technology. E-ink comes the closest to conventional paper in terms of feel and readability while LCDs tend to put a bigger strain on your eyes. There are some studies that contradict this, what with the resolution of tablet LCDs getting better by the day, so I’m not really sure of what’s the truth here.
Anyways, that was the turning point for me where I started looking from ereaders into full-blown tablets. Once it was clear that I wanted a tablet, I looked no further than the iPad. Although there were far less expensive tablets out there, Apple’s ecosystem has worked amazingly well for me in the past and so I wanted to stay in it for now. Not to mention the fact that it will allow me to port my existing epub files from the iPhone straight to the iPad via iTunes. Eyestrain was still a bother for me, even with the new Retina display, but hey, I’ve read quite a bit on the iPhone 3GS and that didn’t have a Retina display. Plus I can do a lot more here, like taking advantage of the huge library of apps and gape at Henry Cavill and General Zod laying waste to Metropolis in full (well, almost) glory.
So I bought the iPad and it was a happy marriage until the third person came in. And, boy, what an entrance she made.
I had previously used Amazon’s Kindle for iOS app as well as the now-discontinued Stanza but have always gravitated back to iBooks. But the propensity to keep checking out new apps, especially free ones, is always there in us, isn’t it? One fine day, I loaded up this usurper to the throne, Marvin, and gave it a go. Loading files to it was easy and straightforward – just drag and drop or click and select the books you want to add and you’re good to go. Marvin also offers full Dropbox and Calibre integration so you can load your files straight from your Dropbox folder or convert/manage them in Calibre. However, underneath its easy to use interface, Marvin offers a multitude of options that aren’t there in iBooks yet. If you just want to load and read your books straightaway, you can do that, but the real meat of the matter is the level of customization that Marvin allows you. Reviewing all of them would mean writing non-stop for a few days at least so I’ll just write about the features I use the most.
First off, Marvin digs deep into the meta-data of your epub files and comes up with information that enhances your reading. It can tell you the word count of any book, as well as keep a tab on your progress. Even more impressive is the ability to summarize. You simply pick a book, tap the Deep View button, and the app comes up with the Cliff Notes version of the same. Excellent for just browsing through.Also, when you’re exiting the app, Marvin tells you how long you’ve been reading. You can also change the cover image and edit the genre and author tags. When you’re actually reading, Marvin offers one-tap brightness options as well as different fonts, font sizes, margins, paragraph indents, and dozens of background options. Frankly, I think Appstafarian, the developers went a bit too crazy with the color options. There are just so many options for both the text and the background that it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Sometimes too much choice isn’t good. By the way, the developer is a bookwork himself who regularly listens and repsonds to customer suggestions, and keeps updating the app regularly.
But still, there’s nothing on the Apple App Store that comes close to Marvin. It is fast and offers a host of options that leave Apple’s own iBooks far, far behind. It is available in both paid ($2.99) and free versions although I’m not sure what the paid version does that the free version don’t already do. There are no ads in the free version, although you have to pay to unlock some themes. This is the most used app on the iPad by a mile, and will be for a very long time.