Google Android showdown: Battle of the eReader Apps

Summary:There are now several options for reading ebooks on Android devices, including Kobo, Aldiko, FBReader, iReader, and Laputa. Do you like any of these and if not, what do you recommend?

Jason Perlow posted his iPad eReader apps showdown this past weekend and as a follow-up for readers here I wanted to present a showdown of the available ebook applications for the Google Android smartphone platform. I am a huge Android fan and ebook reader and wanted to take a look at what we have available for the Android platform. I recently wrote a review of the Kobo application for Android and have been using it quite a bit. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find another ebook application available on Android that I plan to use for reading some other content on the go. Check out my image gallery of application screenshots and thoughts on each application below.


Image Gallery: There are several ebook reader options for Android devices.
Image Gallery: Best eReader apps
Image Gallery: Night reading mode

I conducted a search of the Android Market for the highest rated and most popular ebook applications and discovered five applications that looked worthy of further testing. Two applications ended up standing out from the crowd and will remain on my Sprint HTC EVO 4G while the others will be removed for now. I tested Aldiko, FBReader, iReader, Kobo, and Laputa on my device. Check out my thoughts and conclusion below, along with the screenshots in my image gallery to see if you agree with my take on these applications. Also, please let me know if you found another good application or have another recommendation for me and the readers.

Aldiko

Aldiko is a free application with a priced version available for $2.99 if you find you enjoy using the application and want to support the developer. When you launch the application you will find tips appear as pop-ups on the display and you can easily choose to hide these tips in the future. You will then see your recently read books on the top shelf, access to your downloaded books on the second shelf, and a button to download books from online catalogs on the bottom shelf. Pressing the menu button gives you buttons for search, import, tips, share, and about. The import books option is especially interesting to me since it is listed as an experimental function that lets you import ebooks in EPUB format (non-DRM) that you place on your microSD card. Unfortunately, you cannot use Adobe Digital Editions and have public library or already purchased titles imported into the application.

If you tap to download books you will find that Aldiko includes online catalogs for Feedbooks, O'Reilly books, romance books, and Smashwords with the option for you to add your own catalog by entering the title, URL and description. There are thousands of free ebooks available at Feedbooks and you can purchase titles through the O'Reilly and Smashwords catalogs. I would love to see even more catalog support in the future, but this does give you some great resources out of the box.

Within an ebook you will find you can rotate your device to read in portrait or landscape orientation. Menu buttons include table of contents, bookmarks, settings, get books, day/night toggle and more (search, dictionary, Go To, show progress, help, and share). Inside settings you will find you can customize font color, background color, link color, and search highlight colors choosing from several very usable colors. You can also choose from nine font types, font sizes ranging from 10 to 30, and four font weights. Layout settings, navigation controls (including flings and volume keys), navigation settings, display settings (brightness and awake), and display orientation (in case you do not want it to rotate). Tapping on Dictionary lets you search the dictionary, Google, Wikipedia, or the book you are reading for the term. Go To presents you with a slider bar to quickly navigate through the ebook.

FBReader

FBReader is designed to let you read ebooks in orb, EPUB, and fb2 formats. You need to manually load books on your microSD card, click ebook hyperlinks in the Android browser to download to your device, or use the included network library access. The menu button gives you quick access to the library, network library, table of contents, bookmarks, day/night toggle, and more. More includes search, settings, book info, rotate screen, zoom in and out, and navigate. Inside the network library you will find catalogs for Feedbooks, ManyBooks.net, Smashwords, and a couple of foreign ebook catalogs.

The settings include options for toggling automatic rotation, status bar, and scrollbar placement as well as managing how scrolling works in the reader. Other settings include margin control, line spacing, margins, font types and sizes, and font and background colors. There are several options, but many are pretty technical and not easily understood by your basic Android owner. Ebook content appears in full screen and this is a good ebook reading client.

iReader

When you launch iReader you are taken to a file explorer page and pressing the menu button opens up a menu with six colorful icons for sort, filter, library, SD card, settings, and close. I could not find a single book loaded on my EVO 4G that iReader was able to open (including all of the non-DRM titles used with the other readers) so I could not test out the ebook reading experience. Settings included those for the theme, backup and restore, and cache settings. There was no help file or tutorial to assist the reader in figuring out how to use the application and I quickly removed it from my device.

Kobo

I covered Kobo well in my review so I won't go into detail again. There is no landscape support in Kobo and you are limited to ebooks that you buy through Kobo. The application store experience is good and the selection is great, but there is no functionality to read public domain books or other titles you add manually.

Laputa

Laputa has a nice user interface, similar to that found in Aldiko, with fewer online catalogs available. When you launch Laputa you will see your virtual bookshelf with wood paneling wallpaper. The books appear on the shelf with front covers and tapping the upper right icon lets you sort the books to your liking. Tapping the arrow in the bottom left brings up options for viewing your library or online ebook catalogs. You can swipe left to right to view your library and swipe right to left to view the online catalogs. Your library can be viewed by all, author, latest read, or your favorites. There are two online catalogs provided in Laputa; Blazer and Feedbooks. After looking through the Blazer directory, I think there may be illegal content in there and am not sure the application is on the up and up.

When you press the menu button while reading an ebook you will find buttons for add bookmarks, font size, day/night toggle, auto page, flip effects, and rotate screen. Fonts range from too small to read to extremely large and you simply tap the small or big A to decrease or increase font size. Unfortunately, there is no way to customize the color or font type in Laputa. There is also no search capability available. The auto page lets you set a time interval to turn pages automatically if you desire. The flip effect is a toggle so you can animate page turns as you turn the page.

Which is my favorite and why?

Kobo is my favorite for a paid ebook store application with Aldiko being my favorite "open" ebook reader. I like the customization options in Aldiko and while FBReader has many of these as well they are not as user friendly as they are in Aldiko. I would not even load iReader on your device if I were you. Laputa is decent, but may be providing access to illegal ebook content so you might as well use Aldiko or FBReader to access Feedbooks online. Aldiko also is the only application I found that lets you load ebooks (in EPUB format) via a manual microSD card transfer and I wish they would add support for Adobe Digital Editions so I could check out public library books.

Do you have a favorite ebook reader for Google Android?

Topics: Hardware, Android, Google, Mobility

About

Matthew Miller started using a mobile devices in 1997 and has been writing news, reviews, and opinion pieces ever since. He is a co-host with GigaOM's Kevin Tofel on the MobileTechRoundup podcast and an author of three Wiley Companion series books. Matthew started using mobile devices with a US Robotics Pilot 1000 and has owned over 200 d... Full Bio

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