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How do Amazon and Barnes & Noble’s ebook apps stack up?

April 26, 2010

Al Kalman

Al Kalman

By Al Kalman

With all the talk about reading books on the iPad, Kindle and the other tablets and readers coming to market, it is nice to know that smartphones already offer ebook readers for free. So if you can handle the smaller screen, one of these could be for you.

As usual, the choices on the iPhone were the most numerous and of the highest quality, with the top applications reviewed below.

The Android applications were a disappointment and many of them had confusing catalog descriptions.

Popular ebook readers on Android include the Android Txt eBook Reader, which describes itself as “a simple version of HyReader that supports reading txt files only.” Does this mean it has a bookstore or not?

Other than the Reveal Reader, which is religion-oriented, few of the other reader applications I looked at mentioned anything about a store or browsing capabilities.

One exception is Aldiko, which boasts “thousands” of books – Barnes & Noble and Amazon have hundreds of thousands. However the application did not appear when searching for “ebook reader” on the Droid. And to top it off, neither Kindle nor Barnes & Noble are currently available on Android.

Review – Amazon Kindle
The main screen on Kindle’s iPhone application essentially starts out as a blank page. It is not a bug but almost feels like one since the information displayed in the application consists of titles you have downloaded – none so far.

There is no logo, nor is there a promotion to buy the regular Kindle. All shopping takes place on Kindle’s mobile Internet site. Unfortunately, the pages do not appear inside the application, which means the application is forced to close.

The mobile site is good, but the search feature is not as strong as on Amazon’s Web site or its general shopping application.

The Kindle does not include a category for free or public domain books, which would have been nice, though it does offer plenty of free sample chapters.

The purchase process is painless and when you re-open the application, any books that had been ordered are now available. It is easy to adjust the font and the pages turn quickly.

The Kindle has also recently launched on select BlackBerry devices.


Review – Barnes & Noble
Looks like Barnes & Noble took a close look at what Amazon was doing, then decided to do almost the same thing, only not quite as well – just like the nook ebook reader.

The B&N iPhone application, similar to the Kindle, closes for consumers to shop the mobile Internet site.

There are plenty of free chapter excerpts, but the Barnes & Noble application can be slow and uncommunicative to the point where I did not think my books had downloaded.

Branding within the application could have been stronger and there was no promotion for the nook in the application or on the store’s mobile Internet homepage.


Review – Iceberg
The Iceberg Reader on the iPhone focuses mostly on top sellers and a limited number of titles – the equivalent of a tiny local bookstore.

The reading experience is sub-par due to a combination of scrolling and a Next Page button. The other way to turn pages is to tap the far left or far right side of the screen.

Swiping forward or backward is not supported. Motion between pages is also odd as pages flip up and down, more like the experience of reading off a legal pad rather than a book.

It is almost as if Iceberg was not building for the iPhone. A James Patterson sample chapter appeared in my library, but there was no way to delete it. I could not find any other free samples in its store.

The Shelf – aka home screen – lacks a button to the store, forcing users to open a book before they can start shopping.
The sections within the store are too small.

For example, Iceberg’s Science Fiction section had a mere 29 titles. That is the equivalent of a single short shelf. And there are only two cookbooks in the whole store.


Review – Stanza
Stanza comes close to being the ideal ebook reader for the iPhone. Its neighborly approach promotes reading by offering free titles from Project Gutenberg, Random House Free Library and others. Suddenly, authors such as Jane Austen, H.G. Wells, William Shakespeare and so many others become a pleasure to access.

Plus, at no time do you exit or need to re-start the application after a download.

Other nice features include how the pages flip like an actual book and being able to search within a book.

Changing the background from white to black is a click away and going back to the last page you were reading – even after you shop and download something else – could not be easier.

Where the Stanza application stumbles is with new titles and other in-print books. Selected Best Sellers and other titles are offered from several retail partners, including Fictionwise and BooksOnBoard.

A library of self-published authors is also available through SmashWords.

However, Stanza’s combined content does not even begin to approach Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

If Stanza can add more inventory, as well as integrate a totally smooth purchasing experience like it has done with the public domain titles, it will have a true winner.


Al Kalman is president of AlKal Media Group, Washington. Reach him at

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