Kindle App v. Stanza: Round 1!

I’ve been reading ebooks with Stanza on my iPhone since early January. I had never honestly entertained the idea of reading ebooks, until I hit a huge reading phase and realized that as I’ve gotten older, it’s gotten harder to hang on to hefty hardbacks. After a while, it makes my hands hurt to hang onto a paperback in such a way that I don’t crack the spine, which, as all good readers know, eventually causes the pages of the book to fall out.

For eons, Stanza has been the de facto standard for e book reading on the iPhone, and I was very happy with how it worked. Text colors and font sizes were completely customizable to make reading easier on the eyes. Tapping to either side of the screen advanced pages forward or backwards. Accessing the menu was done through a simple tap in the center of the screen. There was also the advantage of having direct download access to the entire width and breadth of the Gutenberg project without having to sign into an account. Stanza is just incredibly intuitive to iPhone users. It works like an iPhone user expects an iPhone app to work. So pitting yourself up against something that just plain works is a pretty brave thing to do.

Stanza does have a few problems though. First of all, it’s on an iPhone. I love my iPhone, but for long term reading, staring at the iPhone screen causes me eye strain, like all back lit LCDs. To unintentionally prove my point, I once pulled an all-nighter with Stanza on my iPhone and I felt like I had a hangover the next day. Part of the problem, I’m sure, is that I read very fast. I’ve never been “clocked” but I can finish your average Jim Butcher novel in about four to six hours, depending on how often I get distracted from the story. I needed something better and e-book reading was awfully appealing for a lot of reasons, not the least of which being that I am rapidly running out of room to store all of my books.

So, as a result, I have been considering getting an E-reader. There are really only two to choose from on the market. The Kindle, and the Sony Reader. Both devices work about the same on the Mac. Both register as USB mass storage devices. The Kindle is easier to use with drag and drop methodology, but the Sony reader is easier to use with this third party software, called Calibre. The Kindle has the advantage of having access to the Amazon.com Kindle Library and the fact that it’s over twice the size of Sony’s e-book library. However, the Sony PRS-700 reader has a touch screen that is really simple to use, and very intuitive. Also, the usability of the device is much less clumsy than navigating around on a Kindle, and the screen is illuminated, which is a huge bonus to those of us who like to read in bed after the spouse has passed out.

Add all of those bonuses to the fact that I am a Sony fangirl, and that by the time I got done buying all the accessories I would need to make a Kindle work for me the way I needed it to… and the Sony PRS-700 and the Kindle suddenly become the same price for the same device. So it has been a complete toss up on which e-book reader to purchase.

And then… I downloaded this.

The Kindle App for the iPhone is what it says it is. It’s a Kindle, on your iPhone. Background colors are not customizable, but text size is, so you can read at a text size that’s most comfortable for you. The background color used for reading is a similar flat gray to that of the E-Ink screen on the Kindle, but it is slightly higher in contrast, so those prone to eye strain won’t find any relief from that here.

Supposedly, and I have not been able to try this feature yet, it will sync to your Kindle. So if you’ve been reading a book on your Kindle and then pick up the same book on your iPhone, the Kindle app will return to where you left off reading on the other device. Very swanky. This little gadget alone is worth me trying out the Kindle app and puts the Kindle that much higher on my list as a device I might want to own. Keep the big, bulky, two-handed device at home, and never forget your book because it’s right there, on your iPhone. I see the advantages of this as being enormously positive, primarily because I often forget to take a book when I really need one and I absolutely never leave my iPhone at home.

I only ran into one problem with the Kindle app, and unfortunately, it’s a very big one because it is the first experience I had with the app on the whole. The app doesn’t come with a book or any sample reading material right out of the gate, so the first thing that you have to do with the app is, of course, download a book. I was really looking forward to this. I wondered what Amazon.com had done to make this so cool as to be worthy of not only the Kindle name, but an iPhone app, so I clicked on the button that says “Get Books”.

I assumed this button would take me to either an iPhone friendly version of the Kindle store in Safari, or would open another tab within the App that would give me access to the Kindle store directly via the App. I was hoping for the latter, since I had to give the app my Amazon.com account information to begin using it.

Unfortunately, clicking the button achieved neither of these things. Instead I was sent to a page which politely warned me that I would get the best experience by using my computer. Good to know, but I decided to soldier on with attempting to get a book through the iPhone and determined this to be a mistake. kindleapp1{.tt-flickr.tt-flickr-Medium}

There is a reason that Amazon.com launched its mobile-friendly site.

It’s because navigating their normal site is great on a computer and really, really stinks on a mobile browser such as Safari. There is a lot of zooming and sliding and scrolling to find what you want because the text is just too small to read without a lot of zooming, sliding and scrolling. I guess Amazon.com forgot about this really good, really common sense reason when they hard linked to a non-mobile version of the Kindle store on their “How to get books” page in the Kindle app.

This is where Stanza kicks the Kindle App in the can. You can download free books instantly on your iPhone through Stanza, without having to sign into an account or ever having to open Safari. You do not need a credit card number to download free books from the Gutenberg Project, or from any of Random House’s free offerings that they occasionally throw out there for the Internet to see. Nor do you have to sign up for an account with anyone to access the free books. They’re just there, ready and waiting for you to snag them.

Now, of course, if you want to buy something, you have to sign into a secure server and go through all the misery that I went through on Amazon.com to buy a free book, but the free books are easy and painless to access with Stanza, not something I can say for the Kindle App.

I suspect that Amazon is hoping that iPhone users will open up their Amazon.com app, buy their Kindle books right there and then open the Kindle app to get the books via Whispersync. I have to admit, even doing this much is much easier than actually paying for books with the various E-book vendors from an iPhone, but as someone who uses Mac software every day though, I have to ask Amazon why on Earth they felt the need to make it that complicated? Why not have the Kindle store attached directly to the Kindle App? How hard can it really be to hook the Kindle App into their searchable database of 240,000 books?

I hope this is an improvement that Amazon.com will make to the app over the next few weeks. However, for my purposes in this review, if they had merely included a free book with the app so I could see how the reader worked and weather or not I liked it from the get-go, I would have been a bit happier with the download. As it is, following the links through the Kindle App to get a book were so frustrating that I almost forgot to play with the reader which is the purpose behind having a Kindle app in the first place.

The reader itself is nothing earth shattering, but what it is, is really great to use. Flicking to the left or right turns the page with ease. Adjusting font sizes is easier in the Kindle app than with Stanza, which requires you to perform some interesting tricks just to find the place where its settings hide.

My only real wish for the Kindle app is an easier way to buy Kindle books. I was really hoping this app would give me that, but at least it does give me the ability to read them without being forced to spend 360$ on a Kindle, and if I do decide to go with a Kindle, which is looking more and more likely by the day, I will also have some really great integration with my iPhone, which is just another bonus.