Stanza stands out from alternative iPad ereaders

Today I will explore four ereader apps trying to horn in on the ereader market:

  • Stanza
  • Bookshelf
  • Kobo HD
  • ReadMe
  • Reader Lite

Of the five, only Bookshelf and Stanza look like they genuinely offer competition by focusing on a market you won’t find available from the Big Three (or, more realistically, Big Two/Little One). Stanza seems the better choice, however, and it’s the only one I intend to keep.

In addition, I discuss new variations on the NIV Teen Bible series, broaden that discussion to include entirely new translations and touch briefly on the consequences of delegating your responsibilities to someone else.

Update July 14
Stanza will accept your account information through the Fictionwise store and download all of the books on your bookshelf. If you have the iPhone version of eReader on your iPad, this might not work. But why would you want it anyway?

Honorable mention, which only counts in those competitions where everyone wins anyway

After my withering expose of Barnes & Noble and the NIV Bibles for teens I’m still unable to decide who’s the real bad guy. Carol reported another concern after she finished proofreading the blog. Why do teenage boys and girls get their own Bibles when nobody else does?

Did Jesus really say there should be one BIble for kids and the rest of us are stuck with the old one? Even if he did, he’s two thousand years older now. His days as a thirty three year old hanging around with drunks, hookers and IRS agents are well in the past. Wouldn’t he want a more mature BIble?

I’m thinking, how about NIV AARP: The Bible for Seniors? Here’s the book description: “You’ve got Medicare and your retirement. You get your dinners and movies cheaper than anyone else. You get to spoil the grandchildren while your own kids have to deal with the sugar rush. What do you have left to look forward to?”

Or NIV on the Time Clock: The Bible for Working People? The description could read: “Forty hours a week then Miller Time. No promotion in sight and now they’re cutting your retirement benefits. This life may suck but there’s always the next one.”

I’m even thinking that with all those translations there really should be translations people want to read. Instead of the NIV, ASV and KJB how about the SBC Bible for conservative Baptists. Their translation of John 3:16 could be, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son so that whosever believeth in him and gets baptized and goes to revival and memorizes the Roman Road and doesn’t dance, drink or smoke (in public) but attends a megachurch with Starbucks coffee and doesn’t like liberals, secular humanists, unrepentant homosexuals or abortionists, and tithes, most especially tithes, shall not die but have life everlasting.”

Or the UUC Bible for unitarian/universalists? “For the higher power of our understanding was so invested in the world that he gave to us one particular minister among many so that whosoever acknowledges the principles of justice, compassion and the possibility of a higher power shall perish, but perish in the comfort that they were truly enlightened and didn’t throw their lives away pursuing idle superstition.”

There could even be a GOP Bible. “For God so loved the free market that he sent to us his only begotten CEO, so that whosever invested wisely and made a sizable profit could outsource every employee to Bangalore and enjoy everlasting tax shelters.”

As far as I know, there’s no three initials for the democrats so we’ll call theirs the Obama Bible, “For God so loved the world that he sent a hero from Hawaii so that whosever believeth in him shall have free health care unless there’s a Filibuster in the Senate.”

Finally, the BIble for secular humanists, or SHB Version: “May the force be with you.” This Bible could have Jesus and Princess Leia on the cover and would be very popular at conventions where alienated teens and fifty-year-olds in wizard costumes scramble for autographs.

Jenny Manytoes has settled down since I ran the Cat Piano blog yesterday. I think she’s happy that I caved in because she was getting a little jealous of the attention I had to give Teddy when he took her place as reviewer. Never mind that it was her idea. I haven’t been able to explain that concept to her any more successfully than I’ve been able to explain it to Carol.

Teddy gets his tummy scratched more because she demanded he get closer to my fingers while she had a hissy fit. There’s only one cat to blame in this situation. Of course, Jenny’s attention suddenly wandered to the food dish while I was typing this paragraph. As soon as I focus on the books, she’ll at least pay attention again.

Like mother, like foster.

Anyway she’s back on my shoulder, pretending to watch me explore five ereaders that have been released to snatch up the few crumbs left by Kindle, BN Reader and infant brother iBooks. Four have popped up that I’ve been able to find. There may be more out there but the App store only searches by app title or extremely broad categories.1

Reader Lite

Let’s start with the name appropriate Reader Lite, which seems to be the weakest (and perhaps most pointless) of the ereaders. Reader Lite is almost exclusively web-based. You log into the web and sync your books with your web account. You are limited to four books in your library with Reader Lite, but the full Reader account seems to still be online based. If your wireless is down you won’t be able to look at your library.

Nor do you buy books, you borrow them. I went ahead and accepted the full Reader upgrade and ordered six books on line. I was allowed to download six books to my solid state iPad drive, which was only two more than I was allowed in Reader Lite.

Here’s the catch, even with six titles allowed to me, Reader downloaded multiple copies of the same two books.

Reader allowed me to “borrow” six books but only two titles

When I tried to order more books, I discovered that this free book reader wasn’t so free. I had to pay a nine dollar a month library fee.

The $9 monthly fee might seem reasonable
until you realize you’re downloading free books

Admittedly, sooner or later you have to pay for ebooks on most readers. But you shouldn’t have to pay a rental fee for books in the public domain.

My final concern is that Reader doesn’t even work that well. The type looks a little better than plain text, but that’s about it. And one of the two books I downloaded completely lopped off the first chapter and more. I finally managed to download a third title and it truncated the book as well.

This is the first page of one of the two books I downloaded.
It is not, however, the first page of the book.

Reader Lite may be the first ereader reviewed, but it’s last on my list. If we were using a Major League Baseball metaphor to discuss ereaders (and now that it occurs to me, I will) Reader Light wouldn’t be able to compete in the bush leagues.

Navigation is simple; you drag up or down to scroll through the text. That’s it. You can set bookmarks, but as best I can tell you can only set one at a time and you have to scroll though the text to find it again because it doesn’t have a feature to search for bookmarks.

I can only think this was a class project for the Vocational School for the Digitally Impaired.

Jenny wants me to hit the delete button, the equivalent of sending it to the digital litter box.


ReadMe fares a little bit better than Reader Light. It allows you to carry your library on disk, but downloading books is a chore. Experienced web surfers will be able to follow fairly quickly, but the task isn’t as simple as the cute little do-as-you read tutorial leads you to believe.

You have to manually load a web site into the in-app browser. You also have the option of using the browser as a web server, which is even more complicated, and the tutorial doesn’t really help with this. This also means that you have to know the URLs of the sites you wish to download from and enter them manually. Then you have to find the book using whichever search tools the site provides.

You have to manually search the web for titles you want
This includes manually entering the URL

Another problem is that many of these sites offer multiple download formats. With ReadMe you should download ePub format (or go with a different reader, which would be my alternative).

Make sure to download in ePub format

The interface requires you to navigate using top, bottom and center of the page instead of left and right to move through pages and top to show menus. This isn’t too hard an adjustment although the vertical navigation may take some getting used to.

ReadMe has a slightly better interface but not much of one.

Jenny would turn her tail up at this app.

Kobo HD

Kobo HD is, without doubt, the slickest of the minor league teams. It looks the most like it’s competitors, which makes it the least likely to fill a niche the Big 3 can’t. The library interface is stunning, perhaps the most beautiful of any reader available, including the Big 3. In this case, however, the beauty is window dressing. The app, while functional, lacks many of the reading and navigation tools readers can find in the majors. Of the five review apps I would say Kobo looks like it should lead Triple A clubs, but in head-to-head competition, they would lose to the smaller clubs with the dingier uniforms.

The one unique feature I could see is a window for books you’re currently reading. The BN Reader and iBooks have settled for a book mark sign on the book cover. The books being read window seems like a great idea, but once you get tired of having to go to a separate window to remember what books you read, having books show bookmarks in your main library (as BN Reader and iBooks do) may prove to be more convenient.

Kobo HD has a window for books you’re currently reading

The library itself is quite attractive. This may have more to do with the color choice of the free books, but it feels elegant.

The Kobo HD library

The reading features are far more limited than the major league players. You can access bookmarks and table of contents, and change the page and display options. But that’s about it.

Kobo HD has a functional reading interface

Bookshelf and Stanza

Of the five apps reviewed, Bookshelf and Stanza have the best chance of finding a niche the Big 3 can’t fill. Bookshelf is every bit as functional as Stanza but it isn’t as pretty, and doesn’t access quite as many book distributors. Either would serve you well, but since both are free, Stanza would probably be the better option.

Finding books is essentially the same on both. You choose your distributor (and both offer quite a few) and follow their catalogue or type a search phrase to find something specific fast. The distributors tend to be smaller providers, sort of like your neighborhood bookstore. But Stanza also links to some of the bigger stores, such as Fictionwise and O’Reilly. I find this particularly useful because I have a number of O’Reilly reference titles and now I can refer to them on the iPad when developing a Flash or iPad project on my laptop.

Reading options are essentially the same, although Stanza scrolls horizontally and Bookshelf scrolls vertically. Bookshelf also offers an automatic scrolling feature so that you can read as the page scrolls for you. You can also control the scrolling speed. This feature could come in handy if you’re disabled, or if you’re dirt lazy and don’t want to make the effort to turn pages.

Both have full search features and both allow you to copy text from public domain books. Stanza’s approach is slightly more difficult because you can’t copy text to the clip board but you can select it from the note window and email it to yourself. What Stanza does offer is full annotation capabilities.

Bookshelf’s navigation tools

Stanza’s navigation tools

Stanza’s interface is more elegant and fully implemented, which shows up most obviously in the settings and library. Bookmark takes you away from the page to a full screen with a complete set of font and book settings. Stanza offers a tabbed popup window very similar to dialogues on desktop apps.

Bookshelf’s separate settings window

Stanza’s integrated settings dialogue

The libraries provide an even more stark contrast. Bookshelf’s library is very basic; little more than windows with nested folders. Stanza’s library looks close to (but not quite as good as) the libraries in the apps with more cosmetic interfaces.

Bookshelf’s limited nested folders library

Stanza’s better designed library

I used Stanza’s iPhone app, but the books themselves seemed a little clunky. There’s nothing clunky about the iPad implementation. It’s robust, fully functional and the only app that will stay on my iPad once this blog is posted.

Jenny rates ereader alternatives

Jenny isn’t all that thrilled with any of the reading apps but she will nap for Bookshelf and Stanza. That being said, I would recommend you carry Stanza on your iPad because it will give you access to a number of books you can’t find through the Big 3’s distribution networks.

The rest are going in my iPad’s litter box as soon as this blog is posted, although their fate won’t be nearly as disgusting as the fate they would meet in Jenny’s box.

1 I overlooked PDF readers because they address a different kind of document altogether. Ereaders, as a rule, open ePub documents and text files, which gets us into technical talk I try to avoid in this blog if only because the people who speak techtalk already know more about the apps than I can cover without boring readers, and myself, to tears.back

The Jenny Manytoes Rating System

Jenny Manytoes, our polydactyl cat
  • When Jenny makes biscuits on a product she thinks she’s in heaven.
  • When Jenny purrs over a product she’s very happy.
  • When Jenny naps next to a product it’s okay with her.
  • When Jenny bunches her tail she can live with a product, but she has higher expectations.
  • When Jenny leaves it in the litter box….I don’t think I need to explain this one.

iPad Envy is created entirely using apps from my iPad

iPad Envy.


About Phillip T Stephens

Phillip T. Stephens disappeared into the Bermuda Triangle twenty years before he was born, creating a time travel paradox so confusing it remains unspoken between physicists and sci-fi writers to this day. Follow @stephens_pt
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One Response to Stanza stands out from alternative iPad ereaders

  1. Pingback: Borders eReader: Slow but steady loses the ereader race | iPad Envy

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