The e-Reader App Showdown
Joelle Alcaidinho
Aug 13, 2010

Last week we took a look at four of the big e-Reader app contenders, Amazon, Borders, B&N, and iBooks and reviewed how they handle purchasing content. Today, we'll take a look at how the reading experience differs in these apps. Since the price points are so similar, at times only differing by less than a dollar, it can be difficult to choose which app to use for your reading needs. By pointing out some of the pros and cons of each of these apps, we hope to make the decision for which e-Reader you should use just that much easier.

In preparation of this review we read at least one book using each app. Although the apps are similar in many ways, there also some key points of difference, like the ability to lend a book or share between multiple devices you own.

One of the first things we noticed is that not all the apps treat the horizontal/landscape orientation the same. While it seemed common sense to us that landscape would mean two page view, this is not the case in all the apps. Thanks to recent updates, only two apps do not have the two page view when holding the iPad in landscape, Kindle and Borders. Instead of providing a view of two pages, it simply stretches the text out to accommodate the increased width. To be perfectly blunt, we find this a waste of space.

One of our favorite things about e-Readers is the ability with one touch to look up a word without leaving the device. Sadly, not all of the e-Reading apps support this. and those that do all work a little differently. iBooks has high marks for the quick definition tap. We love the style of the breakdown and find it very easy to use and unobtrusive. B&N and Kindle will also provide quick definitions with a tap, but for a more complete definition and or info from Wikipedia or Google, you will be pushed to Safari from the app. Borders at this time does not offer definitions in their app.

Another feature that the apps have in common, save for Borders, is the full page view. For these apps, the top and bottom menus disappear with a tap, allowing for a cleaner, more book-like view. We prefer this view when not needing to access the menus and were more than a bit annoyed when tapping only caused us to go to the next page on the Borders app.

Most of our reading occurs on our commute, and one of the things we realized rather quickly is how easy it is for our place to be lost if we are without internet access. The app that is the worst about this is Borders. B&N, Kindle, and iBooks, will all be within a few pages if not spot on where you last read the book if you are without internet access, but Borders is often off by chapters. The only workaround we found for this was leaving a "Bookmark" in Borders. All of the apps have the ability to save certain locations in a book, but Borders was the only one in which we needed to use this feature in order to reliably save where we were in between reading sessions. The ability to save locations comes in handy in all of the apps when dealing with footnotes. We found saving the location was the easiest way to navigate back to where we were after reading a footnote, this is especially true in the Kindle app.

Since we use our iPhone to access e-Reader content as well as our Kindle, we were curious how each of their iPhone app versions performed when it came to saving your place across devices. For the Kindle app selecting and syncing which content to send to each device is required. For iBooks, it takes a click to Store, then Purchases, to access content already purchased on the iPad, and then a click on Redownload to acquire the content on the iPhone. iBooks has high marks for picking up where we left off on our iPad on our iPhone.

Two of the other features that are unique to their respective apps are the ability to lend a book to a friend and Popular Highlights. B&N has Lend Me, which is currently in beta which allows certain titles to be lent to a friend for 14 days. During that rental period you will not have access to the book. We think this is a great concept and which all of the apps had this and it was available for all eBook titles.

The other feature that is pretty unique is Popular Highlights. Popular Highlights, which is unique to Kindle, is turned on by default and shows you were other readers have highlighted in the book. While we think this might come in handy for textbooks, it is a really easy way to spoil a mystery. Since our Summer reading contained more than a few mysteries, this feature was quickly disabled.

All in all, we think the pretty solid winners are iBooks and Kindle, despite not having the ability to lend books (we think this feature should be on all e-Readers). Overall we think the reading experience on iBooks is better, but Kindle has a slight edge purchasing wise with how many more titles are available. B&N and Borders have some nice features, but neither are near as polished as iBooks and Kindle. We hope that the ability to make in app purchases, two page viewing when in landscape, and seamless syncing will be added soon to the Kindle app. With these three features the Kindle app would almost match iBooks in terms of features and would be a real front runner thanks to the large amount of titles in their store.

What is your favorite e-Reading app?

(Image: Flickr user Robert Gaal under license from Creative Commons.)

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