eBook Readers

by Brad Nelson3/16/14

Unlike the iPad, the Android tablets (I run ICS 4.0.3) do not come with a good built-in book reader. I’ve been using Cool Reader, which was the best add-on reader I could find at the time when I bought the tablet a couple years ago. It is very customizable (a must for me in terms of the typography) and fairly easy to use.

But lately the Cool Reader app has begun to crash frequently. And quite spontaneously it now has trouble reading many of my books correctly as well. Instead of bolding the text, for instance, you would see the html mark-up language.

These tablets are constantly automatically sucking down app updates in the background and I suspect that the several updates I’ve seen for this reader over the past several months have introduced some problems, turning an “upgrade” into a de facto downgrade. This problem is not unknown amongst software of any kind and one of my favorite apps (a file browser for Android) I had to discard recently because of the various “upgrades” that turned it into a steaming hunk of junk.

Cool Reader is a free reader, but even so, these problems were adding up. So I shook off my tech inertia the other day and went looking for a new eBook reader for my Android. (I’ve got an Acer a500.) I Googled some “best of” web postings on the subject and found an eReader mentioned called “Moon+ Reader.”

The feature list looked good so I downloaded the free version and gave it a go. I could immediately tell that this had the fit and finish of a much more elegant product than Cool Reader. And it was reading the books just fine that Cool Reader was having trouble with. And, so far, it hasn’t crashed either.

The typographical features are wonderful and easier to set. Cool Reader has a rather arcane set of dialogue boxes. It’s all there — it’s feature-rich — but the features have the look and feel of a gigantic junk drawer. Moon+ Reader Pro (I have since purchased the Pro version for five dollars) takes you quickly to the most-used features which are well-organized and presented.

The default typeface on this is rather nice. The Pro version comes with a larger selection of backgrounds and some other perks as well (including even more fonts). I never read eBooks in just black-on-white. I always set the background to some light parchment-like texture (with the text, of course, set at solid black). It’s easier on the eyes. Cool Reader has this ability and Moon+ Reader Pro has even more colors and textures to choose from. And the layout of the on-screen menu items is much more elegant than Cool Reader.

But looks aren’t everything. What really sold this product for me was its vastly better ability at marking text. You have the option to do a color highlight, an underline, strike-through, and some other methods as well. And the selecting of the text (which was always a pain with Cool Reader) works well. Plus, you can “long-click” on any word and a menu comes up that gives you quick access to a built-in dictionary (although you do have download the dictionary separately, but within the app). It couldn’t get any easier.

I’ve yet to run into any downsides, although I’ve spent only a few hours using it. There may be (and probably are) many features in Cool Reader that I’ve never used simply because I didn’t know about them or because they are buried in its rather junk-drawer environment. I love the “Chapter” button, for instance, on the main menu (which resides on the bottom of the screen) of the Moon+ Reader which shows all the chapters of a book at a glance and lets you jump right to them.

Besides doing bookmarks and the highlighting of text (text which can also easily be copied to the clipboard as well), you can attach your own “Notes” to highlighted blocks of text…it’s sort of like writing in the margins of the page. And all this is easy to do. And it’s easy to send these blocks of text to yourself (for posting in an internet post, for example). I’m still not sure how you do this, if it can be done at all, in Cool Reader. I imagine it can, but the junk-drawer organization of this reader tends to make me shy away from delving deeper into it. In fact, with Moon+ Reader Pro, I can email someone (provided it is not copy protected) the entire book I’m reading.

This is an extremely well-conceived product. Android is not Apple, and I give Apple full credit for making (and facililtating via their guidelines and example apps) elegant and easy-to-use products. Moon+ (why the “+”?) Reader Pro is one of the few Android apps with this kind of spit and polish. Ninety percent of the features you are likely to use are right at your fingertips. You can dig deeper in the preferences for more obscure settings if you want as well.

And one thing Moon+ Reader (and other Android book readers) excel at is the ability to set the type to the size you want. It’s nut-driving to see these dedicated readers (such as Nook and Kindle) limited to four or five type sizes and that’s it. With Moon+ Reader Pro you can set the type to whatever size you want in one-point increments. And unlike my Kindle, justified type looks great.

Some of the features I haven’t delved into yet. But it does, as first glance, seem to be a pretty good pdf reader as well (one of the features you get with the Pro version). It can handle txt, html, epub, mobi, chm, and many other formats. The web page for the reader says that it can even read DRM-protected books provided that you use the Calibre software (available for Mac and PC) to remove the  protection.

The free version is well worth a look, and then you can go from there. Considering how much time I spend reading, $5.00 for a good reader is a bargain.
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Brad Nelson

About Brad Nelson

I like books, nature, politics, old movies, Ronald Reagan (you get sort of a three-fer with that one), and the founding ideals of this country. We are the Shining City on the Hill — or ought to be. However, our land has been poisoned by Utopian aspirations and feel-good bromides. Both have replaced wisdom and facts.
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20 Responses to eBook Readers

  1. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Speaking of eBook readers, I’ve been talking to a friend offline about the Kindle Paperwhite. The reviews on this are overwhelmingly good (and it’s easy enough to find one in a store to see for yourself).

    For $119.00 you can hardly beat the price. And the main reason I switched from my old non-backlit Kindle (keyboard version) was because of lighting issues. It was a pain in the butt to have to position the reading lights every time I sat down to read which was usually at night. With my Android tablet’s LCD screen, you could read in the dark. And I never found eyestrain a problem with either eBook reader.

    The advantage of the Kindle Paperwhite would be just the sheer lighter weight of it…and the portability. I would take this biking or hiking but the Android 10.1″ tablet is much too heavy for that. My only question is whether or not you can still load outside material on it (such as books you’ve downloaded from Gutenberg.org).

    An interesting note I read on Amazon’s site is they say that people with eBook readers read four times as many books as they did before getting an eBook reader. That certainly comports with my habits. For those (Glenn!) who chide me about going electronic when paper was good enough for Thomas Aquinas, all I can say is that (assuming these aren’t all just cheap romance novels) reading more books is a positive result.

  2. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    I saw an article/ad (adicle?) for this site, BookBub. This gist of it is that it will email you notices (or you can browse the site) of free or discounted books. And (hopefully) this is not just all discount-rack junk. Apparently Barnes & Noble and other retailers will offer killer deals from time to time on very well respected books.

    Who knows how much spam will get from signing up to this. But I let the spam filters deal with that and it usually works out well. For this site, what you do is set your preferences regarding the genres that you’re interested in.

    Here’s one book offered for 1.99, for instance, that might interest Mr. Kung: Father Lincoln. He might also enjoy Churchill’s Trial for the same price, assuming he hasn’t already read it. A Man Called Intrepid looks interesting as well.

    I wish there was a preference for “No libtard-themed books or ones centered around the theme of climate hysteria.” But I didn’t see an option for that. But — goodie! — you can search for LGBT books. Alphabetically that category is listed after humor so I guess that makes sense.

    Just FYI.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      I read A Man Called Intrepid decades ago at the recommendation of a friend. It’s a nice book, but one always has to be careful placing too much trust in any book on the intelligence field.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      Thanks for the advice.

      Like Tim, I read “A Man Called Intrepid” many years ago. I think I may still have it in one of my book boxes.

      The other two books look interesting, especially “Churchill’s Trial”. Larry Arnn is not only the head of Hillsdale College, he is probably the greatest living Churchill scholar. He worked with Martin Gilbert on the official Churchill biography, a review of which I wrote for ST last year.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        Merry Christmas. It is on its way.

        • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

          I have received it!

          Many thanks, muchas gracias, merci’,vielen Dank, arigato-gosaimasu,dou je, xie xie, terima kasih. My wife thanks you as well.

          • Timothy Lane says:

            Nice collection of thank yous there, though I certainly didn’t recognize them all. Robert Heinlein has a similar (and even longer) list at one point in his novel Podkayne of Mars.

          • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

            Ich verstehe “Vielen Dank,” aber nicht den Rest. Du bist herzlich willkommen.

            • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

              English, Spanish, French, German, Japanese, Cantonese, Mandarin, Malay.

              Dein schriftliches Deutsch ist nicht schlecht.

            • Timothy Lane says:

              If you know how to do accents in French, you can use the same method for umlauts (auml, ouml, and uuml).

              • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

                Umlauts are a fairly recent and in old German literature they wrote “e” after u, a and o to get the same pronunciation.

              • Timothy Lane says:

                I know about the use of “e” (Shirer used it in The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich after using the umlauts in his Berlin Diary; and its sequel, for example). Long ago, Brad explained how to do such diacritical marks on the computer when they’re not directly available. It involves & followed by the description (such as ouml) followed by a semicolon.

  3. Glenn Fairman says:

    Before he took the job at Hillsdale, he was the director of the Claremont Institute for Statesmanship and Political Philosophy at my graduate Alma Mater. Every year, the Institute has their annual Churchill Dinner where a man or woman is honored for their service to liberty.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      I can appreciate a dedicated scholar such as Arnn (or yourself). And there’s no substitute for eating your spinach. But I wonder if the facts of the Old White Men who substantially built our world can be packaged in such a way to reach the little Snowflakes who are so enamored with skin color (aka “people of color”) and self-flagellation than accomplishments and ideas.

  4. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Yesterday I bought a Kindle White (7th Generation) ebook reader. This is the next-to-the-latest model.

    The newest version of the Kindle Paperwhite goes for $129.99.

    I bought my first Kindle — Kindle Keyboard 3G — in November 2010. It’s still going strong although I haven’t read anything on it in years. My Android (and later iPad) tablet had taken over the task. Some find excessive eyestrain with a backlit screen. I haven’t had the problem. Much.

    Recently I started getting slight headaches….possibly from excessive reading. Possibly just from the after-burner effect of heavy exercise. Whatever the case may be, for a long time I’ve wanted to try the Paperwhite version because of the backlit screen. My original Kindle Keyboard version doesn’t have a backlight. It’s a great book reader for outdoors or if you can get an indoor lamp shining on it just right. But that’s always been its limitation and thus why the backlit LCD tablets were so much more convenient.

    With the backlit Kindle Paperwhite, the idea is you can get the best of both worlds. You can easily read the screen even in bright sunlight or indoors using the gentle backlit screen.

    What prompted me to buy this 7th Generation one (the one just before the latest version) is that I’ve read a lot of negative reviews about the newest Paperwhite, particularly the screens being shiny. Yikes. Sounds as if they’ve ruined the basic premise of the things.

    So I thought I’d see what the 7th Generation Paperwhites were going for now that a newer version had come out. A lot of times you’ll find a clearance price on older models. Instead, I found that they were no longer for sale except for used models. I decided to buy a used model (one listed as “very good” in terms of condition) for $81.37 including shipping (free) and no sales tax. I don’t see any marks on it. It looks as good as new.

    It came this morning via UPS and it’s been on the charger for several hours now. The screen is the same size as my old one. The new one is in a much smaller case, substituting the now-conventional software keyboard (this has a touchscreen) for the hardware keyboard of the old non-touchscreen version. The old one weight 8.2 ounces. The new one is 7.2 ounces.

    With the backlight turned off, I took them both outside into a moderately-bright overcast sky. The background of the older kindle is just slightly grayer, but they look more or less the same. Bring them both inside (with the backlight turned on for the newer Kindle) and the background looks a pleasant white…like you’d expect if you were reading a paperback.

    This newer Kindle also offers more choices (and finer steps) for text size as well as offering a few more fonts. I’ll report back later when I’ve had more experience with it. But it looks like exactly what I wanted.

  5. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    I read for about 45 minutes on my new (old) Kindle 7th Generation Paperwhite and it worked well. I think the default font it is set at is “Bookerly.” I tried others but couldn’t improve on it.

    I set the Kindle to the horizontal layout. That seemed to make more sense for reading and gives you the wider part of the bezel to grip while reading. Strangely, the home screen doesn’t rotate to the horizontal orientation as well.

    My original Kindle (with the hardware keyboard) seems like a solid piece of technology. On the other hand, the Kindle Paperwhite feels and looks cheep and fragile. And, interestingly, in 8 years the operating system has not advance that much. It’s still slow and a bit of a kludge. The touchscreen makes it easier to navigate but it’s still a mess.

    Kindle apps on larger tablets or computers are no piece of cake either. But the speed is better. I think they’re still running these Kindle devices with hamsters and wheels. They are slow. Turning from page to page (either inside a book or on the home screen) is slow and somewhat painful.

    After 8 years, I expected more. But as a portable book reader, it’s hard to beat. Granted, the larger “phablet”-sized phones can now easily double as a book-readers. But the advantage of the Kindle Paperwhite is that you can read in any kind of light. Phones are only good for indoors or low-light situations.

    And although the Kindle Paperwhite has a touchscreen, it should not be confused with a touch-scrolling screen. You can “swipe” on the screen to go forward a page or back a page (on the home screen in the list of books or within a book to turn a page). Or you can swipe up or down within a list of books on the home screen to get to the next page. But there is no smooth scrolling as you would expect on any other touch screen.

    Also, as an overall book reader, the Kindle Paperwhite pales in comparison to a tablet (Apple or Android) or even a phone. Perhaps this is not true on the Fire Tablets, but on the Kindles there’s no way to access your online library. You can physically add books to your Kindle (via plugging it into your computer or emailing an attachment to your Kindle’s special email address) but otherwise you are locked out of other sources.

    However, it does appear that their “experimental browser” works better. I was easily able to use it to surf to Gutenberg.org where I downloaded H. Rider Haggard’s “The People of the Mist.” I used the browser to log onto my local library’s website but this is basically unusable.

    I have since found out that I can go to my local library’s web site and check out Kindle books and then (through a somewhat convoluted process) go to Amazon’s web site where I can “send it to my Kindle.” It works, but my library offers only about 60 books for the Kindle (and only one was available….the rest you would have to put on hold).

    By contrast, using the Libby app on my iPad, there are hundreds of books available from my local library (perhaps thousands).

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