REVIEW: The iPod Touch as an ebook reader

Image borrowed from the Stanza website.
Image borrowed from the Stanza website.

I was given an iPod Touch (UPDATE: this is the newest model; it works the same as the old one except now it’s got a camera!) for Christmas and immediately wanted to see if I could read ebooks on it. I had tried reading ebooks before on my iPod Classic, my cell phone, and my Nintendo DS, and the attempts had all failed miserably. I has high hopes for the Touch, mostly because its screen was so large compared to the other devices I tried using. For the actual ebook reading I tried out two reader applications, plus one pre-packaged ebook collection. Everything was free, including the ebooks themselves.

Hardware

An iPod Touch screen is 2″x3″, which is quite small when compared to dedicated ebook readers, but still quite large when compared to, say, an iPod Classic. I was very comfortable reading my test ebook, The Secret Adversary, and in fact I sped through it quite rapidly once I got the hang of reading on a screen.

The default screen brightness is very bright indeed, and I found that I read more comfortably when it was set at only a third of the default.

The battery life is quite good, though, er, I didn’t think to see how long it lasted just reading ebooks– I kept checking my email and playing Pachinko as well as reading. At about half-brightness it should last about 5-7 hours, maybe.

The small size of the Touch, plus its lightness in weight, made it very handy for me to carry around and continue reading again wherever and whenever I wished. I had no problem reading in full sunlight as the screen is backlight and it’s visible in practically all types of light. Recharging the battery goes by rather quickly as well, which is handy.

Book Apps

I first tried an application called Stanza, which I had heard about when it first came out several months ago. It can handle many different ebook formats including .txt, .rtf, HTML, PDF, .lit and the typical ebook reader formats such as Amazon Kindle, MobiPocket, etc. It cannot handle files with DRM except for eReader files.

I tried .txt, .lit, HTML and PDF, and got decent results. Some of the .txt and PDF files didn’t look good straight off the bat and I had to fiddle with the formatting a bit, but typically the .lit and HTML files were better.

It’s super easy to download ebooks within the iPod Touch, but a bit more finicky to transfer ebooks from the desktop to the Touch. You have to first download the desktop version of Stanza, then open every file you want to transfer, then go back to the Touch and download the books onto it. Took WAY too long, and got really tedious.

Image borrowed from the eReader website.
Image borrowed from the eReader website.

The second reader app I tried was eReader. It works in conjunction with eReader and FictionWise accounts, though it’s not required to have an account with either. It can handle .pdb and PalmDOC file formats, but nothing else. It should be able to handle DRM’d versions of those files formats, as well. All the .pdb and PalmDOC files I tried were all formatted correctly and nicely, so I didn’t have to fiddle with anything.

Transferring files from a computer to the Touch is a little to set up, depending on the method used, but once set up it was quite easy to do. (Directions for Mac users.) I did have to convert files to the appropriate format, however, abut that didn’t take as much time as I thought it would.

Both Stanza and eReader have options to change the formatting of ebooks, including font size, font type, and background color. They both have an option to lock the screen orientation, which is handy when you want to read in bed but don’t want the text to flip willy-nilly. They also have options for placing bookmarks, and eReader can handle notes and highlighting as well. The only advantage that Stanza has over eReader at the moment, besides the ability to handle much more types of file formats, is that ebook metadata– author, title, etc.– can be edited and corrected. In eReader, you’re pretty much stuck with whatever info the file came with unless you know how to edit that yourself. This means that my Stanza library is neat and tidy, and my eReader library has to be sorted by title because the author metadata is missing from more than half of the files and thus are all sorted under “#”. Super annoying.

The final free app I tried was an ebook collection of the Arsene Lupin books. I’m afraid I gave it up pretty quickly, though, as the default formatting was fugly and super annoying to read. I suppose it might be handy if you didn’t want to have to download the texts individually, but I’d rather have something that I can actually stand to look at, thanks.

Update: There is now an Amazon Kindle app which is awesome, although it has less options for adjusting text sizes/colors/etc than Stanza does. I still prefer Stanza for my book reading app, but the Amazon one is nice if you have a lot of books you’ve bought.

Another update: Haven’t tried out the iBooks app in detail yet, but it seems to be basically like the Amazon app? Except you buy books from Apple, not Amazon. It’s got a nice bookshelf display thing that’s cool, but, again– I still prefer Stanza the most.

Conclusion

Overall, I’d say that the iPod Touch was a decent ebook reader. It’s a little more affordable than some of the dedicated ebook readers (update: Not true now since the newest Kindle is only $69), I didn’t have any problem reading a full-length book on it, and the number of ebook and book-related apps (both free and not) available on it are, I think, all that a book-lover could want. Now, if only LibraryThing would put an iPod Touch/iPhone app out for us LT addicts…

8 thoughts on “REVIEW: The iPod Touch as an ebook reader”

  1. Good review. I was at London Drugs today and they had an iPod Touch that was actually charged and hooked up to their in store Internet connection. Got a good feel for it (I so miss my Palm!). Now you have me wondering if I can rescue my ebooks from my Palm.

    Really, really, really want one!

    Tess Gerritsen released The Surgeon from her backlist as a DRM-free PDF if you want to put that on your iPod. The link is on her blog. Don’t know if that’s your sort of read or not. I have free ebooks on Monday *cough* in case you’re interested. 🙂

  2. Ann: It’s probably very likely you can get your ebooks back again, though if they had DRM on them it might be a bit sticky.

    If you ever wanna talk Touch specifics regarding storage or anything else, just lemme know.

    And, lol, I know about your ebook Mondays! I’m a big fan of them, actually. 😀 But thank you for the link; I don’t think I’ve ever read a medical mystery/murder.

  3. Heh, I hardly ever get comments on the Monday posts so it’s hard to tell if anyone is reading. 🙂

    I have a birthday coming up next month and if no one buys me the iPod Touch I might just buy it for myself. May have some more questions for you then.

  4. Anastasia, I was pondering getting an itouch to also read ebooks and i was wondering if it was possible to backup the books off of the device onto my pc. or are they stuck on the touch?

    Thanks,
    Paul

    1. Not individually, no. Not unless you’ve got a copy on your computer already or if the ebook provider lets you download another copy of your book to more than one location (like Fictionwise).

      So, if you download books directly through an app (like with Amazon or some Stanza bookstores) they’re stuck on your iPod. However, you can make a backup of your entire iPod, which is handy if your iPod ever dies or if you get a new one (like I had to). It’s basically a copy of everything on your iPod, including apps and things downloaded with those apps (i.e. ebooks).

      I hope that makes sense! Basically, you can’t transfer files OFF your iPod Touch, but you can transfer files onto it and make backups of the entire thing.

  5. If you get the chance try bookshelf I have found that it works really well and also has its own server you can install on you desktop to upload books onto your itouch. There is a free version or there was but it was crippled at 10 books, after trying it I paid the 9.99 for the full version and now tote around 2500 books around with it. The two things I really like about bookshelf is the fact that I can lock the orientation and that you can drag down like in safari vs stanza doing that page flip thing it does

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