I’ve downloaded oodles of Kindle books. I started scouring for good Kindle books when I became a proud owner of the Kindle 2, and I haven’t stopped. I download two kinds of books for my Kindle: Books I really want to read, and books that Amazon makes available for free or for insanely cheap.
Many of the free books are crap, or in genres of no interest to me (like romance or Christian fiction). But occasionally, free (or heavily-discounted) books introduce me to incredible authors, like Jonathan Tropper. Since it’s so painless to get those cheap books, and so easy to trash them if I can’t get into them, I’ve literally acquired a couple hundred over the past few months.
When my iPad arrived in early April, I relegated the Kindle 2 to a lonely corner of my nightstand, and began reading with the Kindle app on the iPad instead.
So I’ve been less inclined to purchase books at the iBookstore, Apple’s digital bookstore for buying iBooks books. (Book book book book book.) But I’ve been tremendously eager to read a few books with iBooks, to gauge the experience and compare it to the Kindle app.
Sarah Silverman, and more specifically her new memoir The Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption, and Pee, finally afforded me the opportunity to
play read with iBooks. It’s a new book, and cost $9.99 in both bookstores.
I found the book-reading experience within iBooks decent, but not exceptional. Unsurprisingly, I suppose, the app does some things far better than the Kindle app. But it’s missing some obvious features, too.
Let’s start with the good stuff. While page-turning animations are entirely superfluous in an e-reader — and indeed you can simply tap in both iBooks and the Kindle app to turn pages — I enjoyed iBooks’s virtual pages. I like to curl my finger under the next page in a book, and I found myself repeatedly recreating that gesture in iBooks; since the page curls precisely where you “grab” it, the effect is pretty slick. You can also turn back a page from the right side (theoretically the “next page” side), just by swiping to the right, which is a nice touch.
While some find iBooks’s font options too limited, I found reading The Bedwetter in Palatino worked out just fine. The in-app ability to look up words is excellent; the Kindle hardware supports this, but oddly not the Kindle app. Annoyingly, though, if you take advantage of the iBooks feature that lets you look up words/phrases in Wikipedia or Google, the app quits and launches Safari, instead of using a far saner in-app web-view.
But iBooks’s weaknesses, while fewer than its plusses, are really dopey.
The Kindle itself is lousy for nighttime reading. You need a book light, since the device itself has no backlit screen. The iPad’s single biggest reading advantage is the fact that the screen illuminates itself. If you can read on the screen for extended periods of time without eyestrain or fatigue — which I’ve been able to do, to my own surprise — you can toss your book light in the same forgotten corner as your Kindle itself.
The Kindle app lets you toggle between three “modes”: Black-text-on-white, sepia-toned, or white-text-on-black. My daytime reading is sepia; my nighttime reading is white-on-black. The app offers a brightness slider; I drag the brightness way down at night. That way, there’s no bright screen burning my retinas in my dark room before sleep beckons.
iBooks doesn’t do that. The app offers no option to change text colors. It presents merely a brightness slider. Drag it to the darkest setting, and your text remains dark, too.
This makes no sense.
When you want the background dark, you need contrast with the text. It shouldn’t be neon sign bright, but it should stand out against the page in user-configurable ways.
Basically, it should behave exactly like the Kindle app already has for ages.
I’m very familiar with the configurable shortcut to invert the iPhone’s screen with a triple-tap of the Home button, but it doesn’t work well in iBooks. It leaves either the text or the background too bright as you play with the slider.
To make matters worse, iBooks doesn’t remember your brightness settings in between launches, or even if you put the iPad to sleep and wake it up again. If I need to make a quick visit to escort my three-year-old to the bathroom, I put the iPad to sleep. I wake it up, and iBooks blasts my eyes with its brightest white background again.
(For fun, try sliding the brightness slider to the darkest setting, leaving the control open, and then putting your iPad to sleep. When you wake it up, the slider remains at the darkest setting, even though the background is back to bright white.)
These are flaws obvious to any nighttime reader. The good news is, they’re all fixable. The better news is, in spite of its own weaknesses, Kindle gets enough of the core reading necessities right that I can comfortably forego the dictionary and page-turning niceties that iBooks offers. For now.