A few days ago I finished rereading the Black Magician Trilogy and the first two books of the Traitor Spy Trilogy. For newcomers to this blog, the story so far is this: I decided to reread all of the books in the Kyralia world a) to get all the details fresh in my mind before finish writing the third book of the Traitor Spy Trilogy, b) to check for any continuity errors, and c) so I could see what the ebook versions were like.
This post covers what I learned about the ebooks and the apps I read them on. I don’t have an ebook reader because I like reading books on my iPhone. I already had the iBooks app, but I also wanted to test other ebook formats so I downloaded the Kobo and Kindle apps.
Buying the books through running the apps on the phone was very easy. All were free. However, while I can transfer the books I bought via iBooks to my desktop computer via iTunes, I haven’t worked out yet how to do that with the Kobo and Kindle ones – or if it’s possible at all. I’d like to, as a backup. Perhaps I should have bought the books using the desktop computer, then transferred them to the iPhone.
(Though it may be a moot point if this article is correct. But I also recall reading something about how Apple weren’t going to allow or approve the Kindle app, or some such thing, yet there it is. Such are the ways of the internet.)
I started with the Black Magician Trilogy in the Kobo app. Investigating the settings, I discovered I could set it to scroll rather than turn pages. I found I preferred this, not the least because the Kobo app’s page turning was really slow. It also gets around the problem of the small screen showing so little text that you’re constantly distracted by turning pages. (Though I found that the page turning quickly became automatic on the other apps so I didn’t notice myself doing it any more.) Unfortunately, the other apps didn’t have the scroll option.
All of the apps allowed me to change the text size. I found that if paragraphs were formatted to flush left with a space between (like in this blog post) I needed the text to be larger. If they were formatted with indented paragraphs (like in a novel) I could drop the text down a size and still read comfortably. I tried reading in both formats and found I preferred good old fashioned indented paragraphs. Only the Kobo app has the flush left paragraphs option.
Of the three apps, I found that changing settings and navigation was least intuitive on the Kindle, especially if you wanted to go to a different chapter. The iBooks app is the nicest looking, especially how when the settings/menu buttons come up they don’t obscure the text.
Only the Kindle had an annotation feature, but it was useless. It must be designed for use on the Kindle reader, as I found that once I’d made a note, I couldn’t select the teeny tiny little box icon that allowed you to read your note again.
The ability to annotate would have been very useful. I made notes in physical copies of the books, and in Notepad. But I imagine most fiction readers wouldn’t need the feature – or want it, as having to stop to make notes broke the flow of the story.
One annoyance while reading with the Kobo and iBook apps was that occasionally my swipe or tap of the screen would select a block of text. But I couldn’t make it happen if I wanted to, or do anything with the selection, like copy or highlight. Eventually I realised this was a bug with the phone. In the Kindle app it didn’t happen (because the same actions activated the annotation feature), for the iBooks app it was a minor annoyance, but in the Kobo app it would freeze up the screen for several seconds.
As for the ebooks themselves, the Black Magician Trilogy had the most and worst formatting errors. By far the most disruptive error was the absence of scene breaks, which made the transition from one character point of view to another confusing and disorienting. The publisher of those editions has let me know I can report errors to them. First I need to do a little investigation to see if the problem exists in other formats, too.
Otherwise, it looks as if most problems occurred where a page break or the hyphenation of a word wasn’t translated correctly during ebook conversion. It also seems as though corrections made to reprints of the print books didn’t make it into the ebooks. Fortunately there’s only a smattering of these.
So… which ebook app would I recommend? Thankfully, all of them. They are all good for the basic purpose of reading. They’re all free, too. There are little differences, but I suspect which one you chose will depend more on the range of ebooks available in your territory, and price.
Me? I think I prefer the look and feel of the iBooks app, and the ability to back up to the desktop computer, but the range of books is tiny here in Australia. Next I’d choose Kobo, as I like the scrolling option. Kindle came in last because I found the interface unintuitive and the one feature that might have had me forgive that, the annotation feature, is next to useless.
(Also, I’ve decided that I will only buy an ebook if I’m going to read it straightaway. I’m cynical about the likeliness of me ‘losing’ digital books. Also, as with all online shopping, it is much too easy to buy more than you can use. Price doesn’t bother me. I’d rather buy one $20 ebook that I will actually read than twenty $1 books I never getting around to reading.)
(Oh, and I decided to leave rereading The Magician’s Apprentice to later this year. It’s a bigger book, less likely to affect the sequel and I really need and want to get stuck into finishing writing The Traitor Queen.)