Android notes #3: ebooks

So I wrote about my concerns with ebooks just a couple of weeks ago, and I’ve written about my use of the library before as well. But of course since I have something that works as an ebook reader, I figured I should give it a spin. In fact, I gave it four spins….

(I should start by saying that I only have a tiny bit of experience in each app. I may have a somewhat different take in a few months.)

Aldiko – this reader came up well recommended in several different places. The "bookshelf" interface is pretty, if a little corny. The reading "page" is pleasant, not too wide a margin; I found a font-size and typeface that’s comfortable for reading. (I started reading The Memoirs of Barry Lyndon, after watching the movie.) There’s nice quick access to public domain books. (Oh, hey: I just now found a list of Creative Commons Science-Fiction & Fantasy. That’s handy.) Supposedly I can get to ebooks I’ve bought from O’Reilly — I have two — but I haven’t been able to actually get them into Aldiko. I can see why people like it.

I’ve yet to try moving any ebooks from my computer to my phone, BTW.

I’d tried Google Books on my computer, and was disappointed to find that most of their public domain books are more properly scans of books, which looks even worse on the tiny phone screen. (Again, my first attempt was Barry Lyndon.) For books that are actual ebooks (for example: Great Expectations), the reading experience is very similar to Aldiko; I think I even prefer its settings. By contrast, it’s harder to find free books.

Of course there’s the Kindle app. Interestingly enough, the Kindle Store has a nice prominent link to free books, although without the ease of browsing of Aldiko. I was able to find Barry Lyndon by searching, though they only showed a version selling for $0.95. I started reading Pride & Prejudice, which was preloaded…as it was in Google Books. Strange, that. I also downloaded Little Women; to my amusement, I got an email receipt for my purchase of $0.00.

Then…Overdrive. It is basically the only way to get ebooks from the library. (There’s also something called "NetLibrary", but I swear all they have are resume guides.) I did a bunch of browsing on my computer; it seemed like it would have been tedious on the phone, it was certainly tedious enough even with a big screen. I have high expectations of my library; I don’t love their online catalog, but I can usually find what I want and easily put a hold on it. With Overdrive, not so much.

First of all, it was actually fairly tricky to find from the main library catalog site — basically, I made a wild guess that it would be in the regular site navigation instead of the catalog’s navigation, and I guessed right. (The NetLibrary reference on that page, by the way: no link. You have to go to "Download Collection" from there.) The categories were really rough (five categories for all of nonfiction!) and I completely missed where the search bar was until just now. The selection is lousy. Most of what they do have doesn’t even seem to be available for checkout. Place hold? Really? On an ebook? (For example: the library has ONE copy of Food Rules, and there are 6 of us with it on hold. In the physical world, they own 12 copies, and there are nine people with it on hold.) To my amusement, they aren’t even able to use the data that the library already has to notify me if a hold becomes available; they ask for my email address again.

Then there’s actually getting the book. Thankfully, I’ve set the browser to remember my card number & pin, because there’s plenty of other clicks to get there! And the first book, for some damn reason, just would not show up in my home screen until I’d gone through all the steps three or four times. After that, it’s been ok, if tedious. I wish there were two options: "Find books" that takes me to the list of libraries, the library’s Overdrive site, and then off to browse, and then separately "Get checkout" (or something) that just takes me directly to my eBookshelf. (I can’t figure out how to get to my wishlist at all on the phone.)

Then there’s reading…which is actually pretty nice. I checked out Half the Sky, which I’d been meaning to read for a while, and which is a fascinating book. The margins are a bit big, although I think that might be that particular book, justified blockquotes are a pain to read, and the footnote links didn’t work at all. But those are relatively minor frustrations; overall it’s just as nice to read in as any of the others.

Really, my frustration is the same across all the readers: I can’t read the books that I’ve been reading most often without shelling out a bunch of money. I can go back to the classics, and I’ll be able to read some Creative Commons fiction, but the mainstays of my reading habits over the last few years are just not available the way I want them. And that makes me sad…crabby, too…because it could be SO cool to get all that from the library on my phone. I’d probably end up getting more books back on time, too!

I’ll keep trying things, for sure, and as I get more experience I’ll probably write about it again.