Desktop eBook Readers Still a Disappointment

Mobile eBook Readers

Stanza on the iPhone

About two years ago I tried Stanza on my iPhone and was pleasantly surprised to find myself devouring tons of classic novels. These days I use Android and read with Aldiko (it is similar to Stanza) for its features and fancy interface and fbReader when I need a clean interface that renders eBooks at lightning speed.

I didn’t expect to enjoy reading on my mobile but the convenience of always having my books with me, the ability to browse eBook catalogues and download whatever catches my fancy and the ability to read at night without annoying my husband (no nightlight or page turning to keep him awake), mean that I am often inspired to read when I otherwise would not have been.

Desktop eBook Readers

Considering the swathes of time I spend staring at my computer, I feel I should be reading my eBooks on it too. I already use BibDesk (Mac software) to organise my pdf technical papers and Skim to read and annotate them. BibDesk is really designed to store and manage bibliographic information (bibtex for those familiar with it, or a little like EndNote for those who use Office/Endnote for their research). That I use it as my technical book library is a bit of a hack but as files can be associated with the bibliographic records and these automatically open in Skim, it works quite well. Not to mention that both Bibdesk and Skim are gorgeous applications to use.

Aldiko on Android

But this approach only really works for my technical papers. What about managing my fiction? Or reading file formats other than pdf, such as epub? I would also like my eBook readers to synchronise across platforms. And is it petty to want to see nice book covers when browsing my book collection?

After trying every desktop eBook reader I could find (except mobipocket as I don’t run windows), I was ready to pull my hair out in frustration. What I really wanted was a desktop version of Aldiko or Stanza that would synchronise across devices, however every desktop eBook reader that I downloaded was nasty, featureless and ugly. Nothing at all like their elegant mobile counterparts. The closest I came to ebook reading joy was Calibre. Calibre is feature full, it allows a basic level of device synchronisation, reads a myriad of formats, allows conversion between formats and has a pleasant book browsing user interface. However, while I appreciate how good Calibre is compared to other desktop offerings, it is still a far cry from eBook reading nirvana. Many of its features are buggy, it is painfully slow, it does strange things to metadata and while the book library interface is nice the actual reading experience on it is terrible.

Where to Next?

Apple has released a good looking reader for the iPad and iPhone, will they make this available to other platforms?  Perhaps as an iTunes plugin? Unlikely, but I am hoping so. There was also much fanfare about Blio Reader in technical blogs such Engadget earlier this year but Blio has never been released to the public. Perhaps the near future will see some of the open source readers mature into good quality, full-featured but lean eBook applications.

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