Apple Apps iPad iPhone

The Best eBook Reader, Again

I came to the realization a few years ago that the eBook reader Marvin was hands down, the best ePub reader for me.  Very flexible, configurable and some (still) unique features made it well worth the price.

That was, as I mentioned, a few years ago and I started to get a little frustrated with a few important (to me) missing features, such as ePub 3 features like aside (pop-up footnote) support, syncing and a few other small things.  The lack of these was one thing that bothered me.  The fact that the same developer released a second, free ePub reader app that offered these features was even worse, and quite frustrating to those that paid for the original app.

It wasn’t simply an easy task to switch from Marvin to Gerty though.  It wasn’t designed as a generic ePub reader, but rather a sort of book-journaling app.  What was the developer thinking?

It turns out he was thinking.  And working hard.  He was rewriting Marvin from scratch.  Today, he released Marvin 3.  This release adds, and far surpasses my original wish list.  Now there is full iOS9 support, including document picker, spotlight integration and split-screen support.  The icing on the latter part of that particular cake is that there is a second, nearly identical app, called Marvin SxS (“Side by Side”) that lets you have two copies of Marvin installed on the same device and you can have two ePubs open at the same time in devices that support split screen.

Marvin on an iPad
Marvin on an iPad

There are lots of great built-in fonts, whether you are a sans or a serif fan.  There is also OpenDyslexic built in.  If you aren’t satisfied with any of the bundled (and system) fonts, you can sideload others.

Margin size, line spacing, paragraph spacing, indent size are all configurable.  There are themes.  Multiple columns available in both landscape and portrait.  Textshots and auto-bookmarking on close.  Reading location syncs automatically to iCloud (zero-config).  And then there’s annotations – all those things that were in Gerty are now in Marvin 3.  You can of course highlight with a load of colors, but also add notes and photos to a book.   Apparently there are multiple map-viewing modes (you can read maps in here?)

There is native comic book (CBR and CBZ) support, and it’s really, really good.  I have, and love, Chunky Comic Reader, but in practice, there are only a few significant advantages Marvin 3 lacks – PDF comics, landscape for dual-pages and ComicStreamer support.  The page thumbnails (with long-tap to preview the page) are wonderful.  The zig-zag mode is much like Chunky’s “pan” mode.  You can scrub through the comic and have page previews show you where you are.  Given that Chunky is iPad only, I might find myself using Marvin for some of my comic reading, depending on the amount of dual-pages I might expect.

I have only touched the surface.  The only other reader that comes close regarding configurability is Moon+ Reader Pro on Android.

It is not a free upgrade.  There are two in-app-purchases to unlock full screen use and color themes, $3.99 USD for the former and a variety of “tips” for the latter, although you only get certain themes depending on the amount you “tip”. Kinda sounds to me like a purchase and not a tip… The SxS version is a full purchase without IAP unlocks – other than the themes.  To me, the regular IAP (or outright purchase) is well worth the cost.  The colours, not so much, but that is merely an opinion.

The bottom line is, if you’re looking for the best ePub reader, get Marvin 3.

Apps iPhone

Another eBook reader option

So, while I like Google Play Books, I would like another option with a little better library management.  It has to have good syncing so iBooks is definitely out.

I did a search and came across a Wikipedia article on comparing iOS book readers.  There are a lot more than I thought!  The one that caught my eye was Marvin.  Location syncing with Dropbox, using Calibre as a book manager (which I do anyway), Collections, annotations, themes, paragraph spacing (why is this omitted from so many readers?), swipe-brightness control, swipe-temperature control, and a whole lot more.  You can even edit all the metadata and sync this back to Calibre.  Including book covers.

It has more.  A “Deep View” action will intelligently scan your book and extract names, places, and so on and generate an index on the fly.  It will store words you look up in the dictionary so you build a vocabulary list.  Custom actions (at least on the iPad) that look like you can leverage URL schemes to link into many other apps and web sites (e.g. search for images), downloading from OPDS servers (Calibre has one, but there are also others where you can download non-DRM books straight off the Internet)… and oh so much more.

Evidently I’m very impressed.

It’s not the ultimate reader for me yet, though.  It doesn’t look like the annotations sync automatically like Google Play Books does, but there are two manual ways to do it, one is to run the backup task (which backs up books as well as annotations and bookmarks) or  exporting the annotations via email.  The latter seems better suited for transferring from device to device, since one click will import them again.  It also only handles non-DRM ePubs, but I have already decided that is my go-to format, and Calibre takes care of any unencumbering and conversion tasks nicely.

I would like to see wireless connectivity to Calibre, and not just hardwired/USB connections supported.

I would ultimately like to see a reader that will index/search across my entire library (for reference books) but I think that’s possibly too ambitious at this point.  The best I can hope for is that DEVONThink To Go will improve to provide an archiving and searching alternative/companion for ePubs, as well as PDFs.

It’s $3, or less than half the price of a cheap eBook.

Apps Desktop Mac

Sorry iBooks, it’s over.

I’ve had it with iBooks, mostly because of its insane destructive syncing scheme.  Which isn’t syncing at all, is it?  See my logic below.

I want to read books with my two portable Apple devices, optionally with my desktop Apple computer.  I want to highlight, bookmark or annotate in one device and sync to any or all of the others.  This sounds like a job for iCloud, right?  You know, the Apple-invented cloud service for you know, syncing?

The iBooks developers haven’t got the memo.  You see, iBooks use your iTunes Account to sync.  So that means my wife’s independent library and annotations (on her multiple Apple products) are clobbered if I ever decide to sync collections and annotations.  This is because we share an iTunes account to purchase apps.  Note that it is quite possible to have a separate iBooks login and iTunes login at the same time – only on the Mac version of iBooks.  There is no option to select the iBooks store account on iOS 7.  You know, where you actually want that option.

The final straw was when yesterday I clicked iBooks, and it came up with a message “Hey I notice you are using to sync.  Would you like to sync with instead?”.  I did not want to do so, therefore I selected “Cancel”.  I watched as iBooks then deleted a book that I previously synced with my iCloud account.  I stand agape.  I boggle.  In what universe should “do not sync” ever change anything, never mind delete?

iBooks is fundamentally damaged.  So is the iOS eBook reader ecosystem because of its mere existence.  I have had enough.