Is it time for me to ditch Calibre?

I have been a long-time fan of the Calibre e-book library software. I use it often to organize and categorize my books. But many of the functions which first drew me to Calibre have become a tad obsolete as the Cloud-based infrastructure has developed. For example, I no longer plug any devices into the computer—I side-load books onto my Kindle-equipped devices via the Cloud. So, do I still need Calibre?
I was thinking about this again as the Beloved has been pondering a new computer purchase. He has been making do on my ancient Macbook since his needs are minimal. but it’s on its last legs. So he’s thinking of taking over the HP laptop I have, which is almost new, but has proved a bit too bulky and cumbersome for me. What he’d like to do is set it up as some sort of family media hub—he can do his

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Capti Narrator brings free text-to-speech to nearly any DRM-free e-book or document

I just learned about a Capti-vating new development in text-to-speech. PRWeb is carrying a press release about Capti Narrator, a free cloud-based text-to-speech Windows 64 and iOS app (Android coming soon) that will effectively read aloud just about any DRM-free document.

The press release pitches it as useful with Project Gutenberg (“50,000+ eBooks by Project Gutenberg are Now Available as Free Audiobooks” reads the headline) but perhaps the greater use for it is reading aloud pretty much any DRM-free e-book or other document you have on hand (such as titles by Baen, O’Reilly, etc.), especially if you already have it in the cloud. It will also read aloud news stories or sites you’ve saved to Instapaper—a very useful feature that goes most e-readers one better.

Not only will this be great for people with visual or reading difficulties, the press release also touts it as a way to help learn English by hearing words spoken as they’re read.

Apparently this project has been in development for a while—at least since before the 2011 death of Project Gutenberg founder Michael Hart. The press release proclaims:

“I corresponded with Michael Hart when we were just starting with Capti; he told me that he saw a great purpose in our mission of enabling everyone to listen to all they want to read” – said Dr. Yevgen Borodin, the CEO of Charmtech Labs LLC. “And, today, I am thrilled to finally deliver on my promise and make Project Gutenberg eBooks available as free audiobooks to everyone!”

The app is currently available as a download for 64-bit Windows and a freemium app for iOS. (An Android version is promised soon.) The way it works is that you load your document into it and press play, and it starts reading it aloud to you using one of your system default speech-synthesizer voices. (I found two on Windows, and five on iOS.) If you want other voices, you can add them for prices ranging from $4.99 to $29.99 each. The Windows app launches in a web browser window (though it also runs in your system tray), and the iOS version is its own standalone app.

imageOn the Windows version, you can add files to your playlist from a local file, Dropbox, Google Drive, Instapaper, OneDrive, Bookshare, or Project Gutenberg. The iOS app includes this, as well as OneDrive, Pocket, the clipboard, and letting you choose particular pages with the web browser. File types can be PDF, WORD, EPUB, DAISY, HTML, and “many other digital text formats.” I tried it with my e-book Joe & Julius from my Dropbox account and it worked just fine. The ease of uploading titles from the cloud rather reminds me of the way the iOS e-reader apps Marvin and Gerty will read and parse your Dropbox for e-books.

064220F6-8FB4-4F31-8218-A86909A92D4EOnce you’ve added titles to your playlist, when you hit play, the app reads along with your book, while showing the text on the screen and highlighting it word-by-word. As expected, the result is somewhat mechanical and awkward with cadence and pronunciation of some words (contractions get short shrift: “we’re” gets pronounced as “we-ree”), but probably no better or worse than the text-to-speech functions of the Kindle or any other e-reader or app that supports read-aloud. If you’re used to using those functions, you’ll have no problems with this one either.

Furthermore, after I originally posted this story, Dr. Borodin contacted me and noted that Capti’s premium voices sound a lot better than the system default voices, as the Capti-narrated YouTube video above this article demonstrates. I didn’t actually watch through the whole video before writing this, but now that I do I have to admit that’s pretty impressive. It might actually be worth shelling out some money for one of those voices if you plan to use this system very often.

One other noteworthy aspect of the app is that it incorporates cloud playlist file and position sync. If you tell it to sync the playlist from your desktop, then sync from the mobile app (or vice versa), your Capti playlist has all the same titles in it, and it picks up right where you left off playing them.

The free version of the app will be extremely useful to the majority of readers, but there is also a premium plan available at a cost of $1.99 per month, or $9.99 for six months. It includes a number of extra features such as the ability to view any images that were incorporated in the original document as it is read aloud, the ability to translate words in your texts into any of 28 different languages, a full-text playlist search, and a linguistic game called “Word Challenge.” Though I don’t particularly need those features, I could see they would be very useful, especially to English-as-second-language students. The app strikes a pretty good balance between being useful enough for free and more useful for a slight extra cost—it’s not one of those apps where you have to pay something to get any use out of it at all.

The app could stand to be a little more user-friendly—it was a little tricky for me to find the functions to add titles to my playlist at first, and they’re in different places in the Windows and iOS versions. But once you start reading, it works surprisingly well. The voice is loud and clear, even if I don’t like the artificial way the system version sounds.

I can’t see using this program too often myself—I just can’t get past the artificiality of the computer voice. Though then again, if I buy one of the premium voices like the one that narrated that video I might change my mind. But I know that’s not a problem for many people who swear by it, and were disappointed the latest Kindles dropped the feature altogether. I predict that this free text-to-speech app will find a place on many, many computers and mobile devices.

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Dropbox’s ‘Project Infinite’ may let you free e-books and other files from your hard drive

Dropbox-Project-InfiniteDo you, like me, keep your e-book library on Dropbox? Have you ever been frustrated you can only directly access the files from computers where you’ve already downloaded them all into place? If you haven’t downloaded them, you’ve got more space on your hard drive—but you have to use the klunky web interface to download any files you need. Perhaps you wish you didn’t have to use up that extra space for files you want to keep on hand, but don’t want to give up the convenience.

As it happens, Dropbox has heard your frustration, along with that of thousands of other users—at least, business class users. TechCrunch and The Verge report Dropbox has announced that its new “Project Infinite” initiative will give its customers local access to files no matter where they are. Effectively, it will allow you to browse your cloud storage with the same file explorer as your local hard drive, and downloading files as needed when you open them—much as the iOS e-reading apps Marvin and Gerty do. Files that live in the cloud have a little “cloud” icon on the file, whereas local files have a green check mark.

This would make it a lot simpler to access your files from any computer, including ones you don’t have your material stored on. For most small files, such as e-books or Office documents, Dropbox users probably wouldn’t know the difference, but big files like digital movies and music  would be a lot slower to open.

This is similar to the way Microsoft’s OneDrive used to work before Windows 10, and Nextbit Robin also attempts to make cloud files available on demand. Given all the other features Dropbox has already integrated into Explorer via its Windows desktop app, it wouldn’t surprise me to see it happen for remote file access, too.

At the moment, Dropbox hasn’t given any indication when Project Infinite will be ready, or whether it will roll out to consumers (including free-account consumers like me) as well as business users. But if it does, it could certainly make file management a lot simpler. It would be nice, especially on mobile Windows devices with small storage footprints, to be able to download your e-books on demand via Explorer rather than the web or universal app interface. Of course, this does presuppose that you have network access at the time, but it’s pretty rare to be without it these days.

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New York City approves $30 million school e-book deal with Amazon

Publishers Weekly is carrying a report that provides a coda to the story we covered Tuesday about New York City considering a deal with Amazon to provide e-books to NYC schools. As it turns out, New York City’s board of education approved the deal, at $30 million for the first three years. New York City also has the option to renew for the last two years at $34.5 million.

Our story Tuesday has more details of the deal, but effectively it covers setting up an e-book store for purchase of digital media by New York City schools. Amazon would earn a commission of 10 to 15% on each purchase. The plan will take effect beginning with the start of the new school year this fall.

The plan includes only the electronic media, not Kindles or other hardware. It was briefly put in jeopardy when advocacy groups for the blind and vision-impaired felt the plan didn’t have sufficient accommodation for the visually-impaired. However, Amazon has committed to working with those advocacy groups to change that.

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Windows 10 e-reader app review: Nook reader

nook-starting-screenGiven that we’re now in the age of Windows 10, it seemed like a good time to take a look at the Nook universal Windows app. The last time I reviewed the Nook e-reader apps was all the way back in 2011, and a remarkable amount has changed since then.

I’ve had mixed luck with Barnes & Noble’s e-books through the years, but I used to be a regular customer—early on I figured I might as well keep buying from Nook, since it already had (most of) the books I’d bought from eReader and Fictionwise. As a result, I still have nearly 200 titles in my Barnes & Noble library, and I might as well be able to keep reading them.

Downloading the app is simple enough: just click or tap on the Windows logo shopping bag on your status bar to open the Windows Store, then type “Nook” in the search box and it pops right up. (It calls itself “Nook for Windows 8 v1.9,” but it works just fine on Windows 10.) Downloading and installing it is just as simple as installing any Windows universal app.

As with any universal Windows app, Nook will work with both PCs and Windows mobile devices, though since I don’t have a Windows mobile device I can only review how it looks on my desktop.

Launching the app brings up a multi-paned page with access to your library, or you can scroll the screen to the right (with your finger, or your mouse scroll wheel) to access several panes of Nook Store shopping options. Clicking on the title to any of these panes drills down into another screen with more options. For example, clicking on “My Library: View All” opens a broader view of your library, where you can click on “All,” “Books,” or “My Files” to view different sections. You can also sideload your own EPUB files from directories on your computer.

nook-textOnce you’ve chosen a book, it opens up a view of the text. You can page forward and back using the scroll wheel, or right-click on it to bring up the menu bars with options to access various bookmarking, annotation, or formatting functions. You can also left-click on words to highlight or annotate them. If you compare the photo here to the ones of the old PC app in my earlier review, you’ll note it looks a lot more polished by comparison. It might not be Google’s Material Design, but it nonetheless does look like it belongs in Windows 10.

nook-menu-barsOn a related note, it looks like I might owe the old Nook PC app an apology. In my earlier review, I complained that the Nook reader put blank lines between the paragraphs as well as the indentation—but now that I check again, I find the Young Wizards book I reviewed at the time still opens with the excess blank lines, whereas other books don’t. It turns out that was the fault of the e-book file, not the software itself.

nook-fontsThe formatting options available in the “Text” menu are pretty good. The menu is a lot more like those on mobile apps rather than Windows apps now—you no longer choose font size by point, but from a row of different-sized letters. There are options for line spacing, margin width, number of columns (from 1 to 4, or automatic based on font size), font, and theme. There aren’t too many fonts available, but it has my favorite reading font of “Georgia,” so I’m happy.

One area where the formatting options have backslid is that there is no longer any way to disable full justification, and there’s no automatic hyphenation. The books don’t look too bad on a desktop-sized screen all the same, though.

Turning pages is swift and responsive; the text slides left or right to move to the next or previous set of pages. The text find function is fast and snappy, too. I could see using this to read my Nook titles or my own EPUBs and not feeling too boxed-in by a lack of choices. In fact, it actually has more formatting options than the Adobe Digital Editions I normally use for reading EPUBs on my desktop—and unlike ADE, its user-interface gets out of the way when I don’t need it.

That said, it does have one more annoying aspect. The Nook app is full-screen-mode only. You can’t restore it down to take up only part of the screen, and you can’t move it from one monitor to another—not even using the shortcut of Windows key plus arrow that works on just about everything else. It remains stuck to your primary display. If you right-click at the top of the screen where the title bar should be to bring up the movement options, everything but “Minimize” and “Close” is greyed out.

There’s no particular reason why this should have to be the case. I’d guess it was because the app has to work on both tablets and desktops, but other Windows universal apps such as Netflix and Hulu restore down and move from screen to screen just fine. Maybe it’s because it’s a Windows 8 app rather than Windows 10?

Finally, it’s worth noting that this app will still let you get around Barnes & Noble’s annoying decision to disallow downloading its e-book files. Finding where it actually puts them took some doing. It turns out to keep them in the hidden directory C:Users[Username]appdatalocalpackagesBarnesNoble.Nook_ahnzqzva31encLocalState, and it names them by seemingly-random series of letters and numbers. (So if you’re looking for a specific one, you have to go by the date and time you downloaded it.) Also, if the titles had DRM on them on the Nook store, they’ll still have it after you download them. But if you have some reason for wanting to have access to those files all the same, well, there they are. (Just be sure not to do anything illegal with them!)

In the end, the Barnes & Noble Nook Windows app offers a reasonable EPUB-reading experience, especially if you’re one of the Fictionwise/eReader early adopters who ended up with titles in your Nook library that you never bought from Barnes & Noble. And given that it’s free, if you’re running Windows 10 you might as well install it and try it out. Some of the reviews on the Windows Store note it has problems running on Microsoft Surface tablets, but it works fine on the desktop for me.

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Digital textbooks prove controversial in Huntsville, Alabama school district

15819844-mmmainRight as New York City is on the cusp of cutting a $30 million deal with Amazon to provide e-books for its schools, some parents in Huntsville, Alabama are finding that replacing print with digital textbooks for its schools has been more expensive than advertised.

Alabama Today and blogger Russell Winn have looked into costs for the four-year-old digital textbook program. Winn quotes letters from school board representative Elisa Ferrell explaining that a lack of textbook funding had resulted in many of the print textbooks in use degenerating into “a state of advanced age and disrepair,” necessitating a complete update of textbooks at that point anyway. There wasn’t enough funding to do a complete upgrade of printed books, but going all-digital at that point would save a little money and help “catapult our students into the digital age that they will be living in as adults.”

Ferrell explained that sets of print textbooks had been provided to classrooms at the beginning of the program for use by students with vision issues and other problems working with digital. However, over the four years of the program so far, students had become much more comfortable with digital, and as a result they would be moving the physical textbooks out of the classroom and into the schools’ libraries so that students who still needed them could check them out and take them home.

Contrary to the social media and blog traffic, we are not holding some sort of dystopian book burning party somewhere. We are retaining the textbooks, making them accessible, and making it possible for a student to check them out and use them at home. Of course, any student with an IEP or a 504 who has vision challenges, has accommodations in place for those challenges.

Winn is skeptical of some of Ferrell’s claims, noting that between the state of Alabama and the city of Huntsville, the school district has sufficient funding to cover the complete cost of printed textbooks if it wanted, and it could have staggered the upgrades to spread out the cost. He also suggests that some of her claims (such as as when she said one school had previously been using 40-year-old biology textbooks) were pure hyperbole.

When Winn ran the numbers, he found that although the digital textbooks themselves do cost slightly less than buying physical textbooks ($3.13 million as opposed to $3.35 million per year), the cost of buying new HP and Lenovo computers and iPads on which to use those digital textbooks adds almost $5 million in costs, bringing the grand total to a hair under $8 million per year. Rather than saving a little money, it’s actually costing over twice as much.

He also notes there seems to be some disagreement between school board representatives as to whether those print textbooks are going to be kept after all. It might be as few as 10% of them, which means fewer than 10% of students would be able to check them out and take them home.

It’s worth noting that nowhere in Winn’s blog post or the Alabama Today article is there any discussion of the fact that computers and iPads would be useful for a lot more than just reading digital textbooks. They could also be used for educational software, writing and research, and many uses beyond simply displaying textbooks, so tallying their expense only against textbook costs is a little disingenuous.

Furthermore, I think Ferrell has a point when she talks about how much better-prepared for college students who’ve gone through the new digital curriculum have been. Surely helping graduate a class of better-prepared students is worth a little extra outlay, right?

That said, some of the comments show that students are still having problems using the digital textbook. One parent notes that their middle school son does enjoy having a school computer and most of the learning that takes place with it; however, he’s disappointed the paper textbooks are going away because they’re easier to use. The parent writes:

The digital books are not that user friendly. Social studies and science, in particular are difficult to use to find specific information without turning each page one at a time (can’t search for a question or term easily). He doesn’t enjoy the digital version of these at all. They are frustrating to use for normal “answer the questions at the end of the chapter” assignments. He would much rather have a book.

This harkens back to an article I covered last month about some of the usability problems digital textbooks experience in a college environment. It’s not surprising that grade school students would have similar issues. Will more than 10% of the students need to use those paper textbooks? If so, it’s possible another solution might be needed.

Overall, this controversy feels like it has more to do with local school board politics in general than e-books in and of themselves. As they say about academic politics in general, it’s all the more cutthroat because so little is actually at stake. If it weren’t digital textbooks, there would be some other controversy over something else.

Nonetheless, this is instructive in showing other districts the kinds of things they’ll have to take into account when they come to replacing paper textbooks with digital versions themselves. Will they keep some paper copies around for convenience? If so, how many, and how will they be made available?

Sooner or later, every school district in the nation is going to have to face this question. The ones who haven’t yet should probably start paying attention and learning from the ones who have.

(Photo credit:

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How indexes could evolve with e-books

indexesarticleLast month I wrote how indexes seem to be a thing of the past, at least in e-books. I’ve revisited the topic and would like to offer a possible vision for the future.

Long ago I learned the value an exceptional indexer can bring to a project. A huge difference exists, for example, between simply capturing all the keywords in a book and producing an index rich in synonyms, cross-references and related topics. While we may never be able to completely duplicate the human element in a computer-generated index, I’d like to think value can be added via automated text analysis, algorithms and all the resulting tags.

Perhaps it’s time to think differently about indexes in e-books. As I mentioned in that earlier article, I’m focused exclusively on non-fiction here. Rather than a static compilation of entries in the book I’m currently reading, I want something that’s more akin to a dynamic Google search.

Let me tap a phrase on my screen and definitely show me the other occurrences of that phrase in this book, but let’s also make sure those results can be sorted by relevance, not just the chronological order from the book. Why do the results have to be limited to the book I’m reading though? Maybe that author or publisher has a few other titles on that topic or closely related topics. Those references and excerpts should be accessible via this pop-up e-index as well. If I own those books I’m able to jump directly to the pages within them; if not, these entries serve as a discovery and marketing vehicle, encouraging me to purchase the other titles.

This approach lends itself to an automated process. Once the logic is established, a high-speed parsing tool would analyze the content and create the initial entries across all books. The tool would be built into the e-book reader application, tracking the phrases that are most commonly searched for and perhaps refining the results over time based on which entries get the most click-thru’s. Sounds a lot like one of the basic attributes of web search results, right?

Note that this could all be done without a traditional index. However, I also see where a human-generated index could serve as an additional input, providing an even richer experience.

How about leveraging the collective wisdom of the community as well? Provide a basic e-index as a foundation but let anyone contribute their own thoughts and additions to it. Don’t force the crowd-sourced results on all readers. Rather, let each consumer decide which other members of the community add the most value and filter out all the others.

This gets back to a point I’ve made a number of times before. We’re stuck consuming dumb content on smart devices. As long as we keep looking at e-books through a print book lens, we’ll never fully experience all the potential a digital book has to offer.

Reproduced with permission from Joe Wikert’s Digital Content Strategies.

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iOS e-reader app review: Marvin and Gerty

marvin-pageFor my first major iOS app review in years, I’ve been looking into a pair of e-book apps by developer Appstafarian. First of all, I’ve heard good things about the Marvin EPUB reader. Juli Monroe reviewed it for the iPad, discussed how it works with Calibre, and looked at the iPhone version over the last few years.

However, I never had the chance to take a look at it—it came out after iOS 6 launched, so it was never compatible with my first-generation iPad. Since I now have an iPad Mini 2, I decided to remedy that.

But did you know that Marvin also has a sister? (Or cousin, or wife, or something. It’s not a perfect metaphor.) Appstafarian makes a another EPUB app called Gerty, which is very similar to Marvin except for a couple of interesting differences. But I’ll look at Marvin first.


With a name like Marvin, I have to admit that my first thought was to wonder if the developer only made it for iOS because he was paranoid about Android. But all joking aside, just a few minutes of use convinced me that I’d found a suitable replacement for the long-departed Stanza e-reader that used to be my go-to iOS e-book app. Some of the features that most impressed me most about Stanza, Marvin takes and goes one better.

The Interface

For starters, Marvin offers a nice, clean, simple reading interface. A wide variety of fonts are available, both serif and sans serif, including the Open Dyslexic font that Amazon only recently added to the Kindle. There are formatting options for adjusting font size, margin width, line spacing, depth of paragraph indent, paragraph spacing, full or left justification, and even enabling or disabling hyphenation. There’s also a “Switch to publisher’s formatting” option that reverts the book back to how it was originally formatted.

There are three color themes available—normal, night, and “other”—and these themes can be customized by setting the foreground color and the background color or pattern of your choice. If you want burgundy foreground text on an electric blue background, you just have to scroll the text color and background color/texture listing up until you find what you want and tap on it.

My one complaint about the color selection screen is that the basic simple options, such as “black” and “white,” are a screen and a half of scrolling down, below all the different shades of grey. I’d rather have black and white right at the top, but that’s just me.

marvin-landscapeThe reading process is simple. Just as with the Kindle, you tap on the right side of the screen to page forward, or on the left to page back. (Though you can change that under the “Gestures” controls if you want.) Tapping in the middle brings up the top and bottom status bars. By default, you only get one column of text in either portrait or landscape, but there’s a configuration option to change it to two columns in landscape, or even two columns in portrait and landscape. (You have to rotate the screen before the changes take effect.)

Page turns are swift and responsive, the text is clear and easy to read, and the myriad of font and formatting options means you can make the book look pretty much however you want it to. It also retained the blank lines separating sections, which I noted Moon+ on Android didn’t when I tried it. You don’t get the skeuomorphic page-turn effect of iBooks, but then you don’t get that with the Kindle or most other e-reading applications either—and some people don’t like it from iBooks.

Even if that were as far as it went, Marvin would still be a useful EPUB e-book app—plain, straightforward, and self-contained, not requiring you to upload books into the cloud and re-download them to read them the way Google Books does, and not full of fancy features you may not want or need like iBooks. But there were a couple of other features that did impress me.

Deep Reading

deep-readingFirst of all, there’s Marvin’s “Deep Reading” mode. Activated by tapping on a pair of eyeglasses in the top status bar, Deep Reading is a sort of automatic concordance program—it quickly catalogs all the character names and other important words that appear in a book, and lists them by order of appearance, importance, or alphabetically. It takes about a minute or so to process a given novel.

Deep Reading could be very useful when reading a book with so many character names that it’s hard to keep them all straight in your head. If you’re wondering, “Wait, who was that person?” you can pull up Deep Reading and get a list of every place his or her name has been mentioned so far. I’ve read a number of books where I’ve had that problem, especially with regard to foreign or alien-sounding names, and I’m already looking forward to seeing how Marvin could make reading such books easier.

There are also Deep Reading tabs where you can look up and import Wikipedia and other articles about the book or its author, and where you can build a summary on selected names—Marvin excerpts just the paragraphs in which that name is mentioned and incorporates them into a separate e-book file. This could make a handy reference for obscure characters. For that matter, it could be an excellent way of making study guides for subjects in non-fiction books.

Overall, it may not be quite as useful as a manually-compiled Cliff’s Notes on a given book, but it’s a lot more nuanced and flexible than just doing a text search. It’s basically an index of text searches for every major character or concept, accessible with just a tap or two.

Dropbox Integration

The other feature is, if anything, even more impressive. I keep my Calibre library in Dropbox, and every so often use Calibre2OPDS to update an OPDS catalog file for remote access. I originally used that format with Stanza, though Stanza is no longer around anymore.

Marvin also offers the ability to read an OPDS catalog, though I haven’t been able to get it to work as yet—apparently it uses a different OPDS format than the XML files Calibre2OPDS makes. But that’s all right, because it offers alternatives. You can download books from Project Gutenberg or Mobileread, or link up directly to Calibre and pull books down that way, or even pull them from your iCloud account.

marvin-dropboxBut the most useful option for me is that it can link to the Dropbox app on your device, then list all the EPUBs you’re keeping in Dropbox for you to download. It does it pretty quickly, too—it found the 1,375 e-books I have in my Dropbox over the course of about a minute or so. Then I could sort or search them however I wanted. It was simple enough to do that I might not even need to keep using OPDS to download my books anymore.


And all of these features are available in the free version of Marvin, as far as I can tell. The only difference between the free and paid versions are that the free version only lets you keep a library of one downloaded e-book at a time, while the one that costs $3.99 will let you load as many as you want.

This seems like a reasonable price to me, and a reasonable division of features—if you’re the sort of person who only reads one e-book at a time, the free version might be just fine for you, and it won’t bombard you with advertisements like some free e-readers. But $3.99 isn’t bad at all for such a good application. (You can also add on an app theme pack for $4.99, but this seems less necessary to me.)


We apparently haven’t ever covered the other Appstafarian e-reader yet, which is a little surprising. Gerty resembles a simplified version of Marvin, with a number of similar features—in fact, I suspect it uses a lot of the same code base. But there are some important key differences that might make it a more useful reader for people with different needs than Marvin users.

The Interface

Unlike Marvin, Gerty works on a scrolling principle. Instead of tapping left or right to turn a page, you slide the screen up or down by swiping your finger—just like scrolling on a web page. Tapping anywhere on the screen brings up the top and bottom status bars. Since you’re scrolling, you don’t have the ability to split the screen into separate columns either. I personally prefer the pagination method, but I can still appreciate that Gerty’s scrolling is smooth and simple. And there are people who would rather have a scrolling e-reader app.

Gerty doesn’t have as many customization options as Marvin. You can select the font, make the font bigger or smaller, switch between narrow or wide margins and vertical line spacing, and change the orientation lock settings (lock to portrait, lock to landscape, don’t lock) and that’s pretty much it. You also don’t get as many fonts to choose from as Marvin, and Open Dyslexic isn’t among them. (Though, weirdly enough, the info page on Appstafarian’s web site claims it is.) There are only six preset color themes, which you can’t customize beyond choosing the one you want.

The text still looks just as crisp and clear as in Marvin. In fact, it looks basically exactly the same as Marvin when you’re reading it, which is why I’m not bothering to throw in another screenshot here.

One of the features that you have to pay to add is auto-scrolling. Once you’ve added it, you can set the scroll rate and then the text will slide up the page at a steady rate of speed, teleprompter-style, without you doing anything. This could be useful for reading while your hands are busy with other things, like exercising or eating messy food.

Book Journaling and Other Features

book-journalGerty doesn’t feature the “Deep Reading” mode of its sibling Marvin, but it has its own features that Marvin doesn’t. In particular, it has a private blog or journal feature built in, where you can note down thoughts on the book as you’re reading it, even including the ability to snap photos with the device camera to attach to it, and to attach a map showing exactly where you are at the time. You can export your entries into an EPUB, or share entries via iOS’s share-to-other-apps menu.

reserved-catBut Gerty isn’t just for reading e-books. It also allows you to keep track of your paper books, and write journal entries to associate with them. It’ll even scan the book’s barcode via your device’s camera and look up the author and title for you, if it can. It’s a clever idea for people who like to read a lot and share their feelings on what they read, and it might also be useful for taking notes on e-textbooks for class. I don’t think I’d be inclined to get much use out of it myself, though. It will also keep track of statistics on how much and how often you read.

Like Marvin, Gerty can read your Dropbox account so you can download e-books from it, and does so just as quickly as Marvin. It also has the option to read from your Google Drive account. However, it doesn’t seem to read directly from Calibre, OPDS, or iCloud.


Like Marvin, Gerty costs only $3.99 to unlock all its premium features. That’s not a bad price to pay for a full-featured e-book app, even one I don’t expect to use all that often. I found it a little odd that Marvin’s paid version is a separate app, whereas Gerty’s premium features are unlocked via an in-app purchase. But I suppose the way the premium features are set up makes in-app purchase work better for Gerty.

I’m sure I’ve barely scratched the surface of the features that are available in both Marvin and Gerty, but I can say this for sure—they’re both going to be permanent fixtures on my iPad, and very possibly Marvin is going to supplant iBooks as the way I read all the DRM-free EPUBs in my Calibre library, at least when I’m reading from my iPad rather than one of my Android devices.

I can’t see getting into book journaling a la Gerty, but I could see how frequent journal-writers and note-takers could get a lot of use out of it. Whichever one better suits your style of reading, they’re both great little e-reader apps, and both are well worth the $3.99 price.

The post iOS e-reader app review: Marvin and Gerty appeared first on TeleRead News: E-books, publishing, tech and beyond.

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Original article shared browser lets you chat over movies—or e-books

2001-rabbitHave you ever wanted to read an e-book with someone at a distance? Thanks to the web site and app, now you can. has been around for a while, but I only discovered it recently as I was looking for methods of holding a video viewing party at a distance. I had started using the Chrome extension Netflix Party, which allows two people to watch movies on Netflix together and chat while viewing, but I had hoped to find something that would work for other video sites, too. There are a lot more videos I’d like to share with friends on places like Hulu and YouTube, after all. But then, in, I found more than I had expected. is one of those sites with a clever name that’s also the URL of the site itself: Effectively, it virtualizes a web browser, and then adds chatroom features (including optional voice and video chat) around it.

It works just like a browser session on your computer. You can invite friends to join the chat session, then load any web site you want—Netflix, YouTube, Hoopla, et cetera,—and log in with your username and password. Then any video you play will play at the same rate of speed on the screens of everyone watching it. I’ve tried it, and it really works. It also has an iOS app made for the iPhone, which is somewhat less useful on an iPad but otherwise seems to work the same way. the interesting thing is, it could be used for many more things than just watching movies together, because it effectively lets you view the same web page of any kind together. The utility of reading e-books together is probably going to be limited, given that people read at different rates of speed and only one person has control of the browser session at any given time, but I could see several potential uses for it.

For example, using an e-book in conjunction with voice and video chat could allow parents to help their kids learn to read by listening to them read a aloud from the screen, even if they can’t be physically present with their kids (for example, if they’re away on military service). It could also be useful for study buddies to view and discuss a given page of an online textbook if they can’t get together over the real textbook in person.

In any event, it’s a really clever idea, and an intriguing method of screen-sharing between people who can’t be in the same physical place. Maybe you can find a good use for it yourself.

The post shared browser lets you chat over movies—or e-books appeared first on TeleRead News: E-books, publishing, tech and beyond.

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