There are many sources of free e-books on the internets; some are legitimate, others are not. One of the legal sources of e-books is at Project Gutenburg, where the website boasts some 36,000 books whose copyright in the United States have expired. Thousands of volunteers have scanned, proofed, and converted these classic books into various electronic publishing formats, including the popular EPUB format.
EPUB is a standard for publishing electronic books. More than that, it is one of the most widely used standards. Your standard epub file is really justed a renamed zip archive holding images, CSS sytle sheets (yes, I know that's like saying "ATM machine" but not everyone knows what CSS means), a table of contents, and (most importantly) the text of the tome. With a simple parsing of this information by the application, readers can enjoy an experience very akin reading a physical book.
If you want to read those DRM-free thousands of books on your BlackBerry PlayBook, you're going to need a third-party app. The Kobo Books e-reader will only let you read books purchased through its website or in the app. No amount of cajoling on my part was able to get it to read any other type of e-book.
For the BlackBerry PlayBook, there are two such readers for these electronic books in BlackBerry App World. PlayEpub and EPUB Reader. Though both applications perform decently - I was able to open and read a DRM-free EPUB books on both - neither application seems complete. Each has their own individual flaws.
Both PlayEpub and EPUB Reader are similar apps, in that you can read e-pub format e-books with them. The similarities pretty much end there. Take navigating through a book for example. EPUB Reader presents the book in an almost never-ending scroll. While reading the book, you're constantly scrolling scrolling, scrolling to read the next part of the chapter.
For someone like me who reads quickly, this becomes quite a bother. To be fair to the makers of EPUB Reader, they are upfront about this method of navigating. It's mentioned right in the application's description. This method also makes it nigh impossible to skip to another chapter. You'll have to scroll through all the intervening words first.
PlayEpub's navigation is much more like you would expect from an e-reader. Individual pages fill the screen, and there's no need to scroll though to read the book. A tap of the right side of the screen takes you to the next page, a tap of the left side takes you back. There's quick access to the chapters of the book, and you can skip to another chapter at any time.
With PlayEpub, there's no quick and easy way to jump forward or back several pages, like in the Kobo Book eReader. Being able to jump to a specific chapter is certainly a plus, but there are times when you need to go back a few pages to find the author's passing reference to a problem with the plumbing. The lack of any sort of page transition makes this even more difficult for me. I quickly became confused as to whether I was going forwards or backwards, up or down.
Not all eReaders display the same e-book in the same way. For this very reason, I prefer reading books in EPUB Reader. I would certainly prefer the page-by-page navigation that PlayEpub offers, but the way the words appear on screen is murder on my eyes
PlayEpub doesn't do paragraph breaks. Perhaps that's not a problem for you; but ooking at the image above, which one would you find easier to reade? PlayEPub appears to simply throw the book's words on screen without a thought to how they'll be read. In order to be read easily, authors group their words into paragraphs, separating ideas into their own island of letters.
PlayEpub ignores these paragraphs, choosing instead to smash all of the words together. Even an experienced reader would have difficulty reading a book in this format.
Opening a Book
Both PlayEpub and EPUB Reader do a good job at helping to manage your books, but both could be better. I rather like EPUB Reader's import book feature. After tapping the button, you're presented with a list of all the books the app could find on your tablet. Once the book is opened, you'll find it in your visual list of books.
PlayEpub does the same thing but without tapping a button. I also like the ability to choose where to look for books, be they in documents, books, or downloads. Once a book is opened, you'll find it in the app's visual list of books. As you see, very similar approaches to opening a book.
Both apps could use a little extra in the search department though. EPUB Reader's list of books found on your PlayBook is as haphazard as they come. The books listed aren't in alphabetical order or indeed any order that I can discern. PlayEpub does a much better job of this, listing all of the found books in alphabetical order by name.
This still ignores the fact that there is no way to search by author. Thus if you've forgotten that the fifth book in the Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy trilogy is Mostly Harmless, you may find yourself at a loss as you finish the final pages of So Long and Thanks for All the Fish.
No Clear Winner
Both of these applications are available in BlackBerry App World for $1.99. To me, both apps feel unfinished. They are so very close to being excellent eReaders, but these small, seemingly tiny problems are standing in the way. Reading an e-Book on these apps is decent, but certainly far from perfect.
And that really is a shame. The BlackBerry PlayBook was specifically designed to mimic the approximate shape and size of a paperback book. With the BlackBerry Convertible Case, the illusion is ever more pronounced. The tablet is perfect for reading, even in the sunlight. Step up your game O Developers of e-reader apps! Give us more than just the basics, and the world will beat a path to your door.
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