I found this reader in the form of a free download of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (no, I didn’t download it because I saw and loved the movie; I didn’t see it and probably wouldn’t love it). I have never really been a fan of Fitzgerald’s, always thought the lore around him and his wife kind of masked some of his flaws as a writer still worth reading. But I like stories with fabulous turns, so I figured I’d kill two birds with one iPhone and read the story while checking out some reader software. My opinion: the TouchBooks Reader isn’t bad, but it isn’t all that good either.
Now I know I got it for free (it is ad supported, which, due to the limited real estate on the iPhone screen, is a little more frustrating with reader programs than say iShoot), and while that should be a plus it’s actually more of a negative to me. It’s the business model du mode and it’s helping a lot of small potatoes get in there with the big guys, so I won’t bark about the ad support so much. My complaint (and this extends far beyond the app store, that’s just the best known example I can think of–see also Wii titles, WordPress widgets to name a few) is that when companies like Apple open up their products to individual developers, for every gem there are 235 pieces of shovelware. So while the reader is a competent piece of software, the fact that I can only read this one story by a writer I find mediocre is a tad disappointing. Yeah, you say, it’s free, so throw it out when your done. Don’t worry, I will.
Now the TouchBooks Reader site
has a picture of what appears to be a library page, next to the programmer’s claim to offer the best reader for the iPhone. There are better (this, dear reader, will be a link once I get around to writing about Bookz and Stanza) already, but with a library feature integrated, the touchbooks reader could stand a decent shot. Right now I’m not sure if the picture is disingenuous or a promise of what’s to come (though the “carrier” on the service bar gives away that the photo is probably doctored, and the readme implies that the software is designed for individual book releases), but I hope it’s a planned feature.
As for the software itself, there are a fair amount of features. Chapters, bookmarking, scrolling or page up/down, text resizing, auto-scrolling (which defaults way too fast, but can be adjusted) are all covered. There’s no landscape mode, which find a little disappointing, though it’s never a dealbreaker. The presentation is nice as well, with an off white back ground the text is easy on the eyes, and a few graphics headers give the ebook a typeset feel that I like. So the biggest disappointment is still the one-time-use feel that comes from the lack of library. The bookmarks are frustrating in that the reader seems to allow for more than one, but every time I open a different chapter (even if on accident) the bookmark I placed manually disappears. Maybe I’m doing something wrong, but it’s still frustrating. I should also mention that every time you open the ebook, it asks to report your location, which, though harmless, I find off-putting and hit “Don’t Allow.” It doesn’t remember this choice, and thus asks me again and again, which bugs me.
All in all, the Curious Case of Benjamin Button by TouchBooks Reader isn’t a waste of a download (though the story didn’t sway my opinion of FSG), but you’re probably better off using a full reader program to get the story off of Project Gutenberg and save yourself a home screen slot. If TouchBooks Reader ever evolves into an actual reader, or if they publish some original stuff that isn’t public domain, I might be swayed to give them another shot–even pay them. Until then it’s the iPhone equivalent of a periodical left on the subway, and I’ve already dropped it in the wastebasket at my stop.