With Barnes & Noble rolling out their new “largest ebook store” and a planned dedicated Plastic Logic device to go toe to toe with Amazon (read what Nico has to share about it here), I took the opportunity to download the companion app released on the Apple App Store. The app stands up quite well, especially in comparison to Amazon’s barebones Kindle app, and hopefully is the first step in a competition between the two giants that ebook consumers will really benefit from.
I found the Kindle app to be a pretty skeletal offering. This app does a great job of being something you’d consider using even without a companion device. Barnes & Noble offers a pretty similar experience as Stanza. In fact from a usage perspective they are almost identical. B&N is actually better in a few respects, but of course, you are linked to the corporate business model and can’t add anything you want through a server like you can with Stanza.
The app comes preloaded with six public domain classics (including Dracula which, if you haven’t read already, you should read). The settings offered are robust when compared to anything available on the iPhone. You can toggle between scrolling text and finger swipe page turning. They’ve included a nice feature with the scrolling where a scroll control shows beneath your finger wherever you touch the screen.
While you can readily add notes to highlighted text, you can also select a word or passage and quickly link to a Google, Wikipedia or dictionary search, which is a great inclusion. Each book is searchable, and the formatting options are plentiful. I especially like the option to set two separate configurations and toggle between them as day/night modes.
In fact, my only real complaint is the slow loading of books. It takes a while for a book to fully load, as the program loads an entire text rather than chapter by chapter. However reloading between bootups isn’t necessary, so if you’re the type of reader that doesn’t switch between texts often, this wont be much of a problem. The tables of contents are hyperlinked, which helps alleviate this shortcoming in texts you don’t plan on starting from the beginning.
As it is, Barnes & Noble eReader is already the second-best reader app on the iPhone next to Stanza. It is feature rich–like Stanza it utilizes an iTunes-style coverflow in landscape that I really enjoy–and the developers were clearly looking to create something that catered to iPhone readers specifically (there are however, Blackberry, Mac, and PC programs available as well). While the Kindle app was a quick toss in for Kindlers, this app, like eReader, is something even users of the intended primary product can utilize and enjoy. A B&N account is required, though no purchases are necessary. (You can set up an account easily though the app.)
If Barnes & Noble is smart, they will keep their forthcoming dedicated device open a la Sony’s Reader or better yet BeBook, and hopefully they will soon open up this app to allow users to add to their library as they please, even without going through the B&N store website. If they do, they can be a real contender indeed, not just on the iPhone but in the the quickly increasing (and improving) ebook market.