Kindle is not the best iPhone e-reader

Who needs a Kindle when you have an iPhone? We take a look at some of the best ways to read eBooks on your iPhone or iPod Touch.

Don Reisinger
Former CNET contributor Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.
Don Reisinger
7 min read

By now, you know you don't need a Kindle 2 to read books electronically. You can use the new Kindle for iPhone app.

But Kindle's not the only way to read books on a iPhone or iPod Touch. There are two other readers well worth checking out:

The apps


eReader's slidebar makes flipping pages easy. Don Reisinger/CNET Networks
eReader is one of the most popular iPhone apps in the Apple App Store and it's the second-most downloaded program in the store's "Books" section. It's well liked for good reason.

eReader is designed extremely well, and it makes flipping through pages of your free books or premium titles easy. If you want to skip to a certain page, you can use a slidebar above the text to flip through the book. It's a simple feature, but you shouldn't overlook it; this is an ideal way to skip pages that more eBook readers should adopt.

eReader has great features. When you decide to stop reading for a while, it remembers the page you are on in each book you have in your account, and it allows you to wirelessly transfer eBooks to the iPhone's local memory so you don't need to worry about a Web connection to keep reading.

That said, I was a little disappointed with the eReader's dictionary integration, which is too difficult to use. And while the program allows you to change font styles and sizes, I found that the bigger the text size, the worse the experience. And due to the fact that the iPhone has such a small screen, it was somewhat difficult to see default text at times, so I found myself playing with the font size often in an attempt to cut down on scrolling left and right to read the book.

The selection of books offered in eReader is outstanding. Believe it or not, there are over 60,000 titles available to purchase, which include authors ranging from Stephen King to Howard Stern. And much like Stanza, you can buy those titles from Fictionwise.com. If you don't want to pay for the books, you can get some titles for free from Project Gutenberg. Regardless of whether you want new titles like Artie Lange's "Too Fat to Fish" or classics like "Romeo and Juliet," eReader has it all. And the sites are constantly updated with new titles, so you won't be missing out.

If eReader was a paid app, I'd be hesitant to recommend it because of how difficult it can be (at times) to read certain books. But since it's free and offers a slew of titles at no cost, it's definitely worth trying out and using if you don't want to buy a Kindle 2.


Stanza makes personalizing the text quick and easy. Don Reisinger/CNET
Stanza is the most-downloaded eBook app on the App Store and it gets that prize for good reason: it's the best application in this roundup.

Unlike the Kindle for iPhone app, Stanza allows you to read much more than just books. In fact, the program also lets you access newspapers and online sites, and supports MS LIT, epub, Mobipocket, and PalmDoc eBook formats. You can even view Word documents and PDF files in Stanza.

Buying books and getting them into Stanza is simple. The easiest way to access titles and start reading them is through the Fictionwise Reader Store, accessible within the app. It claims to have over 50,000 titles. In my search, it had everything I was looking for on topics ranging from history to sports to fiction. I didn't have any trouble getting those books and reading them with the app.

Reading eBooks in Stanza is easily the most appealing when compared with its competitors. The app provides for multi-column views or standard book layout view. And by swiping the screen, you can move up, down, left, and right. You can flip pages with just a tap on the screen. You can also change the color, size, and font of your text with a slidebar. Combine those options and you can easily create an experience that can be tailored to your liking.

Much like eReader, I was impressed by the selection Stanza offered. If you want newer titles and you're willing to pay for them, Stanza allows you to download books from Fictionwise.com. If you want free titles or those you simply can't find elsewhere, you can also use Project Gutenberg. That may not help Stanza differentiate itself from eReader (the selection is practically the same), but I found that with both services at your disposal, you won't be wishing for more titles. In fact, I found books from Stephen Ambrose, Edger Allan Poe, and a slew of other writers. Suffice it to say that, like eReader, Stanza's title selection is outstanding.

The real value of Stanza goes beyond books you can buy or those you can get for free from Project Gutenberg. Because it supports periodicals and Web sites, Stanza is the closest you can get on the iPhone to using the Amazon Kindle--the real Kindle, not the iPhone app. And although it's hobbled by the iPhone's smaller screen, it still provides an outstanding experience (for free, no less) that you definitely should try out in place of Amazon's device.

Kindle for iPhone

Kindle for iPhone
Kindle for iPhone is good, but not great. Don Reisinger/CNET

Getting going on the Kindle for iPhone application is a snap. When I loaded it for the first time, I was prompted for my Amazon username and password. Once entered, I was brought to the Amazon front page, which featured all of the books that I had purchased for the Amazon Kindle device prior to this review. Since I already purchased those titles, I was able to quickly access them and start reading. And much like the eReader app, Kindle for iPhone remembers where I left off, so I never needed to flip through pages to find my spot.

I was generally impressed by the experience Kindle for iPhone created. Turning the page is achieved by swiping your finger across the screen, and as on the Kindle itself, you can bookmark pages, change font size, and sample the titles before you decide to buy.

But one feature is conspicuously missing: the Kindle application does not support newspapers. You'll be forced to read only books in the application. And if you want to read articles from the newspaper, you'll be forced to do it the old-fashioned way by using Safari.

You also can't buy any books in the app. Instead, you'll be forced to use Safari on the iPhone to go to Amazon's Kindle Store and buy a book there. It's annoying and a confusing decision that makes the value of this app decline significantly. However, you can't beat the selection of current titles that Amazon has available for download.

Reading books on the Kindle app was appealing, and I was generally impressed with the experience. Amazon did a nice job of making the iPhone feel like the Kindle. Kindle for iPhone is free, so you won't need to worry about dishing out any more cash than what's necessary to buy books for the device. But since it's difficult to buy those books and you can't read newspapers, I'm hard-pressed to recommend this program. If you really want a Kindle, don't use this app; buy the device.

Books as apps

You don't need an Reader to read Shakespeare. Don Reisinger/CNET
Just because there are eBook readers in the App Store, it doesn't mean that you need to use those if you want to read books. Believe it or not, your iPhone is all you'll need.

The App Store has a relatively limited number of books for sale as apps. Since you don't need an additional e-book reader to read through them (the books have reader software built-in), it's an affordable way to get into the e-book market.

I downloaded a few titles on my iPhone and found that, generally, the experience was about the same as you would expect from any other reader on the device. That said, you won't be able to customize the way the books are displayed as easily and each title is a standalone, so you can't have multiple books housed under one icon, like you can with eReader or Stanza.

Overall, the reading experience was fine when I picked individual books and each title remembered where I left off. Swiping to the left allowed me to go to the next page and the "pinch" feature let me zoom in on different parts of the page. It made reading intuitive, but once again, trying to find the sweet spot that balances both font size and readability was difficult.

Individual book pricing is all over the map. Some titles are free in the App Store and others cost more than $20. It all depends on the book. But you probably won't be blown away by the selection. And at $20--given the price of "real" books--I'm not convinced that it's even worth it.

Cream of the crop

If you don't want to switch to the Kindle 2 and you want to use your iPhone to read eBooks, try Stanza first. It's free, it's full-featured, it offers the best reading experience, and it does much of what the Kindle can do in a smaller (and more affordable) package.