Comics, PDFs, and more: Stanza for iPad is a universal (and free) killer e-reader

Comics, PDFs, ePubs and more: Stanza is the best universal e-reader we've tried, and it's also free. We hope competitors are taking notes.

Scott Stein Editor at Large
I started with CNET reviewing laptops in 2009. Now I explore wearable tech, VR/AR, tablets, gaming and future/emerging trends in our changing world. Other obsessions include magic, immersive theater, puzzles, board games, cooking, improv and the New York Jets. My background includes an MFA in theater which I apply to thinking about immersive experiences of the future.
Expertise VR and AR, gaming, metaverse technologies, wearable tech, tablets Credentials
  • Nearly 20 years writing about tech, and over a decade reviewing wearable tech, VR, and AR products and apps
Scott Stein
2 min read
Comic found on the Comic Book Archive, effortlessly imported via Safari on the iPad to Stanza. Who needs Mac syncing? Scott Stein/CNET

The iPad is rapidly becoming a Swiss army knife for e-reading apps of all types. Just in case you find Apple's iBooks disappointing (and most of us do), there are the Kindle, Kobo, and Barnes & Noble apps. While each has its advantages, they're generally not compatible with each other. They also make sharing and file-format recognition beyond their e-books pretty difficult.

Well, here's the good news: Stanza just hit the iPad last night.

Stanza has been a longtime favorite of iPhone and iPod Touch users--it accesses a variety of e-book stores directly, can read several formats, and has an amazing amount of font, spacing and color customization. It was a bit of a surprise to see this latest update, simply because Amazon acquired Stanza last year to create the backbone for their Kindle app.

The universal iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad app update that has just arrived, version 3.0, looks superficially just like Stanza did before, albeit on a larger iPad screen. Unlike the Kindle and Barnes & Noble apps, Stanza can still browse Feedbooks, Project Gutenberg, and several other book collections directly within the app. The app doesn't connect with Amazon, nor does it offer any indications of an Amazon link.

The additions to this version, however, are eye-opening: Stanza now supports PDFs and comic book files in CBR format (yes, full-color ones). That comic book reader we were excited about that costs about 7 dollars? Irrelevant.

And here's the final kicker: Stanza also happens to be free.

E-mailing a CBR comic file directly from Stanza is easy. Scott Stein/CNET

What's equally impressive is how easily books can be added or removed. You can add documents directly via iTunes, or import files directly via Safari or Mail. You can also share e-books (or any file in Stanza) via e-mail. I sent myself a PDF, an ePub file and a CBR file easily. This also means iPad users should be able to trade files nearly instantaneously over Wi-Fi. (And you thought iPads already made piracy simple?)

For PDFs alone, this is a top app. While I've loved GoodReader for its ability to browse PDF scripts and other files of mine and thus skip using a printer, Stanza incorporates page-turning that makes the experience just like other e-books, but without requiring conversion. I've been longing to make my iPad a reading device for drafts of formatted screenplays and other projects I've written, and Stanza works wonderfully in that capacity. It's enough to alleviate my feelings of app fatigue for weeks.

I'd say this a must-buy, but it doesn't cost anything, so I'll simply call it a go-download-immediately. We are curious as to what Amazon is after by enabling Stanza 3.0--perhaps it's a test run for multiformat Kindles?--but we'll take it gladly. The iPad was already a good e-reader...now it's a superlative one, provided you don't use it in the sun.