The Nokia N8 makes a great book reader thanks to its excellent screen and easy pocket-ability. Just as the best camera is the one you have with you, the best eBook is the one you have in your pocket. Dedicated book readers like the Kindle are OK, but unlike a phone, too big to carry everywhere.
Unfortunately it’s not easy to find book reading apps for the N8 and other Symbian^3 phones like the C7 and E7. In fact I couldn’t find a single one in the Ovi Store!
I next looked for MobiPocket Reader, which was my favorite reader on the N95, but it hasn’t been updated since Amazon bought the company and the final Symbian version doesn’t support the N8.
Google, as usual came to the rescue, a quick search turned up three eBook apps that I liked. Here’s a quick review and screen shots for each.
eReader (images, top). Like MobiPocket, this company has been acquired by a book selling giant, in this case Barnes & Noble. But unlike Amazon, B&N continues to upgrade and enhance the reader and has made the formerly paid “Pro” version of eReader available for free on many platforms including Symbian. There’s no Symbian^3 version yet, but the 5th edition one for the N97, 5800, etc. works on the N8, although there is one bug, which has an easy work around. When you first run eReader and open any book you won’t be able to read anything as all the text appears as little boxes rather than normal characters. This happens even with the free copies of “Around the World in 80 Days” and “The Time Machine” that come bundled with the reader and with the eReader help file. The problem seems to be an incompatibillity with the Maynard font which eReader defaults to on the N8. To fix the font issue, change the font as follows:
- Open any book and double tap the screen to exit full screen mode.
- Press the on screen “Options” button and choose “Options > Text Settings… > Font”.
- Change the font to Nokia Sans S60 or Nokia Sans TitleSmBdS60.
- Press the “OK” button, then “Options“, then “OK” again to save the change.
eReader is a full featured reader. You can change font sizes, line spacing, justification and margins and chose a background texture for book pages. There’s an auto scrolling option, books have a Table of Contents and you can bookmark pages, make annotations and search a book for a text string. You can choose to turn pages by swiping left and right or tapping the top and bottom of the page. I found scrolling by swiping a little laggy and unpredictable. Scrolling by tapping worked much better.
eReader is really configured to only use books purchased from the B&N owned Fictionwise and eReader online stores. It doesn’t offer in-app purchasing but can download books that you have purchased on the eReader and Fictionwise websites. Books from both stores use DRM although is implemented in a little more user friendly way than most DRM schemes. You unlock a book by entering the credit card number used to purchase the book into the reader. That means you can easily transfer books between devices. If you change your credit card and forget the old cards number you can even re-download the books for free using your new credit card number.
You can use your own DRM-free books from other sources. eReader supports books in the eReader and PalmDoc formats. ManyBooks.net (mobile site: mnybks.net) is one source of free, out of copyright and Creative Commons licensed books in both formats.
The Open Source PC app Calibre , which is available for Windows, Linux and OS X, can convert ePUB, RTF, PDF, text, HTML and many other formats into PalmDoc compatible files.
To use your own files with eReader copy them into the /data/others/ folder on the “drive” (C, E or F) that you installed eReader into. On the N8, C is the Main Memory, E is the 16 GB non-removable Mass Memory and F is the SD card.
Foliant (images, above): This a Java ME reader that is optimized for touch screen devices. It’s an early beta but is already a very attractive and polished reader. It even looks more like a native app than a Java one on the N8. I also find the font that it uses the most readable and easiest on the eyes of the three readers.
Foliant’s a little weak on features though. In particular, it doesn’t support text search or annotation. Foliant does let you change font sizes, justification and margins and chose a background color for book pages. There’s an auto scrolling option, books have a Table of Contents and you can bookmark pages. You can choose to turn pages by swiping left and right or tapping the top and bottom or left and right sides of the page. Foliant can open books in any folder on the phone.
Foliant supports DRM-free books in FB2, text and zipped text formats. FB2 books are available from Manybooks.net and Calibre can convert most other formats to FB2.
The Foliant website is in Russian but the reader is fully localized to English and will detect the device language and default to English on an English handset. If you want to browse the site and don’t read Russian, the Google translator does a very good job with Russian sites these days.
Direct download link for Foliant: sites.google.com/site/foliantapp/foliant_0.6.3.jar
ZX Reader from ZXStyles is a native Symbian app with an impressive feature set. Fonts, margins, justification, line spacing, background colors, background images and brightness are all configurable. There’s table of contents and bookmark support but no annotations. ZX Reader can open books in any folder on the phone.
But the best feature of ZX Reader is that you can configure it to use the phone’s volume rocker to turn pages, which I find to be the fastest and easiest page turning method on the N8.
To set up volume key paging:
- Tap the on screen “Menu” icon, then choose “Settings > Profiles > Current profile > Control > Commands”.
- On the “Commands” screen, tap “Next Page” then tap “Button 1“, press the volume down key and tap “Apply”.
- Repeat the above steps setting the “Prev page” “Key 1” to the volume up key.
Warning: If you are using an Symbian^3 phone do not tap the “Toggle infobar” item in the ZXReader “Screen” nenu. The Infobar is the on screen menu button and is the only way to open the menu on these phones. Toggling removes it from the screen and you will not be able to exit the app, change settings or go to your library. If you do accidently toggle it off the only way to recover is to restore the settings to their defaults by closing ZXReader with the Task Manager, deleting e:\Data\ZXReader2\ Config\ ProfileN.NNNN (where N>.NNNN are some random numbers) and then restarting ZXReader. Unfortunately, going back to the default settings means you will have to redo any customizations (fonts, margins, key mappings, etc.)
ZX Reader is another Russian app with a Russian only site. The app supports English, just choose it when you are prompted during installation.
Direct download link for ZX Reader: zxstyles.allnokia.ru/download/zxreader/ZXReader_188.8.131.52th.signed.sis
All three readers are pretty good. I mainly use ZX Reader as I like the volume rocker scrolling, use text search and mostly read free public domain and Creative Commons licensed eBooks. If you want current best sellers, textbooks and other non-free books, eReader is your only choice unless you are into striping the DRM from Kindle books and then converting the format. EReader is also the only app to support annotations. Foliant has the nicest UI, fonts and icons. If it gets text search, I would seriously consider switching to it.
Update: I originally wrote that ZX Reader supports the ePub eBook format, which would be a real plus as ePub is currently the most widely supported open standard format for eBooks. Project Gutenberg and most other free eBook publishers and download sites offer their books in ePub format, minimizing the need for conversion. However ZX Reader does not currently support ePub. At one time ZXStyles planed to add ePub support in a future release but development has ceased and V 2.0.3 is the final realease. Supported formats are FB2, RTF, text and zip files containing any of the supported formats. ManyBooks.net is a good source of free books in FB2 format.
Update 2: Since this post was published, two new Symbian^3 compatible eBook readers have bed released, FBReader and Albite. They both support the now standard ePub format. Click the links below to see my posts about them: