Monday, August 8, 2011

Review: The best apps for reading effectively on the iPad

I'll give you the punchline to this post up front...

All you need for great reading on the iPad are the following apps:
iBooks, Kindle, Zinio, Feeddler, Zite, and Flipboard.

Now read on to find out why...

This is another one of my "real world" reviews. You can talk about every feature of each app that I list here for a long time. But instead of doing a feature by feature review, I'm simply going to talk about why they work effectively to make reading on the iPad a great experience.  An experience that has, in fact, led me to go paperless for most of my reading.

In order to set yourself up for reading effectively on the iPad (and to make it more fun!), you first need to determine what it is that you want to read. Books? Magazines? RSS feeds? All of them? The reason I suggest this first step is because there's no one app that does all of these things, so if you have broad reading tastes then you'll want to get several of the apps on my list to get the job done right for you. I'll cover these content sources one by one below with my recommendations.


If reading books is your pleasure, use the iBooks and Kindle apps. There are other book readers out there (like Google Books), but they simply don't compare to iBooks and Kindle.

If the cost of a new book is one of your primary concerns, then always check the price of a new book between Kindle and iBooks. I've found that Kindle is almost always less expensive than iBooks in the US.  If you don't have a strong preference for which one of these readers that you use, buy your books from the least expensive choice.

Cost aside, both Kindle and iBooks offer a lot of similar features and some other unique ones as well that may help you to pick one or the other as your primary reader.  For sure, the format of the ebooks for both readers will be around for a long time, so you don't have to worry that your books will suddenly become obsolete.  eBooks are here to stay.

Some (but not all) of the key features of iBooks:

  1. Seamless experience between the iBooks store, your library, and the reading experience.
  2. Capability to store your books in 'Collections' to organize them by topic.
  3. Capability to import and read PDF's like any other book.
  4. Built in one-touch dictionary and/or search for a highlighted word or phrase.
  5. Fully searchable content.
  6. Capability to bookmark.
  7. Capability to select fonts, font sizes, and sepia or white page color.
  8. Capability to highlight text and add notes to highlighted text.
  9. Many classic books from famous authors (e.g., Charles Dickens) are free!

Some (but not all) of the key features of Kindle:

  1. Kindle eBooks are typically less expensive than iBooks.
  2. Capability to select fonts, font sizes, and sepia, white, or black page color.
  3. Built in one-touch dictionary and/or search for a highlighted word or phrase.
  4. Capability to highlight text and add notes to highlighted text.
  5. Fully searchable content.
  6. Capability to share your highlighted items with the Kindle community for the book you're reading, and have their highlighted items appear in your book as well.  I guess you could call this "social reading".  I'm not entirely sure of the major benefit of this, but it is unique to Kindle.

Have eBooks totally replaced paper books in our house?  No.  I still buy print books when there's a likelihood that I'll be referencing a book frequently or it's an art-book like a large format photography coffee table book that needs to be seen in all of its large format splendor.  But other than those two exceptions, almost all books that we buy now are electronic because the benefits of eBooks far outweigh the paper versions....especially being able to take your whole library with you anywhere that you go!


If you're a big magazine reader, then use the Zinio app. Zinio has over 4,000 magazines available for online subscription and/or individual issue purchase, and the price is always the same or less than the print version of the same magazine.

The nice thing about reading electronic magazines is that the publishers often add extra interactive multimedia content to their electronic versions.  Even if it's just live web links that have been added within the text, just having that is better than the print version. But often, there's much more than that. National Geographic, for example, adds video, audio interviews, and slide shows to the electronic version of their magazines. Obviously that's something that you can't get in the print versions, and it makes for a much more interactive and enjoyable reading experience.

On top of that, here are two other great things.  First, there's no clutter. You don't have stacks of old magazines hanging around. Second, your entire library is searchable. So, for example,  if you remember an article about traveling in Australia that appeared in National Geographic but you can't remember when you saw it, simply search and you shall find!  I rarely use the back issues of my paper magazines for just this would take too long to find anything by flipping through the pages of so many paper issues.

All of my magazines are now electronic.

RSS feeds:

If you look in the Apple App Store, there are a lot of RSS readers out there.  Some of them are free and others can cost up to $5 for an ad-free version. If you subscribe to a lot of websites and/or blog feeds, a good RSS reader is essential for easy reading.

You could just use Google Reader to read your RSS feeds, but I'm going to give you a much better strategy here....

First, definitely use Google Reader to subscribe to your feeds to keep them all in a central location.  The reason I suggest this is because all of the most popular RSS reader apps will interface with your Google Reader account to pull in your feeds from Google, so if you centralize all of your feeds in Google Reader then you'll be impacted minimally if you change your RSS reader app down the road.

Second, don't use Google Reader for RSS reading.  It's downright clunky at best, and it can be confusing at worst when you're trying to find new feeds instead of ones that you've already read, etc.  As with all of the Google tools (Gmail, Calendar, etc), Reader is outdated and in serious need of a total overhaul.

Third, download the free version of Feeddler to actually read and process your feeds from your Google account.  Feeddler is a fully customizable RSS reader that you can set up to manage and read your feeds the exact way that you want to.  Want to see all new items from all of your feeds since the last time that you opened the app?  Want to go back through items you've already read to find something that you want to reference again?  Want to mark something as a favorite and have that mark synchronized with your Google Reader account for future reference or to share with someone?  All of these things are no problem for Feeddler to handle.  And there's so much more.  It really pays to spend some time exploring this app.

Feeddler makes managing my feeds and getting through new RSS items as easy as I think it can possibly be.  There are other apps that are similar to Feeddler (most notably Reeder), but for some of them you have to pay for the full version up front, while Feeddler is free if you're willing to have some banner ads on the bottom of your screen.  If you don't like the Feeddler banners then you can buy the full version for $5 and get rid of them.

Customized Magazines:

This is where the fun starts....

Zite and Flipboard have both revolutionized the concept of creating a personalized online magazine that gets updated daily with content of your choosing.

Both apps offer you the capability to have many sources of news content sent to your virtual magazine (including pulling in content from your social media accounts and RSS accounts if you want), but Zite takes it one step further with the fact that it begins to "understand" the articles that you like and mark as favorites, and it will load your magazine daily with more content of that same type.  Flipboard does not do this, and therefore it's more of a simple news-pushing type of app.

Both apps have curated content in which editors select the best and/or most popular news stories from a large variety  of topics and news sources.  All you have to do is include the sections you want in your magazine, and you're done.  It's updated daily with the latest news.

Both of the apps feature elegant but different interfaces, the capability to email links to articles, include social media in your magazine, mark items as favorites, and post to your social media tools.

The reason that I use both of them instead of just one is because they both offer slightly different content sources, so when I use them both I get a very good cross section of topics that I'm interested in, instead of using just one and missing some key news areas that I like to follow.

So, in a nutshell real-world sort of way, the information above explains why I believe these apps are just about all you need for reading on the iPad.  I'm sure the latest and greatest apps will come along to knock Zite and Flipboard off their popularity pedestal, but I think that iBooks, Kindle, and Zinio are here to stay for sure.  They are very solid at what they do, and they deserve their strong and loyal user-bases.

I hope you'll spend some time to fully explore these apps to learn all that they have to offer.  Enjoy your reading, and I hope you find this post useful!

1 comment:

  1. helpful post john. thanks for taking the time to write it. sent the link to a few other people already. nice blog!