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Robot Readers: E-Reader apps and ebooks for Android

While we at Recombu are comitted to preserving an analogue life to a certain degree, we have a sneaking admiration for ebooks. It’s convenient to carry around multiple titles in your pocket, it’s good for trees as fewer of them are pulped and you can read whatever you want on the train without people judging you for indulging your guilty literary pleasures.

With Stieg Larsson’s Millenium Trilogy of books passing the 1 million mark on Amazon’s Kindle, we decided to take a wander around the Android Market to see what its booksellers had to offer today’s discerning readers.

While we found a large number of ebook readers and apps in the Market we’ve been meticulous in our selection process. We were especially dubious about the legality of some of the e-readers; one in particular was giving away books by someone called J.K. Rolin about a wizard called Harry potter (with a lower case ‘p’). For free.

Potentially illegal apps aside, we’ve rounded up five of the best ways to enjoy accessing and reading ebooks on your Android device.

Aldiko is one of the most customisable and user-friendly ebook readers available for Android. It features a nice virtual bookshelf allowing you to easily peruse your ebook collection. There’s a day and night mode to toggle the background colour of the book, switching the white background for a black one (with white text) so reading stories at night isn’t such a strain on the old peepers.

Aldiko also allows you to change the font size and style to suit your preferences. You can’t currently import font files which is a shame, as we were really looking forward to reading Twilight in Comic Sans. You get a couple of books to start with, Sun Tzu’s Art of War and H. G. Wells’ The Invisible Man to give you an idea of how it works.

Aside from these bundled titles, Aldiko comes stocked with thousands of books, the majority of them free and in the public domain (provided via Feedbooks). There is also a range of O’Reilly technology books and manuals available if you’ve ever wanted to have a guide to writing JavaScript or developing iPhone apps on your Android phone (you’ll need an account with O’Reilly in order to do this).

Aldiko is free to download from the Android Market now, works on all Android devices and comes pre-installed on the Samsung Galaxy S. There is also a ‘Premium’ version of Aldiko which does the same thing, but should really be considered as a donation version (it costs $2.99/£1.90).

eReader.com for Android app allows you to download, buy and read ebooks from both the eReader.com and fictionwise.com websites.

While you can customise the text of each book, unfortunately there’s no option to alter the size or fonts while you’re reading. You’ll have to duck out of the book, go to the main menu and press the menu key to make any changes before returning to wherever you were. There’s a disappointing selection of fonts compared to some of the other apps, and there’s no night mode either.

However, there is a rather handy text selection tool which allows you to highlight certain passages, copy to a clipboard or search for on Google. We can imagine that this will come in very handy for students.

Bookmarks are automatically created, so if you hit ‘back’ on your Android phone and exit the app, you’ll be returned to the page where you left off when you open up the ebook again.

The eReader app doesn’t yet appear to be listed in the Market so you’ll need to install the app by following this link on your Android phone.

Amazon’s Kindle Store is bustling with over 600,000 titles which can now be accessed on your Android phone. If you’ve got a Kindle e-reader already then you’ll be pleased to know that ebooks purchased on your Android phone, desktop or e-reader can be read on each of the platforms thanks to a syncing process Amazon calls Whispersync.

You’ll need to have an account with Amazon before you can start using the app so set one up on your computer beforehand (have your credit card details ready).

At the moment there’s not much in the way of an interface when it comes to buying ebooks – many of the options in the various menus are currently links to the Kindle for Android page on Amazon’s website. An improved store interface is in the works and will be rolled out as an update in the near future. Other forthcoming feature updates to the app include a dictionary and search tools plus a zoom function.

Ebooks read on the Kindle app are all very easy on the eye – you get a choice of white or sepia coloured ‘paper’ plus the option to change to a black background and adjust the brightness for nocturnal reading. Whenever you create a bookmark, the app dog ears the page you’ve marked in the top right corner. Just as well these are ebooks; we’d dare not be so disrespectful to actual books in real life.

As well as providing access to an unparalleled range of ebooks, Amazon’s prices are generally better than anything else on offer here. That said the ebooks you buy will only work on Kindle-compatible apps and devices.

Like the Kindle app, Kobo for Android (geddit? It’s an anagram of ‘Book’) is an ebook reader which allows you to read your downloaded titles on multiple devices; your Android phone, your computer through the desktop app and, if you’ve got one, your Kobo e-reader.

An automatic bookmarking system kicks in whenever you press the ‘back’ button on your Android phone. The next time you click on an ebook you’ll be taken straight to the page where you left it.

Again, like the Kindle, this works across platforms too. So if you started reading Ben H. Winters and Leo Tolstoy’s Android Karenina on your Android phone (what else?) you could pick up where you left off on your desktop, laptop, tablet or Kobo reader.

Frustratingly, we weren’t able to try the desktop app out as it only comes bundled with a Kobo reader, which you currently can’t buy in the UK. You can order one from Borders in the US for $150 with free international shipping although you’ll have to pay customs charges as normal. Not to worry though, the Kobo desktop app is set to be made available as a free download later in the summer.

If you don’t already have an account with Kobo you can easily set one up within the app. Once you’ve paid for your first ebook and entered your credit card details, the Kobo app remembers everything so you don’t have to enter it all a second time.

Like most other ebook readers on Android, Kobo allows you to change the font style and size and switch to and from day and night modes. Your ebooks are displayed in either a list or in a virtual bookshelf from where you can easily rifle through your digital library.

Essentially a mobile version of it’s desktop equivalent, Google Book Search for mobiles gives you access to over 1.5 million titles straight from your Android phone.

The titles, all of which are in the public domain, are based on high resolution scans of physical copies of books, as opposed to true ebooks.

Scans of books at http://books.google.com/m have now been optimised for browsing on Android and iPhone devices. As you’re viewing the books in a browser and not an app, you’re essentially scrolling up and down on a webpage rather than flicking left to right on an formatted ebook.

As such there’s no bookmarking, no night mode, no search or text selection or any other of the options available on the other readers. Having said that it’s entirely free, the scans do look great on the small screen and books load very quickly.

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