Smartphone e-Reader App Reviews: Stanza by Lexcycle

As e-books become more popular, they are inevitably merging with the largest platform for e-book readers, the smartphone. Google’s Android operating system is now powering more phones than Apple’s iOs, but both continue to surge ahead in terms of market penetration and new users.

All told, the top 5 smartphone manufacturers sold 140 million phones in 2010. That’s a lot more than all the iPads, Kindles, Nooks, Sony Readers and Kobo tablets put together.

It makes sense to think about whether your book are suitable for the smallest screen. Will the story still make sense on those little pages? Will the formatting of your nonfiction book survive the reader’s desire to see the type at the largest available size?

Time to find out.

I decided to take the top e-Book reader apps for smartphones out for a virtual test drive. Although I don’t claim to be encyclopedic in these reviews, I’m looking at them both from the point of view of someone who doesn’t mind reading on the phone, as well as a publisher looking to find readers where they want to be reading. If that’s for a few minutes while standing waiting for the bus, so be it. That’s up to the reader.

StanzaI decided to start with Stanza, a free e-reader originally developed by Lexcycle, a company that was later acquired by Amazon. It’s unclear at this point whether Amazon intends to keep the program alive or not, since the website seems to have gone dormant some months ago.

However, Stanza, which was the most popular e-Reader at one time, and one of the top free apps in Apple’s app store, is such an unusual e-book reader, it’s well worth a look.

For Readers, You Need Books

One of the things that distinguishes Stanza is the sources for its e-books. Unlike Kindle, iBooks, Google and Nook, the app is not linked to one store for its purchases. Instead, Stanza has access to a lot of diverse libraries of e-books. This is both a strength and a weakness, since you may not find the same coverage or quantity in the different collections as you might with the Kindle app, for example.

But Stanza has other tricks up its sleeve. Let’s look at the main components. Compared to most e-book readers, Stanza has a vast control system that allows you to customize your reading experience in ways no other e-reader can match.

Here are the main elements of the app, with some notes.

  • Reading screen—Stanza gives you unparalleled control over the display, far surpassing what other e-book readers allow. Here the reading screen is shown in Georgia with a beige background, and with the type fully justified and hyphenated, something that’s simply impossible on other e-readers.
    Stanza reading screen

    Click to enlarge

Control screen—This is the screen you get when you tap once, and it gives you access to a huge variety of tools to control the app. From here you can navigate using the buttons along the bottom of the screen, to:

 

 

Stanza control screen

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Stanza settings

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Note that in the settings screen there’s a sample at the top showing you instantly the effect of the changes you’re making.

 

 

  • Table of Contents, bookmarks and annotations
  • Settings screens with controls for general items, layout, appearance, and app control.
  • Layout tools like Justify, Left, right or center,
  • Hyphenation with dictionaries in many languages
  • Margins, Line spacing, Paragraph spacing and Paragraph indent. These controls use adjustment sliders.
  • Appearance tools like switching to the Night Theme
  • Choice of 42 fonts, and font size selection with sliders
  • Background and text colors
  • Background image and opacity
  • Even more software controls like lock rotation, use page turn effects and more.
     
  • Library screen—Here is where you store your books, and you can sort on Books, Authors, or Groups.
  • Bookstore screen—You can see right away the difference between Stanza and the proprietary apps that only allow you to shop in one store. The app includes access to these retailers:

     

    And these free and sample e-book sources:

    Stanza bookstores

    Click to enlarge

    You’ll notice even more control icons at the bottom of the screen, including an invert button to switch between black on white or white on black, a search tool and access to yet another screen of controls, this one called Actions, which includes

    • Books on Board eBook Shop
    • O’Reilly Ebooks
    • All Romance eBooks
    • SmashWords
    • Fictionwise
    • Feedbooks
    • Project Gutenberg
    • Random House Free Library
    • Try Harlequin
    • Books from Munseys
    • Books from BookGlutton
    • Pan Macmillan Tasters
    • the command to delete a book
    • a dictionary
    • access to your downloads
    • another set of font size controls
    • and a sharing menu for Facebook, Twitter or via email

Just for fun, I changed a lot of the display parameters and loaded a more heavily formatted nonfiction book. Here it is with a white background, no hyphenation or justification, and typeset in American Typewriter:

Stanza

Click to enlarge

Overall, Stanza is easy to use and gives you terrific control of the reading experience in far more detail than any other e-reader. Although the choice of new trade books may not be as wide as other, proprietary apps, the ability of Stanza to also handle PDFs and other formats is even more reason to add this app to your smartphone.

Next up: Apple’s iBooks app.

Stanza in the iTunes App Store
Also available as an app for Macintosh, for iPad and for Windows.

 

This is a reprint from Joel Friedlander‘s The Book Designer.

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