Last Christmas I was looking for an affordable, portable media player that I could also use to surf the web, and ideally run additional applications on. After considering various options, I settled for an iPod touch. Initially I hoped to find something with similar abilities and more open, but eventually I gave in, mostly due to the positive reviews of the device and the many applications available from the App Store.
Having used it for a few weeks now, I feel there’s two applications I use the most that are worth mentioning:
A very well designed and amazingly free ebook reading application. Easy access to free (and paid) books, with many configuration options. With a desktop app you can add your own files too, allowing conversion from many different formats.
Now for a rant on ebook readers…
I have read about people saying they don’t like the idea of reading a book on a screen, mentioning eye strain as the main issue. I have to wonder how many people have actually discovered this from personal experience.
Note that we live in an age where a lot of people spend a good deal amount of time sitting behind a computer or watching TV. Sure, eye strain can be a problem, so you take a short break and then probably go back to what you were doing. I really don’t find a difference there reading on my iPod. Reading for two hours, watching a movie for two hours, playing a video game for two hours…there’s not that big a difference.
So I don’t see why one ought to shell out the same kind of money for a Kindle or other epaper device. They’re bulkier, have only a fraction of the capabilities of PMP/PDAs, and at best cost the same amount of money. And for what, less eye strain after reading for four hours straight? How is that worth it? YMMV, but in general I would say that for most people it isn’t. The size factor can be positive in some cases, but I like being able to carry around my book collection in my pocket and hold up the reader just one hand.
My wife, Katrina, feels the same way. In fact, she’s read over ten books on her little Machspeed Oasis player, which reads plaintext books and only costs about $40 USD. I had to write a script to help make the text more readable, but despite that it’s surprisingly functional, including a automatic bookmarking system. Especially as she often has a baby asleep on her, being able to read from a lightweight device comes in very handy.
Again, it’s not for every book lover. But for most people I would say reading ebooks on a portable non-epaper device is certainly worth trying.
So…um…that was Stanza!
It reads comic books! I’d never been a big fan of superhero comics when I was younger, but three years ago Katrina (a big X-Men fan) bought the 40 Years of X-Men DVD, which includes 485 X-Men comics in PDF format. We started to read it on a desktop computer, but the Adobe Reader isn’t that great for reading comics.
There are methods of reading PDFs on the iPod touch/iPhone, but they’re kind of slow and don’t track your reading progress. So after a search I discovered that ComicZeal supports (through conversion) Comic Book Archive files, which are basically just ZIPs or RARs of image files. So after buying the app ($2) and converting the PDFs to CBZ files (quite a process, and one that I may describe some other time), I’ve finally been able to properly read my 485 comic books on my iPod.
While ComicZeal is currently a little rough around the edges, it does its job very well. Zooming and panning is smooth and fast, and it’s easy to go from one page to the next. There are some other comic book apps out there which I haven’t tried though, so I don’t know exactly how CZ stacks up against them.
So those are the two apps that keep me busy lately, together with the occasional free games. On that note, try the kick-ass Ninja Ropes Extreme web game! Featured in the also highly recommended Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog Commentary! The Musical, Ninja Ropes isn’t just for mobile Safari, it’ll also work in any modern desktop browser. And by “modern” I mean Firefox, Opera, Safari and Chrome, since the game uses the HTML5 Canvas element.