Reading Books on Your Smartphone For Free
by Philip Chien
Kindles and Nooks make excellent eBook readers, but you don't have to have them if you've got a Smartphone. This article is specifically for the Android, but the same techniques work for an iPhone and other smartphones.
First and most important - size counts; don't let anybody kid you. It's way easier to read a 7" eBook reader or tablet than a 3" Android phone's screen. On the other hand, you almost always have your phone with you and convenience is nice too. I will read a chapter of a book on my phone while I'm waiting in a restaurant or standing in a line because it is so convenient.
You can get Nook and Kindle software for your Smartphone which will give you access to vast libraries of ebooks for sale. My preference is to read books which have been legitimately released in electronic formats. This won't include the latest best sellers or many other books but there are still thousand to choose from.
I've always said one of the major advantages of the Android is there are so many different apps available and one of the major disadvantages of the Android is there are so many different apps available. It takes a lot of experimenting to find an app which does what you want for a reasonable price.
After going through a dozen choices I came across Mantano Reader Free. The most important feature is it reflows text. Every PDF (Adobe's Portable Document Format) reader lets you zoom in on a page, but if you've got to constantly scroll your window back and forth to read a line of text it's more trouble than useful. Mantano reformats your text, including columns of text, so you can read your book at a comfortable font size (you can easily adjust the size of the text and temporarily make it bigger if your eyes happen to be a bit tired that day). One caution is for reflow to work the PDF has to be saved properly as actual text within the document, not just a 'picture' of the page. In addition many PDF documents assume that they're only going to be displayed in the original format the author intended, so there are formatting errors (hyphenated words, short lines of text). It's similar to how many word processing documents have extra returns at the ends of lines, spaces after the end of a paragraph, or extra tabs – stuff you'd never notice if you just read the document but very noticeable if you're editing it. It's a minor annoyance which you quickly get used to. The text reflow isn't perfect, if there's a table on the page than Mantano may just display it as an entire page. Hopefully future updates will address these shortcomings.
Mantano supports Digital Rights Management so if you do want to purchase eBooks you can enter your serial number and read them too. In addition to PDF Mantano supports the popular ePub format, but it does not support plain text files or Microsoft Word formats (which is fine, there are plenty of apps for those formats). The free version of Mantano is supported by advertisements; there is also a pay version without ads for $4.99.
One minor "feature" is you can't just open up a document you've never read before. When you select "Import" the app searches through all of the folders on your memory card (about half a minute, depending on how many files you've got) and then lets you select any PDF and ePub documents which have not been previously opened by Mantano. Selecting the file saves it in Mantano's menu and adds the first page as a cover. It takes about a minute to add each new book. Once that's done the book's available in Mantano's menu and can be opened directly. When you 'close' a book Mantano remembers your place the next time you resume reading it.
I still prefer sitting down with an actual book, but most of my reading is online because there's so much more information available. If I had a Tablet I'd certainly use it for eBooks. I doubt that I would want a Kindle or Nook because I try to avoid uni-taskers, especially ones which use proprietary formats which may not be supported in the future. Using my Android as an eBook reader is a good compromise. With the font size I find comfortable I can read about a paragraph at a time so I need to 'flip' electronic sub-pages about 5-6 times for each page in an actual book.
Many books are legally available in PDF and ePub formats. Older books with expired copyrights are in the public domain, include classics and many interesting books on unusual topics. (For example, books published in 1912 on the Titanic became extremely popular again for the centennial of the sinking).
Many books are never copyrighted to begin with, in particular government documents. NASA has a vast library of its books going back to the beginning of the space program and they're gradually being converted into electronic formats.
Some authors have released their books electronically because they're realistic enough to know that the publisher will not be printing another run and they'd like to have their books out where the public can read them. In some cases the electronic book will also include a free chapter of their current book as a teaser to encourage you to purchase their new book.
In a couple of cases authors have not been happy with how their publishers have edited their works, even though their name is on the cover; so they've self-published the original version. Legally they can't sell their version since the publisher has the exclusive rights so the authors give it away.
Many fan-produced magazines - of varying quality from pretty crappy to pretty good - are published primarily electronically, with hardcopies only on a print-on-demand basis for folks who insist on reading conventional paper magazines.
There are certainly pirate copies of many books available for download where somebody's scanned in the book – with or without making any money. In these cases the author's getting ripped off since the pirate never obtained permission to redistribute the book in electronic format.
If you do want to legitimately purchase and read books electronically there are Kindle and Nook smartphone applications.
The concept of electronic books has been around a long time. In 1972 science writer Issac Asimov was at a seminar on communications and society. He relates that a speaker talked about how video cassettes would permit specialized topics to be distributed to an appreciative audience, unlike mass market television which tends to be bland since it's desirable to air non-controversial topics which don't offend people. The speaker said, "The manuscript of the future will not be a badly typed sheaf of papers but a neatly photographed sequence of images." The speaker added, "And men like Issac Asimov will find themselves outmoded and replaced.
Asimov had his opportunity to respond when another speaker couldn't make it to the conference and Asimov was asked to pinch hit. The good Dr. A. described a futuristic device which would make it possible to convey communications on a portable device which would not require any power, silent (so it won't intrude on others), and the viewer's will would control the pace of the story – in other words, a book.
Asimov wrote up this experience in his non-fiction science column in "Fantasy and Science Fiction" magazine in the January 1973 issue. "The Ancient and the Ultimate" was reprinted in hardcover and paperback editions later that year in a collection of his science columns, "The Tragedy of the Moon".
The essay is still a fascinating read, four decades later. It's amusing that Asimov used the phrase "trans-Atlantic phone call from London" where now a writer would just say "call from London" or even just "call" since a multi-continent phone call isn't a big deal anymore. The cassettes described in the article saw light in the late 1970s as the VHS and Betamax tapes and there are specialty videos you would never see on television that cater to niche audiences.
The article has been cited as an example of not thinking forward enough to where technology would make electronic books practical. But in the essay Asimov says, "I admit the book may undergo changes in non-essentials. It was once handwritten; now it is printed. The technology of publishing the printed book has advanced in a hundred ways, and in the future books may be turned out electronically from a television set in your house." Computer monitors and smartphone screens can be used as television sets so Asimov's speculation did come true.
The blurb on the back cover of "The Tragedy of the Moon" (at least on my paperback edition) hypes "COULD SOPHISTICATED INFORMATION DELIVERY SYSTEMS REPLACE BOOKS AND THE PRINTED WORD IN THE FORSEEABLE FUTURE?"
The answer is yes – eBooks are here. But it's still the written word which book lovers cherish.
Mantano reader is an excellent free PDF and ePub reader for Android phones.
Order The Tragedy of the Moon from Amazon.com.
Order Kindle from Amazon.com.
Sources for legitimate free eBooks –
Note - These sites claim that their downloadable books downloadable are legitimate non-copyrighted works, but we are not responsible for the accuracy of anything on these external links.
PDFbooks.co.za - free open library of over 7,000 pdf ebooks
Planet PDF - Free PDF eBooks
Free Science Fiction & Fantasy Books Online
gutenbergThe CD and DVD Project - Gutenberg
Free PDF Books, PDF Search Engine - Toodoc
Bibliomania - Free Online Literature and Study Guides
George Orwell's 1984 and Animal Farm
Univ of Virginia Electronic Text center
About the author
Philip Chien has reading since he was about 4 years old and has a personal library with about 2000 books.
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