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Old 06-13-2010, 10:20 PM   #1
The Hooded Claw
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FBReader on EVO 4G Phone--Quickie Review

Like several other people here, I've been reevaluating my smart phone choices as I've lost a bit of confidence in the future of the Palm Pre and WebOS--Emotional moment since I've carried a Palm device of some sort on my person essentially every day since 1998. But last week I purchased an EVO 4G "Android" smart phone from Sprint. This phone features a gigantic screen (4.3 inches diagonally), and I had the idea that it might make an acceptable portable ereader.

I've always rejected the idea of a smaller device as an ereader. I always felt the small screens of devices such as the iPod would require too many page turns and be too distracting to be satisfactory for lengthy sessions of sitting and doing focused reading, even though I had loved my Palm Pre for reading shorter pieces such as forum posts and news articles while browsing the internet. But the big 4.3 inch screen on the EVO gives about half the screen area of my Kindle 2. I thought that might be enough to be useful. So I was excited to hear that an Android application to read Kindle books is on the way. I still had one concern--I have a significant collection of science fiction and fantasy books from Baen Books (webscriptions.net), and love reading them on my Kindle 2, but these books can't be read on Kindle apps, even though they work fine in mobi format on the Kindle itself. I'd love to have a way to read them on a portable device.

I thought the FBReader, an ebook reader available for many portable devices, might be the answer. It can read a variety of formats, including ePub. Books from Webscriptions are not DRM'd, and once you have purchased them you are free to "legally" download them in several different formats, including ePub. I've read that some library books offer ebooks for loan in epub format, protected by a DRM scheme. I thought perhaps the FBReader might be a way to read these as well (as most people on this board will know, the Kindle can't read ePub). So I installed FBReader on my EVO, and copied over a Fred Saberhagen novel in ePub format.

Initially, I found that FBReader does work well in a technical sense. You can adjust various things such as margins, font size, change fonts, landscape or portrait orientation, and adjusting whether pages turn by flicking up-and-down or left-to-right with ease. There's a night mode with white print on a black background, for those who like such for reading in dark environments (it still gives me a headache just thinking about it). At least in my first experiments, I found I felt most comfortable setting the pages to flick up-and-down, and reading my EVO in "landscape" format, turned on its side. I felt most comfortable with a slightly larger font than I've been using on my Kindle. I experimented and read Fred Saberhagen for about twenty minutes after spending half an hour or so fiddling with various settings and generally playing with things while watching History Channel International. Pretty much everything is controlled by menus accessed by hitting the menu button on the phone, screen space is dedicated to text, which is as it should be.

The biggest problem I encountered was turning pages. I never found a way I was totally comfortable with. You can turn pages by flicking a finger across the touch screen. I never really liked this, I felt like I had to be a bit too energetic to get the page to flick, and this broke me out of the mindset of being lost in the book. You can also turn pages by rocking the volume button on the EVO. Unfortunately, the rocker switch is set up to run the wrong way--My most natural way to hold the phone with a finger on the rocker switch was to cup my left hand in a C-shape around the EVO, and rest my index finger on the rocker switch. Unfortunately, turning to the next page means I have to click on the wrong side of the rocker switch in this position--I have to reach over the rocker switch from the left, and push on the right side of the rocker switch. This wasn't intolerable, but it wasn't easy and didn't feel natural. I didn't go on with it long enough to really give it a chance, perhaps. The inability to find a way to effortlessly turn a page was the biggest problem I found with this setup.

The short-term verdict is that this does work and is technically possible. I certainly didn't feel as comfortable reading in this way as I do reading on my Kindle, and at least initially, as I do reading on my iPad. This is awkward enough that I won't read this way when alternatives are available. It may be that when I read this way for awhile, I'll get used to it, and settle into a rhythm. I'm leaving the application and the book installed on my Android, and eventually I will be in a situation where I feel the need and desire to read for a block of time, and I'll give it the acid test. In the short term, I'd have to say that this was a technical success, but an operational failure, since I'm not willing to spend an extended time reading on it except when compelled to do so! Incidentally, at least in exploring through the menus, I didn't find a way that appeared to allow dealing with DRM, so those library ebooks are still out of reach for now. I'm going to do some more investigating to make sure that there isn't a way to handle DRM that I missed, though. I'm beginning to think my original impulse was wrong, and I'd be better of holding my phone upright in portrait orientation, cupping my left hand behind it, and clicking the volume button from behind to page forward. I'll try this during lunch at work this week and report back.

Here is a link with more info on FBReader. It is available for free download in the Android store (you'll have to find it yourself on other platforms).

http://www.fbreader.org/about.php
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Old 06-14-2010, 01:45 PM   #2
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Having moved from a smaller Android platform (Samsung Moment) using FBReader to the larger EVO, I find that I can easily use this for my primary reader. The finger flick page turn method is completely natural for me as it is very similar to turning pages in a paper book.

I also have an Asus EEEPC T91 MT convertible tablet, and use it for reading when I'm at home because the larger screen allows me to use a two page format, but when reading on the tablet, I find I miss the finger flick page turn. I have not (yet) found a reading application for the tablet that fully supports the touch screen, but I continue to look for one.
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Old 06-14-2010, 05:19 PM   #3
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FBreader (don't know about FBreaderJ) allows you to set all the keymaps -- so you should be able to switch to your preferred usage.

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Old 06-19-2010, 07:54 PM   #4
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The Android version of FBReader, at least on my HTC Incredible, does not allow key remapping. It gives me the options of turning pages by finger swipes or the volume buttons, but has no configuration options for the specific buttons.
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Old 06-25-2010, 11:19 AM   #5
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I'd complained in my initial review about finger flicking needing to be so energetic that it broke me out of my reading trance....I've since learned that there is a setting for finger-flicking available in the menu. When you uncheck that setting, a touch near the bottom of the screen makes the FBReader page forward, and a touch near the top of the screen makes it page back. Very intuitive and very doable.

One other minor detail, when you page forward or back, the text on the screen seems to fly up or down and make a "realistic" transition. Very nice compared to the slightly shocking dissolve I've gotten used to on the Kindle.
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