Dec 5 2014 9:30am

The App Doesn’t Fall Far from the E-Reader: Reading Apps to Love and Use

A phone amongst the booksLast time, we talked about devices you could use to read. This time, we're tackling reading apps.

While a computer (PC or Mac) isn’t ideal for reading on, it’s an unbeatable tool for managing your books. You can use it to backup your library, and there is one outstanding program to help you. If you prefer to do the work yourself, you can file all your books any way you choose, just as you do everything else, and load them on to your device using drag-and-drop. But I’d strongly recommend installing Calibre.

When you have an eBook library as big as mine, it’s important to have a library that works in different ways. Anybody who has a lot of eBooks, this program is invaluable. You can put all your books on it, and you can install Calibre, and your Library, on any Windows computer you own. It also works on a Mac.

You can download all the details about your book, by clicking “add metadata” which will put on missing tags, cover art and so on. You can arrange your books in a variety of ways; by author, title, series, date published and any other way you can think of, because you can add custom columns. You load direct from Calibre to your device in one of two ways. You can hook your device to the computer by cable, right click and choose “send to device,” or you can put an app called Calibre Companion on to your device, and connect your computer to the device wirelessly. It’s a two-way communication, so you can mark up the books you’ve read and transfer your notes and so on. Calibre Companion isn’t free, but it’s only a few dollars and if you’re a heavy reader like me, well worth it. Calibre will also convert your book to different formats, if it’s not locked with DRM. I use it to convert everything possible to epub, then it will read on almost everything (except Amazon).

First, the proprietary apps:

The ones the device suppliers install on their devices. These apps make it worthwhile for them to make the devices at low, low prices, since it locks you in to their system. If you want a book, you go to their store on their website by default.


The app is available on every platform out there (not sure about Linux! Anybody running Linux care to chip in?) The Amazon app is the only one that works with the .mobi or .azw extension by default. The .azw extension is a locked version of .mobi, so they’re much the same. It will also read a few other formats, like the .doc and .rtf ones. The library is easy to navigate, and the reader is fine. One annoyance for me, and a big reason I don’t use it as my main reader, is that you can’t reduce the margins right down. I want to use all my screen’s real estate. Also, I don’t like being locked in to one outlet. The fonts to choose from are limited, but they are nice fonts, and look good on most screens. I would rather have my books in my Calibre Library than in Amazon’s, too.


Another nice reader, but again, you can’t get rid of the margins. Nook uses .epub formats, so will integrate with most other reader programs out there, ie you can use the same library whatever app you decide on. Just direct the program to the same folder. If you use the Nook app, it uses the Nook library by default, so you’ll have to direct the other programs to the Nook library. Nook has a very smooth, attractive interface. However, with the Nook reputedly in trouble, it’s not clear how long it will continue.


This used to be a great library, an epub reader, but Sony aren’t making devices any longer, so the app is more or less defunct.


I have to be honest here. I haven’t owned an Apple device for years, not since my last iPod bit the dust. ITunes makes a mess of a Windows machine, and it’s hell on earth to uninstall, rather like getting all the roots of a dandelion out of the ground, so I’m loath to install it on my machines. However, I’ve played with the iBooks app on someone else’s iPad, and it looks like a good way to read. For me, the iPad is too big and heavy to read on, but I’m a big bedtime reader, so the smaller formats are better for me.


This reader works pretty well and gives you access to the masses of Wattpad content out there. I’m not a big Wattpad user, but for the occasional read, it needs to be installed.

Non-proprietary Android apps:

These are the apps made by somebody who doesn’t also sell the books. Independent ones. There are a huge bunch of these, but I’m naming the main ones here, and in order of my personal preference. You can get all these apps in the Google Play Store. Just put the name in the search box. I’d advise downloading a bunch of these, spending time with them and deciding which you like best. But it’s also a good idea to have more than one installed. Sometimes a book looks better on one app, or it won’t open, or the app can go kerphooey, and you still have a book to read.

Moon+Reader (Android):

This is my go to reader. It will read most formats, except .azw, which is locked to Amazon. It has an amazing number of options, but if you’re new to the app, use it as it is, and then look for the option that will change to your preferences. Since you can name your own font, you can read in as many fonts as you own. You can change backgrounds, font colors, there’s a day/night setting. The library is a good one, and books will load to it seamlessly from your computer. You can load books by sideloading from your computer, or by using Dropbox, so you can have Moon+ installed on every device and computer you own, and draw from the same source. If you use Dropbox it will also sync your books, so it will save your place and open on to the book you’re currently reading.

It’s my favorite for a few simple reasons—I can alter the brightness with one swipe of my finger on the left side of the screen, and I can alter the font size with a swipe on the right side. I can choose the font I want, which at the moment is Minion Pro. I read black print on a white background, edge to edge, with a small bar at the bottom that has the information I like (the percentage of book read, the battery level, page number, and time). It will go full screen if you want it to.

With the paid version, you get text to speech, so I can have my book read to me.

You can also make notes. I do it by making the notes in the book, and then when I’m done, uploading them to Evernote, which is really easy with Moon+. Then I can open them on my computer, via Evernote and do my review! It has an excellent pdf reader, and you can register it for your locked pdf books.

Moon+ is available in paid and unpaid versions (with discreet ads, but no ads in the books). I use the paid version. There are a few extras, and it’s a nice way to say thank you to the developer.

Mantano (Android):

E-Reader and a cup of coffeeMy second favorite. Mantano has been a bit temperamental in the past, but if you’re not using Calibre Reader’s library, Mantano has one of the best libraries available. Its “Favorites” shelves are great, and for a wannabe librarian like me, it’s fun to play with. You can have the same book on more than one shelf, which I really like, and I’ve only found I can do in other programs by tagging. The interface is polished and easy to negotiate, and you can use any font you like, as long as it’s available on your device. Notetaking is smooth, and you can use it within the program and then upload it to Evernote or OneNote, as you prefer. It reads pdf.

You can get Mantano as a free app, with ads (no ads in the books), or paid on two levels. I use the paid version, but for most readers, the cheaper option works fine and has few restrictions.

FBR Reader:

A good reader, and one that works on most devices. Setting the library and the options can be a bit confusing, since you have to type in the location instead of just browsing to it. Its library is less polished, more of a browser, but works very well, and it has a note-taking facility. It’s one of the oldest apps for reading out there, and I used to use it on my IPaq. It’s a good, solid, reader, but others have more polished interfaces.

FBReader is available in free version only.


This used to be everybody’s favorite reader, but in recent years it’s fallen a little bit behind. It has a limited selection of fonts, and the library, while attractive, lacks features like specialized shelves where you can put, for instance, the books you have read. It also doesn’t always show italics in some books, and I have no idea why. My main annoyance is that it won’t share libraries. You have to import your books into Aldiko, so if you use more than one app, then you have a duplicate set of books. Some of the fonts also seem to be a bit uneven. It has the immersive option as default, and the swiping actions work well.

Aldiko is available in paid and unpaid versions. I’ve only got the unpaid.

Cool Reader:

It has a dizzying number of options, and you need to spend some time playing with them before you find out what they do. They’re not all intuitive. It’s fun to own and play with, and if you have complex books, ones with poetry, non-fiction books with illustrations and maps, etc, then it’s a good choice. The library isn’t as developed, again it’s more like a browser. The background is a wood panel, which seems a bit dated. But it’s a solid reader and it works with few glitches. Once you’ve set it up! Cool Reader will read almost everything you throw at it, except, of course, .azw. If you’re into fiddling with your apps until it’s just right for you, Cool Reader is definitely worth a try.

Cool Reader is available in a free version only.

There are a lot of other readers. RepliGo, BlueReader (I’ve never got that one to work, but some readers love it), AlReader and so on, but although I’ve downloaded and tried a lot of readers, I’ve stuck with the 5 I’ve listed above. Unless, like me, you like to play with apps, you’ll probably find what you want from them.


If you want to read on your computer, you have a few options.

You can read in Word, if you can convert the document to Word formats. It’s not a program best designed for pure reading, but it’s often overlooked when people are thinking of ereaders. Similarly, you can use Windows apps like Notebook and WordPad, if you’re pushed to it.

Calibre: Calibre has readers inbuilt for most formats. It’s convenient to be able to read the book in the program where your books are stored, and if I read on my computer, I tend to use this one.

The Erica App:
The Erica App is now the Freda App for those looking for it**

If you have Windows 8, there’s a nice app called Erica that you can get from the Windows Store. It looks good, has a simple library, and does the things you want with a touch screen. If you have an RT machine (no legacy Windows programs) then Erica is a must, if you want to read. I used to have one of the first Surface RT’s, and I found it perfectly usable with Erica, although the screen was larger and heavier than I like for a book reader.

What apps do you use, which do you like best, and why?


Reading Apps at a Glance:

  Formats Proprietory Experience, 1-5 Why not 5? Ease of use


but special plug-ins needed to read locked formats
5 N/A There is a learning curve, though the support community is good.


Amazon will also convert: TXT, DOC, DOCX
Locked to Amazon. You can unlock the Fire so you can download other apps. You can sideload books in the right format.
3 Heavy reliance on Amazon. Customization limited. Install and go.


EPUB, EPUB3, TXT, HTML, DOC Yes. Locked to Nook, but you can sideload books. 4 Can’t get rid of margins. Other customizations limited. Easy to use.


TXT, PDF, EPUB Only available on the now defunct Sony reader. N/A Have no personal experience with this app. N/A


EPUB, PDF Yes. Apple only. N/A Have no personal experience with this app. N/A


TXT It’s for reading books and content from Wattpad only. 3 TXT is a limiting way of reading. Essential for Wattpad content, but won’t read anything else. Can be tricky to set up at first.


TXT, HTML, EPUB, PDF, MOBI, UMD, FB2, CHM, CBR, CBZ, RAR, ZIP OR OPDS No, but Android only. 4 Library not as useful as it could be (categories limited, and difficult to set up) Takes a little setting up. You have to import your books, by sideloading them to a file and then pointing Moon+ at it.


EPUB, PDF No. Android and IOS 3 Free version very limited and has ads. The app can be buggy, especially when adding new features. You need to import your library or point Mantano at the folder. The initial folders in the library work well, and you can add your own if you want to, eg, add an “ARC” shelf.

FBR Reader

No. Android only 4 Solid, rarely crashes. Library not as good as other apps, but customization good. Can be tricky to set up at first.


EPUB No. Android only 3 Customization limited, especially in free version. You have to download all your books to Aldiko’s folder, which can mean duplicate books on your device. No note-taking facility, though it will link to Evernote or One Note. You have to import your books to start.

Cool Reader

FB2, TXT, RTF, DOC, TCR, HTML, EPUB, CHM, PDB, MOBI No. Android only 4 Customization can be confusing. Library basic, and not very good looking. Will link to your book folder of choice.

The Freda App

EPUB, FB2, HTML, TXT No. Windows only. 4 Attractive looking and easy to use, although customization is limited. You have to set your directory.

Adobe Digital Editions

PDF, EPUB No. 2 You need this for locked Adobe documents, but it is very rigid in the way it is used. Once you’ve added the books, you’re ready to go.


Top Reader with Books image courtesy of Devon Christopher Adams via Flickr Creative Commons.
Bottom Coffee with reader image courtesy of Franklin Heijnen via Flickr Creative Commons


Subscribe to this conversation (must be logged in):
Lynne Connolly
1. Lynne Connolly
Correction and update: Erica is now Freda! No idea why!
And as of yesterday, Microsoft sold its interest in the Nook back to Barnes and Noble, which doesn't look terribly good for the future of the Nook device or the reader.
2. Brenda-b
Have you tried Kobo's android app? I was curious as to how it compares.
Lynne Connolly
3. Lynne Connolly
I tried it but I wasn't impressed. The margin around the pages was huge and I couldn't alter it significantly. I have a 7 inch reader, and I want to use all that screen real estate for words! setting it up wasn't particularly intuitive, either.
Mary Lynne Nielsen
4. emmel
I use Bluefire Reader, and I've been quite happy with it.
Lynne Connolly
5. Lynne Connolly
I can't get Bluefire to work for me, but I'm glad you're happy with it! It won't open books on my Nexus. That's why I suggest downloading a bunch of free ones and seeing which works best for you.
6. wsl0612
I will say this, even if the Nook is going away they still work well for reading and you can easily load any "non-DRM" books onto it via Calibre. I love Calibre for my library management.
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