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iBooks for iPhone review

June 22, 2010

A little while back I wrote a comparative review of iBooks and Amazon Kindle for the iPad. One of iBooks biggest weaknesses back then was that it did not have an iPhone version, unlike Amazon’s Kindle app. The release yesterday of iOS4 for the iPhone & iPod Touch has finally remedied this problem. So I thought it would be a good time to look at iBooks on the iPhone and see what it has to offer.

Please bear in mind that iBooks is actually a universal app. There is no separate version of it for the iPhone, you only need to download it from the app store and it will run on the iPad and the iPhone. Nevertheless, I am labeling this review as “iBooks for the iPhone” simply to make it easier for people to know which device I’m talking about.

I wrote this review after using iBooks on my iPhone 3G. I have an iPhone 4 that should be here tomorrow, but I wanted to see how iBooks performs on an older iPhone rather than the more powerful iPhone 4.

My iBooks library on my iPhone 3G.

iBooks 1.1 weighs in at 15.9 MB. Just download it from the iTunes store and then sync your iPhone (I’m assuming you’ve already updated your iPhone to iOS 4).

iBooks in the iTunes store.

What’s New
Here’s a list of what’s new in this release of iBooks:

PDF documents viewable in iBooks
Bookmark enhancements
Sync between iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad devices
The font Georgia is now included
A sepia color scheme is now included
Left or fully justified text layout
Larger font sizes
Better stability or performance

I tested the PDF feature by dragging a PDF file and dropping it into the Books section of iTunes. I synced my iPhone and, sure enough, the PDF tab appeared in iBooks. The file I added was about 1.5 MB. I noticed a bit of lag while the file loaded up in iBooks.

My PDF file displayed correctly, I did not notice any formatting errors. Frankly though, I would not recommend trying to read PDF files on the iPhone. The iPad is a much better option if you must read a PDF file. It just does not work well on the iPhone’s small screen.

While I’m glad to see PDF capability in iBooks, I won’t be using it to view PDF files. GoodReader is a much better PDF experience and it only costs 99 cents. If you really need to view PDFs, check it out instead of bothering with iBooks.

PDF files displayed without formatting errors.

Bookmark Enhancements
You can highlight a word or passage to bookmark, and now you can add notes or bookmark an entire page with the page ribbon. I do not generally do a lot of bookmarking, since I rely on syncing to keep my place. However, it’s nice to have more options for those who do use it more.

After you install iBooks, make sure you opt to have your books synced in iTunes. You can choose to have all of your books synced or you can pick the ones you want. I opted to have them all synced. Syncing seems to be fast. I did not notice any bugs or problems with it in my books.

You can now change the color sepia while reading your books. This is a great option for those who tire of looking at black text on a white screen. It’s arguably easier on the eyes, and it provides a little bit of diversity to the iBooks reading experience. It’s not quite enough though, as I point out in the problems section.

The traditional black text on a white background.

The new sepia color scheme.

New Font: Georgia
This version comes with the Georgia font. It’s okay, I guess. I can’t see much of an advantage to it over the other fonts. However, it’s nice to have another option. I usually use Palatino, but every once in a while I’ll switch it just to use another font for a while. Therefore, I am glad Georgia is available in this release of iBooks.

Georgia is a new font included in this release.

Larger Font Size
I have never had the need for a larger font size when I ran iBooks on my IPad. However, I am definitely glad to see it offered for both versions. One of the best things about ereader apps is that they put the power of font size into the hands of readers. It is so much better than dealing with tiny fonts in print books.

Greater Stability & Performance
This may be the case if you have an iPhone 3GS or iPhone 4, or if you are running it on the iPad. My experience on the iPhone 3G was somewhat different as I’ve noted in the problems sections.

I ran into a few things I really didn’t like in iBooks for iPhone.

Poor Performance
The first problem was that it didn’t perform very well on my iPhone 3G. I know that there are some that will say “So what? It’s an old phone anyway.” Well fair enough but the Amazon Kindle app for my iPhone is very fast. Books open right away and there is no lag at all while using it.

That is not the case with iBooks. iBooks seems to take significantly longer to load books than Amazon Kindle on my iPhone 3G. There is really no excuse for this. If Amazon’s app can run fast on the iPhone 3G then why can’t Apple’s?

It is quite unreasonable to expect every iPhone owner to have to upgrade to iPhone 4 simply to run iBooks at an acceptable speed. Apple needs to release a software update that speeds up iBooks on older iPhones.

No iBooks for Non-Apple Devices
One problem with iBooks is that it is only available for the iPad, iPod Touch and iPhone. If you decide to get rid of your iPhone, you’re screwed. Your book collection won’t be available on your Android phone, for example. Amazon, on the other hand, has made it a point to support other platforms (an Android version of the Kindle app is on the way).

So unless you’re a true Apple believer, you should think long and hard before building up a large book collection in iBooks. If you ever leave the Apple ecosystem, you can’t take your books with you. I hope this changes at some point, but I doubt very much that Apple will ever support any platforms other than its own.

Sepia Isn’t Enough
While the addition of the sepia color scheme is welcome and appreciated, it’s not enough. At night I prefer to change the background color to black and the text to white in the Amazon Kindle app on my iPhone or iPad (it’s much more comfortable on my eyes as I read right before I go to sleep). This is still not possible with Apple’s iBooks app.

Night reading requires a different color scheme, but Apple still doesn’t seem to realize this. Changing the font just does not cut it. Frankly, I think Amazon and Apple need to offer a wider range of color schemes or simply let the user create his or her own color themes.

The Amazon Kindle app lets you change to a white text on black background, for night reading.

Margin Width
For some strange reason, the margin width on iBooks for the iPhone is a bit too wide. This means less text fits on the screen than otherwise would have. I do not know why Apple set it up this way but it is quite annoying. In addition, shrinking the font on the iPhone is not going to help make it more readable, it just makes the text harder to see. This needs to be fixed in a future update, preferably soon.

Final Thoughts
Despite some of the problems I encountered, I like iBooks for iPhone. It’s a slick ebook application, and it’s great that iPad owners who prefer iBooks can now read their book collections on their iPhones.

However, I will still stick with Amazon’s Kindle app for now. I already have a lot of books on my Kindle app, and I very much prefer white text on a black background for night reading. Amazon also still seems to have a much larger selection of books, and the prices seem to be a little bit better at times.

My Kindle library on my iPhone 3G.

Nevertheless, I will also keep iBooks on my iPhone. I’ve bought a few books on iBooks so I want to have them available, and I will be keeping an eye on iBooks to see how it progresses in future releases. I am particularly keen in seeing how long it takes Apple to catch up to Amazon in terms of book selection.

Although it has some faults, iBooks is definitely worth a download. Since it’s free, I highly recommend checking it out and doing your own comparison with Amazon’s Kindle app to see which one you prefer.

What’s your take on iBooks for the iPhone? Do you prefer it to Amazon Kindle? Or is there another ebook app that you like better than both of them? Tell me in the comments.

Summary Table:

Product: iBooks 1.1 for iPhone
Web Site: iTunes Store
Price: Free
Pros: Reads PDF files. Sync across multiple Apple devices. Comes with sepia color scheme. Enhanced bookmarks. Includes left or fully justified text settings. Also includes larger fonts.
Cons: Only works on Apple devices. Does not include white text on black background for night reading. Performance was sluggish at times on an iPhone 3G.
Summary: iBooks is a good first effort by Apple to create an ebook reader for the iPhone. It’s slick and it works well in conjunction with its counterpart on the iPad. However, iBooks is best suited for those who plan to stay exclusively within the Apple device and content ecosystem. If you think that you might want to read your ebooks on a non-Apple device, you should consider the Amazon Kindle app (or some other ebook application) instead.
Rating: 3.5/5




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2 Responses to iBooks for iPhone review

  1. Steve Briggs on July 5, 2010 at 10:09 am


    in Problems you suggest that the apple iPhone can do sepia and white but at night you wish to use black background with white fonts – you can do this via accessibility in Settings

    So no problem

  2. Kerry D. on July 4, 2010 at 10:27 am

    I love the look of this app however I can not change the font of pdf files, only itunes bought books. Kind of stops me from using this application as I have work files that are just as important as my books. Is there another application that will allow me to read my pdf files as well? The font is so small on them that they are useless to me on my iphone :)


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