BY SEAN CLARK
Stanza is probably the most popular reader on the iPhone now (I don’t have any data to back this claim up–just an informal observation, disagree if you must), and this is likely because, within the limitations of the iPhone as a reader, it does most everything right–there a few things it doesn’t do at all, but that’s better than doing them wrong . The library works intuitively. Choose to add a book and the app instantly connects you to just about any web accessible book depository you want (with many more pre-populated options than eReader) from freebies like manybooks.net and Munseys to paid sites like fictionwise. Once you download a book directly to your device, it presorts by a few categories and the books are easy to select with a scroll menu. Even better (and more attractive) is if you turn the iPhone to landscape, the scroll menu automatically changes to a coverflow view a la iTunes.
The bookmarking also works as it should, allowing you to use the preset content tables (when available) as well as creating your own bookmarks as you please. Stanza does a good job of remembering your place in multiple books at the same time, so if you forget to set a bookmark you won’t lose your spot. Text searching works well, no complaints there either. The one thing Stanza doesn’t have that I really liked in eReader is the ability to highlight text and attach notations. Although you can use custom-named bookmarks to the same effect it’s not as cool. However, until ebooks standardize a bit and I can carry my metadata with me when I move files, I’m still going to be taking notes by hand.
You can’t use a finger swipe gesture either, you just tap the right side to move forward a page; left, back; hitting the center brings up the menu bar. I prefer gestures, but not having them is better than the annoying accidental highlighting that kept happening in eReader. You also cant gesture to alter the text size, though you can adjust it (as well as color, background, font, and even formatting–and embedded demo window is a real timersaver) through the options. Stanza auto formats much better than other programs like Google Book Search (yes, I know it’s web-based and not an app, but it’s also really only readable in landscape mode), so there’s not much need for an instant text resizing: once you get it the way you want, leaving it is fine.
When I first downloaded Stanza back in November, I stopped using it after a few book downloads, because it crashed my phone whenever I tried to download more than one book at a time. When trying to fill a reader app with even part of the enormous backlog of available public domain titles one at a time is as frustrating as you would expect. However, this time around I really put it to work, downloading books as quickly as I could, memorizing my thumb taps and not really worrying about what books I was downloading. The program (and the iPhone) held up fine. So bygones are bygones on this front.
Stanza really shines where eReader failed miserably: Stanza syncs wirelessly, easily, and freely with the free Stanza Desktop for Mac and PC. The program works similarly to the app, though with fewer bells and whistles. I haven’t come across any major snags using it. It also handles (or will soon) most file types, unlike eReader. Stanza is the real winner thus far for iPhone winners, and it’s free. The creator, Lexcycle, has stated that they plan on selling their base engine to other companies, notably Google for Book Search, for custom book apps. This worries me a bit. Here’s hoping when they franchise out their engine it supports assimilation with the base program, rather than forcing us to clutter our iPhone whith what amounts to 12 of the same app, each with a different companies color scheme. The market is fragmented enough as it is. Either way, Stanza is a win for the here and now and my new primary iPhone reader.
UPDATE: If you don’t want to deal with the Stanza Desktop program, you can use Calibre to sync with your Stanza iPhone/iPod app.
Here’s a demo video (sorry, no embedding for this one). -sc