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So after hearing all the hype, I bit the bullet and payed $9.99 to download Eucalyptus. And after reading through a book on it, I have to admit it’s worth the relatively steep price. If only you could import books, rather than be limited to Project Gutenberg’s (admittedly vast) library, it’d be the best reader app available for the iPhone.

The presentation is top notch. Texts are far more readable in Eucalyptus than in the other reader apps I’ve tried. On top of this everything is well organized, intuitive and easy to navigate. They’ve included plenty of animations and graphical touches that give the package a decidedly professional flair. This does wonders negating the fears of buyer’s remorse I had when I first agreed to spend $10.

The creators of Eucalyptus have taken the time to create little card catalogue pages displaying each book’s publishing info, and the page turning and book shelving animations do a lot for the aesthetic. My favorite touch is a Staff Picks section, which arranges top choices for the user like a display shelf at a book store, and includes book synopses in case you’re choosing from books you’ve never read or heard of before.

The text itself is far more readable due to the excellent formatting. The app uses nice fonts, more akin to hardcover typesets than the typical Courier/Times fonts seen in most other apps. The contrast between font and background is finely tuned as well. Best yet, the actual formatting (tabs, indents, punctuation) looks professional.

I didn’t come across any wonky spacing, jumbled sentences, or any of the other problems too common in many public domain ebooks. These books appear to have been actually proofed, and that adds a lot to the experience. Oh, and the formatting adjusts with text resizing (which you can do with pinch and push gestures). All this makes the experience feel much closer to reading a book than a computer screen, which I appreciate.

Noticably lacking are text search and highlighting features. They aren’t things I use all that often on mobile readers, but it would be nice to have. The library search functions work well though, as do the contents tables. A great touch is an anonymous feedback feature, which allows you do send a screenshot with comments about technical problems or text copy to the Eucalyptus support. This not only shows a commitment to the customer and to the quality of the productā€•something lacking in many appsā€•but also nicely represents Project Gutenberg as a community of readers dedicated to perfecting this electronic library.

If you want to buy and/or import your newer ebooks to read on your iPhone, go with Stanza or the new Barnes & Noble app. However, if you’re primarily into reading older books on your iPhone–maybe you are someone like me who doesn’t want to pay bookstore prices for a reading experience mostly relegated to the daily commute–Eucalyptus is clearly the most readable and attractive option.

$10 is a tad steep, so Stanza is still a great option for the thrifty reader of classics, but hopefully a price drop is in the future. I should note that 20% of proceeds go to Project Gutenberg, which makes the purchase a little easier to swallow.