BY SEAN CLARK

[Note: My experiences with iBooks are on an iPhone 3G. This certainly differs in performance and possibly in features, from the iPad and the newer iPhone 3GS and 4]

With the release of the 4.0 OS for my iPhone, I finally got the chance to take iBooks for a spin. When I played with the app briefly on an iPad, I was impressed. It still wasn’t the verisimilitudinous experience you get with e-Ink, but the presentation was slick, and the app was smooth and fast. The app I used on my phone did not give me the same impression.

iBooks borrows a lot of ideas and features from the reader apps that came before it, as it should. The library and bookmarking presentations look just like Classics. The reading interface, for the most part, resembles Stanza and eReader. And the backend feels like Eucalyptus, only connected to iTunes rather than Project Gutenberg. Unfortunately, iBooks also felt slow and clumsy, and at times it was glitchy.

Opening ebooks sometimes took a while on my older phone, and there was almost always a delay between my finger swipe and the page turn, occasionally confusing me into a double swipe, causing a double page turn. The system allows you to change fonts and size at anytime, but sometimes this messes with the formatting, and it doesn’t use static page numbers, so they change with every format alteration, which bugs me.

Also, there’s a brightness slider. I liked this a lot, because I prefer dimmer when reading text with a backlit screen. However, this adjustment isn’t limited to the app, and when I close iBooks, my screen remains dimmed. You have to remember to set it back, or go into the phone settings to readjust the bright levels. There’s an auto-bright feature on the phone, but iBooks appears to override it. This is annoying, to say the least.

As for titles, iTunes has a pretty good selection. The books that include full-color pictures look great, and purchasing and downloading books is simple and relatively quick. You can download sample chapters of nearly everything, too, something I hope becomes an industry standard. There are free public domain books available, which is great. There are also paid versions of a lot of these free titles. I noticed a lot of the public domain titles weren’t readily visible. For instance, when I searched for Siddhartha by Herman Hesse, I was brought immediately to the $7.99 Penguin version. When I looked at Similar Titles, I found the free Project Gutenberg version. The Penguin version is likely a better translation, and includes an introduction, etc., but it would still be nice if the public domain book was more noticeable to browsing users.

If you’ve got an iPad or iPhone 4, iBooks might be your best option, especially for ease of use. You’re tied to iTunes, but at least you can still get plenty of free public domain titles (with a little searching). If you want full control over formats, etc., or if you’ve got an older, slower phone like me that’s not up to the task, Stanza is still your choice.

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