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I am a beginner to eBooks, and as somebody who has been "outside" of eBooks I've only ever heard of Amazon's Kindle and seen a variety of options for purchase on Google Play.

I have recently purchased an Android tablet. I want to start buying my reading material as eBooks, but first I need an application to read them! Having looked, there are various applications available that all support different features like web browsers or text to speech.

Are there any specific features that I should look for in an eBook reading application?

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To add to already good answers:

NOTEs:

  • "[Phone]" marks features that have more impact and usefulness on a smartphone and may be less important on a tablet.

  • I won't delve into content management/library organization features (e.g. dealing with multiple books), as that warrants its own Q&A in my opinion, and was also mentioned as a bullet in Jason Down's answer. If Jason doesn't mind, I can expand in my answer.


  1. Readability/UI.

    • Night reading mode

    • [Phone] Optionally hideable UI elements to free up screen (menus, navigation, buttons, Android notification bar).

      • Good design usually shows miniature clock and battery indicator in the corner, that way you can still see those 2 important notification bar info indicators while reading without the bar taking up space.
    • [Phone] Support for locking the reader in a landscape/portrait mode for when you accidentally flip your phone sideways - or vise versa, ability to choose the orientation of reading independent of OS.

    • (already noted in another answer, but so critical I have to mention here as well): Support for customized fonts, and if possible, colors.

    • Disable CSS (seems like a small deal, till you meet an ebooks where the publisher evidently fell in love with Geocities style of content design :)

    • Support for reading books aloud (Text-to-Speech)

    • Ability to select text, and copy it or share it to another Android app.

  2. Navigation:

    • Ability to advance through the text by tapping large areas of the screen (typical good design does page up on clicking left 1/3 of the screen, page down on right 1/3 of the screen)

    • Easy random jumping (go to page #N, go to table of contents in single clicks)

    • Full text search!

    • Book progress indicator, ideally with 2 features: clicking on it in the middle lets you actually advance into the book to where you pointed; and being able to hide.

    • Bookmarks!

    • [Phone] Ability to page up/down by using volume up/down hardware keys. Critical for single-handed reading on a phone.

    • Autoscroll if you like that feature (personally, I never use it)

  3. Supported content - probably most important!:

    • Support for varying e-book formats.

      Your main reader app should at the very least support the major ones (ideally, most of: txt, html, epub, prc/Mobi, pdf).

      • Support for your main e-book format (e.g. if 90% of your ebooks are in Amazon Kindle format, it's important

      • Support for DRM on books you freqently use may be important for some.

    • If it's important for you, support for your preferred ebook vendor (Google Play Books; Kindle/Amazon book store, Apple, Samsung).

    • If you read ebooks in other languages, support for popular encodings for them (nothing more annoying than trying to read a Russian ebook and finding the app doesn't support KOI-8).

    • Support for network- or cloud-based libraries

    • Related to the last one: ability to sync up the book positions/bookmarks between different devices running the same app (I know FBReader does that via a helper app, not sure if Kindle reader or Google Books does).

    • Ability to share a book via Android share menu, from within the reader.

    • Ability to manage book collections/libraries, if that's important to you

  4. Reality check features

    • Price (and if the app has a free/paid version, which features are important and in the non-free version). For example, Calibre for Android is a paid app (Windows one is free)

    • Last but not the least speed of loading and speed of reading. On my old phone, Kindle App was absolutely horrendously slow, to the point of being unusable.

  5. Less popular but occasionally cool:

    • Amazon X-Ray

    • On the fly translation. I know Google Books and FBReader support it, but seems more of a gimmic, IMHO.

  6. If you don't plan on editing your eBooks on a PC, you may want to consider editing abilities of the app

    • Editing metadata

    • Editing content.

4

I don't have an 'Android reader application' myself, but some features that I find important in my e-Reader (Sony Reader PRS-650) are:

  • Ability to organize books into collections (or tagging could be a substitute)
  • Dictionary (double tap a word and look it up)
  • Ability to annotate/take notes
  • Ability to adjust zoom level, margin cuts, font sizes.
  • Brightness control.

The supported eBook formats is important as well.

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Two additional things to Jason's answer:

  1. Reflowing PDF documents also could be important:

    Reflow

    Being able to rearrange the text is called reflowing the document and permits a PDF designed for a full sized piece of paper to be easily read on a small devices such as a PDA or eBook Reader.

    Source: http://wiki.mobileread.com/wiki/PDF#Reflow

  2. The ability to export your data (including notes) in an open format (just for the case when there is no new version of the application or you want to change your platform/device).

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