Even More EReader Stuff: Stanza

Author's note: Before we get into this week's Free on iTunes I want to apologize if the following sounds like a review of Stanza, it's not suppose to be. My purpose with this column is to point you to good free stuff available for your iPhone and from time to time I find an app that requires a bit more attention than the usual few lines I tend to give them normally. Stanza happens to be one of those apps.

Also note that when I refer to the iPhone in this article I also mean the iPod touch as well.

Last week I talked a bit about ereaders for the iPhone and iPod touch. This week I'd like to explore ereaders a bit more because it is one of the applications the iPhone, or any smartphone really, is suppose to be good at. In particular I'm going to take a closer look at Stanza.

The truth is that reading anything longer than a brief email on your smartphone is tedious at best. You have to make the words big enough to actually read them which, in turn, means you can barely get more than a sentence or two on the screen, which means a lot of page flipping. So, while you may gain the convenience of being able to carry several books around in your wee phone, reading those books is like trying to appreciate the Mona Lisa through a paper tube.

Even so, if you're sitting in an airport looking at a four-hour layover with nothing but a half eaten slice of greasy pizza to keep you company, a good book, even one read through a tiny window, can be a sanity saver.

But what to do if you have your own attempts at writing the Great American Novel that you'd like to read through while waiting on your next flight? Unfortunately, getting your own written musings into your iPhone is not as straight forward as it should be.

Let's say that you're several chapters into a new book you are writing in Bean (an enhanced Text Edit with many nice features) on your iMac and you want to review what you've written on your iPhone. The first thing you need to do is convert your text file into a format acceptable by ereaders, and one of the most popular formats is .epub (the same format Apple is supporting with its iBooks Store for the iPad).

That's not a problem. Grab the Open Source application, Calibre, and convert your tome into the appropriate format. Note that Calibre stores the converted file in /user/calibre Library.

Next you need to get it into one of several available ereaders on your iPhone. For this I prefer Stanza because it has multiple ways of getting documents from your computer to your phone. The simplest way is to use Stanza Desktop and WiFi to sync the documents.

Stanza Desktop

  1. Open Stanza Desktop and open the file you want to load onto your phone
  2. In Stanza under the ‘Tools' menu bar enable sharing. Make sure your Mac or PC has WiFi going
  3. Open Stanza on your iPhone and select ‘Get Books' then 'Shared'. Your computer should appear in the list. Select it and you should see the document you want to upload
  4. Select the document.

Find you WiFi connection

Your book in your Stanza iPhone Library

That's it! When you look in your library on your phone you should see the document listed with the other ebooks you have.

It only takes a few steps and when you've done it once it becomes a cinch to do it as often as you need to.

Stanza will also let you upload your document to your online account so that you can grab it when ever and where ever you happen to be. Note that Stanza use to let you load your ePub doc via USB, but Apple has killed that option because it was a kludge. According to Ars Technica, Apple has been quietly killing USB syncing in all apps because Apple doesn't provide a means to sync via USB in its iPhone SDK. App developers, like the creators of Stanza, cobbled together a USB syncing method using the iPhone's photo storage area, which does allow USB syncing. Ars Technica goes on to say that Apple intends to offer an official method in an upcoming update. In the meantime, WiFi and online uploads are your only options.

OK, once you've done all of that then you should be able to find and read your document. While it isn't particularly hard, that does seem like a lot of steps just to be able to read something on your iPhone. It would be nice if there was a single app that would let you convert and sync/upload to any ereader you want or just to Stanza. In fact, I'm hoping that Apple tackles this with Pages, though there's hardly a need now that the iPad, which supports Pages natively, is here. Oh well. Maybe Stanza Desktop will upgrade to include an ePub converter.

Stanza for the iPhone is a nice little ebook reader. It has all sorts of options for finding free ebooks as well as links into stores where you can buy some of the latest titles.

Options! Lots of Options!

Highlight and Annotate

The reader gives you features that you'll find useful, like being able to size the text by using the pinch and spread gestures on the iPhone's screen. You can also brighten or dim the screen by sliding your finger up or down the screen. Page flipping is done with a tap or swipe on either side of the screen and a tap in the center of the screen brings up menus.

There's options for changing the font, the page flipping animation, and the screen background. There's also a 'night mode' that inverts the font and background colors so you're not staring at a small bright screen in the dark.

Page Flipping  

Copying text is supported, which is nice, but what's nicer is the ability to get word definitions from within Stanza. Even nicer still is the ability to annotate text. Annotated text is shown highlighted in yellow (or gray in night mode) and tapping on them takes you to the notes you've created earlier.

Of course Stanza supports multiple bookmarks, search, and you can share books or annotations via Twitter, Facebook, or email.

That's a lot of stuff and it's hard to believe that Stanza for the iPhone and desktop is free? No ads or “full featured” apps to upgrade to. If you like to read and you want to use your iPhone as an ereader then you need Stanza.

OK, that's a wrap for this week. I'll have more freebies next week. Until then check out the other free stuff available at the iTunes Store below, they have direct links!