Why does iOS have so many good plain-vanilla DRM-free ePub reading applications? I already checked out Marvin, whose latest version carries on the tradition of offering a remarkable number of features in a single application. Now I’ve had a look at Hyphen, which is very nearly as good.
Hyphen is available in a free trial version, which limits you to reading the single book you just added, or a full version for $2.99. It’s certainly a worthwhile purchase at the price. My one reservation is that Marvin may make it a touch redundant.
I suppose it just goes to show how impressed I was by Marvin that while I was reading with Hyphen, I kept catching myself thinking, “That’s just like Marvin” or “That’s almost as good as Marvin.” For starters, you can add e-books to the device from Apple’s Cloud Drive, Dropbox, or Google Drive, just as with Marvin. (Though you actually do have to navigate through the Dropbox directories to the files you want, whereas Marvin scans your Dropbox and lists all the ePub files it finds there for you.)
Leaving aside Marvin, the configuration options available in Hyphen put most e-reading apps to shame; you can select the font face and size, text color and background color, enable or disable hyphenation (which you’d expect, given the name) and adjust the margin, paragraph spacing, line spacing, and paragraph indentation (though the widest paragraph indentation the app offers is just barely indented enough for me). You can also disable publisher styling altogether, or keep it while removing just specific elements, such as font family, text alignment, or margins. You can also set it to use two columns, or to use two columns only when in landscape mode.
Once you’ve configured a book to look how you want with these options, it reads just fine, with a footer at the bottom to tell you how far along in it you are. If you tap in the middle of the page to bring up the options menu bar, it also opens a slider let you flick to any position in the book with a simple finger movement. I would honestly have no problem whatsoever reading any ebook I loaded into the app this way. But then, Marvin is the same way.
There are configuration options to disable auto-lock while reading, and, if it is so disabled, to re-enable auto-lock after a set number of minutes with no activity, in case you fall asleep. There’s an option to set whatever changes you make to colors, formatting, and style to apply to this book only, rather than setting it as the default. And there are many other options, too. Effectively, this is easily the most configurable ePub app I’ve ever run across—except for Marvin, which has even more options. (And Freda for Windows, which is right up there with Marvin but for a different platform.) For example, Marvin lets you change pagination to web browser-style scrolling, which isn’t an option in Hyphen as far as I can tell.
One odd thing is that if your iPad gets low on storage space and deletes app caches, Hyphen can lose the ability to open ebooks you’ve loaded into it until and unless you load them into Hyphen again. I was able to do this for my book Joe & Julius, but I have no idea how to do so for the five public-domain titles included in the reader’s original installation. Some e-readers offer the option to reload the pre-installed ebooks, but Hyphen doesn’t seem to. (And Marvin doesn’t seem to have this problem. When Hyphen told me it couldn’t open any of the books on its shelf, I checked Marvin and all the books I’d loaded there still opened just fine.)
Hyphen is an excellent e-reader in every respect, and considered on its own merits I would have no problem recommending its purchase or spending $2.99 to buy it myself. At that price, it’s remarkably inexpensive for an e-reader, and if you have (or can make) DRM-free ePub files in your library, they’ll look just fine here.
But if you add the merits of other apps into that consideration, you can’t really get around the fact that they look just as fine in Marvin, which has even more ways to configure your read, makes it easier to load ebooks in, and lacks the annoying habit of losing track of your books if you run low on disk space. And it costs about the same, too. So, unless you prefer to have fewer options available to confuse you, I honestly can’t think of any reason to get any other ePub-reading app than Marvin.
Quote: “Once you’ve configured a book to look how you want…”
Sorry, but what I want is for the author/publisher to make the book look attractive not farm that work out to me. I no more want to do an ebook’s layout than I want to spellcheck it or fix the typos. That has the added advantage of making each ebook look different, and if the publisher knows their stuff, of looking appropriate to its theme.
Don’t forget that when ebooks first arrived with Palm Pilots they looked awful. To console readers, a big deal was made about tweaking font size. We should be long past that stage. It’s a bit like advertising a new car, “Now with an electric starter.”
Indeed, we should be at the point where an ebook retains a consistent appearance from reading to reading on the same device. Going back, it shouldn’t be that the text that was at the top of page 57 has mysterious migrated to the middle of page 59. The fixity of print books is one reason why students learn better with them. Digital needs to offer that same advantage.
Frankly, I’ve seen enough butt-ugly publisher-formatted e-books that the ability to set my own formatting instead is one of the things I especially look for in an e-reader.
A device which weighs less than a paperback and lets me dial my fonts to 20pt enables me to read at all.
I don’t know about Hyphen, but Marvin let’s you switch to the publishers layout if you want. Best of both worlds..