Reading books on your phone

Prolific, seemingly compulsive writer Stephen King mentioned in his book “On Writing” published in 1980, that he carries a pocketable paperback book wherever he goes, so that he can read while waiting in a doctor’s office, the DMV, even on his daily walks.

In the 34 years that have passed, I wonder if he hasn’t graduated to a more high tech alternative, such as a Kindle or tablet.

Do you share his love of reading? Do you curl up with your iPad or Android tablet at night to read before sleep?

Tablets and Kindles are fine reading devices. But they’re rarely at hand everywhere you go. But your phone undoubtedly is, and, especially as screens grow larger, from a standard of 3.5 to four inches, to the newer standard of 4.5 inch to six inches, it makes an excellent reading device.

Reading now better than ever

I’ve been reading on smaller displays since the days of Palm PDAs, so the transition to larger screens maybe gratifies me more than it would you. But I assure you that once you make the adjustment (and it’s no great leap from a seven inch tablet to a five or six inch phone screen), you’ll find plenty of opportunity to dip into your latest book as you wait in various lines or during your work commute on public transit.

Using the built in readers on iPhones and Android are fine, but you have to pay for each book you read. But maybe your tastes run to the classics, and if so you can binge on tens of thousands of free books from a large selection of sites that have copright-free, multi-formatted books that are not encumbered with DRM restrictions and which provide you a virtually endless supply of reading material.


First off I’ll warn you that this article is not primarily a feature by feature comparison of third party readers. There are just too many to cover in one article. Rather, I’ll give you a short list of alternatives to the stock readers and sources of free books.

I’ll begin with the Kindle reader app, free to download and if you know where and how to look the source of free and heavily discounted books. It works on both iPhones and Android, though within the week previous to this writing Apple nixed access to the Kindle Marketplace, presumably because they received no portion of the revenue generated by the sale of books from Amazon.

Android phones have no such restriction, and you have full access to the enormous selection of books in the Amazon collection, from the latest best sellers to their rather paltry selection of free classics.

I have hundreds of Kindle books, though I’ve only purchased at most half a dozen. There are two services I subscribe to, which are emailed to me daily, which list a dozen or so free or very heavily discounted books available for download. Granted, these are generally self-published books from unknown authors, most of which need a good editor. But there are some real gems from time to time. The “Wool” series, by Hugh Howey, for example, started as a free offering from Kindle but was so popular that Amazon now charges $9.99 for it and film director Ridley Scott (“Blade Runner”) has optioned it for a movie version.

To receive these offers, visit BookSends and BookBub, sign up, and choose the genres in which you’re most interested.

Third party apps for ebook reading for iPhone include Mobi, Nook, and Google’s Play books. An admittedly cursory search for a third party iPhone app which gives you access to free books turned up only one, Megareader, which links to the major free sites. The app costs $3.

My choice

I own an Android phone with a 4.5 inch screen, and use it for nearly all my reading. My phone came preloaded with Play books, but I don’t use it. There are dozens of ebook readers for Android, but the one I’ve settled on is Moon+Reader, which comes in a free version. There is a pro version, which removes ads and adds the capability of reading PDFs, but this latter format was spawned in Hell and is a pain to read and work with even on a full sized computer.

The dominant format for ereaders is ePub, followed by  mobi, both of which reflow and format the text to your device. PDFs are usually tamper-proof documents that do not permit reflow or editing. They are meant to be viewed on full screen PCs, and all you can do with them is magnify or shrink them.

Moon+Reader should handle any format you throw at it, including plain text, HTML, ePub, mobi, umd, fb2, chm, CBR, rar, or zip. Stick with epub or mobi, when given a choice, as these are the most common and flexible.

You can download several dictionaries for Moon+Reader, the best of which is Color Dictionary, which integrates smoothly with the app and features spoken pronunciation as well as definition and Wikipedia entry.

Moon+Reader also has direct links to several great free book sources, such as Project Gutenberg, Smashwords, Manybooks, and Feedbooks. You can also add other sites as you discover them.

It also has all the features you could ask for, though I rarely use any but the default settings. The include full visual options, font scale, bold and italics. Also, ten themes for your backgrounds or virtual bookshelf, swiping or tapping gestures for page turns, bookmarks, and dozens of other features you’ll probably never use.

You can add books via the built-in links, or download books on your PC and transfer them to your ebook folder through your USB connection.

I’ve tried other popular ereaders, such as Alkido, FBReader, Cool Reader, and Kobo, but none has the flexibility or range of options as Moon+Reader. But I urge you to try them nevertheless, as each has strengths or interfaces you might need or prefer.


All the books you’ll need

Text documents take up very little space, an average novel is about 200kb while a whopper, like the complete works of Mark Twain, including letters and two full length biographies, run to five megabytes. Moon+Reader even syncs with Dropbox. I have a measly eight gigabytes of storage on my phone, yet I have a lifetime’s (mine, not yours) worth of reading material stored locally on my phone.

I read on buses, on trains, in line, waiting for appointments, and any time I have a few free minutes. For me it beats catching up on email, Facebook or other time wasters.

This quick review is neither comprehensive nor unbiased. I urge you to check out the other readers I’ve mentioned. Reading on your phone is one of the most overlooked uses of a device  that you have with you all the time; reading is comfortable with the larger screen sizes of today’s phones, and that half the fun is searching for and finding books you’ll enjoy tremendously, but possibly weren’t aware of or never got around to reading, but always meant to.