App review: FBReader–Immersive mode and more

fbreader logoI prefer ereading apps that support immersive mode in KitKat, and I periodically browse for additions to the short list of apps that support it. Right now, unless I’m missing one, the list is

  • Moon+ Reader
  • Scribd
  • Google Play Books
  • FBReader

There are a few related apps, such as Instapaper, Pocket and Comixology, but I don’t consider them ereading apps per se. I recently noticed that FBReader was on the list and decided to try it out. I tried it several years ago, when I used an N2A card to open up Android on my Nook Color, and I remember not being impressed. Obviously, that was many years ago, and now I think there’s a lot to recommend it.

Let’s start with the big one. It’s free to purchase and free of ads. That’s also true of Google Play Books, which Chris reviewed recently, and technically of Scribd as well. (While the app is free, the service is not.) Moon+ has a free to purchase version, but it’s not ad-free.

There are plenty of ways to open books in the app, from email to Dropbox/other cloud services to OPDS catalogs. FBReader does not support DRMed books, but does read lots of different formats. They say they have partial support for mobi/Kindle, but I’m not sure what that means. Perhaps that they don’t support DRMed Kindle books? I was able to open and read a DRM-free Mobi-formatted book with no issues.

Opening books in the app is, in my opinion, one of the biggest advantages FBReader has over Google Play Books. I just get impatient with the download–> upload–> download process Play Books imposes on you. However, if you regularly switch between devices, as I’ll note below, device synchronization is not a feature of FBReader.

fbreader screen shot

You have an acceptable number of options for how your book looks. If you don’t like the included fonts, you can add you own. There’s a color gradient for font and background color (with a pre-specified sepia option for those who don’t want to play with color gradients). You can specify font size with fine gradations. There’s a customizable status bar at the bottom, which you can hide if you don’t like it. It does not appear to support TTS (someone feel free to correct me if I’m wrong). The app is smooth and responsive.

Update: Someone in the comments said that it does support TTS via a plug-in. Thanks for the information!

If you’re used to a more full-featured app like Mantano or Marvin, you’ll notice a few features lacking. The library does not have a bookshelf display. It’s just a list with title and cover art. There’s no ability to synchronize position between different devices. For those of you who love widgets, sorry, no widget. That’s the bad news. The good news is that all of those features are listed on their website as short-term development goals. They also plan better ePub 3 support.

If you don’t need, or can live without, the features I mentioned above, FBReader is an excellent app, especially for those of you with KitKat on your devices. The thing I noticed about immersive mode, is it’s easy to get used to and hard to give up once you’ve had it. I’m happy to see a solid, free app which supports it.

What about you? Have you used it?

2 Comments on App review: FBReader–Immersive mode and more

  1. cmbailey4365 // July 22, 2014 at 10:09 pm //

    FBReader supports text-to-speech via a plug-in. Search for “fbreader tts” in your application repository.

    Once the plugin is installed, to access text-to-speech, open a text. Open the action bar. I have changed the settings in the application, so I am not sure which settings are default. I open the action bar by double-tapping the center of the screen. Tap the menu icon at the top right. Tap “Speak” in the menu to start text-to-speech.

    Personally, I prefer a simple list of files as opposed to a virtual bookshelf. I don’t feel the need to see a virtual bookshelf in order to understand that I am seeing a representation of indvidual text files, but some users may find the skeuomorphism helpful.

    I prefer open-source software and avoid files with digital rights management, so I have little experience with the other applications that you have mentioned. One feature of FBReader that I enjoy, which may exist in the other applications, is sending text to other applications. If you press a word, a menu appears at the bottom of the screen. If you tap the icon with a dot and two arrows extending from the dot, you can send the selected text to another application, such as the open-source dictionary application Aard.

    Lastly, FBReader, being open-source, has been adapted for many different systems, including Android, Nook Simple Touch, YotaPhone, Windows Phone, Blackberry 10, Windows, OS X, and Linux desktop operating systems.

  2. @cmbailey, thank for the information about TTS. I’ve updated the article.

    Most of the apps I mention may not be open source (not sure), but only Comixology and Scribd use DRM for their content. All the others are for DRM-free content. In my opinion, Marvin is still the gold standard for ereading apps. Too bad it’s still iOS only.

    The sending of text is a fairly common feature of Android apps, and it’s one I like as well.

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