Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Reid iPhone Reader

A growing category of iPhone apps is the eReader. Obviously they aren't as common as games and fart jokes but they are a lot more useful. Though I imagine many wouldn't consider the idea of reading books on the iPhone. Some of this is just nostalgia (the smell of the book etc) and some has to do with a poor experience trying to read on a computer screen. But I've read a few books using Stanza (my review) and I'm so taken with the experience that I've told my family not to give me an paper books until further notice. The iPhone's small screen actually seems to assists with reading and I've had no trouble reading chapter after chapter (when time allows).

The latest eReader is Minions Reid. Reid offers three unique ways of reading documents:
  1. Word highlighting
  2. Word Flash : also known as Rapid Serial Visual Presentation (RSVP)
  3. Un-assisted reading (OK this isn't unique)
Of these RSVP (not to be confused with a popular dating site) is new to me and I'm intrigued by it. Essentially the words flash onto the screen one at a time. Hence reading is easy and it's is the progression of words that provide context. A slider allows you to control the speed of the text and hence the speed at which you read. It is very easy to stop the progression of text if you need to pause and do something else. Though I found it hard to go back and re-read a sentence if I wanted clarification.

These features were developed based on usability studies and Minions provides information on the science behind Reid.

To my mind the stand out feature of the Reid is it's ability to connect to and import from your Google Docs. Consequently any text document that can be loaded into Google Docs can be read using the Reid. Readers like Stanza allow you to connect to a range of existing online book stores. Some of these sell the books (ie Fictionwise) but others provide access to free books (ie Project Gutenburg). This provides quick access to an enormous range of books and so far I haven't had any trouble finding something I was keen to read. Unfortunately I've never successfully loaded a work document into Stanza (apparently it is possible). Reid bridges this gap. Any document that is sent to you, that you create, that you find online and that can then be loaded into Google Docs is available. This is something I will definitely use. It annoys me that I will have two readers to cover my needs but I can't see an easy solution to that.

There are a couple of things about Reid that I'm not so fond of:

Firstly, it seems to only store one document at a time. Therefore if I wanted to read two or more things on the way home (where I frequently don't have network access) I can't.

Secondly it provides sliders for adjusting font size and contrast. A slight movement of these sliders seem to take me from 5pt to 50pt and I found it near impossible to get a font size that I was entirely happy with. I also think having these options on the apps menu bar is a bit distracting. Especially as it seems to reload the document after each adjustment. Stanza allows you to adjust the size and appearance through a settings page that provide a preview of the text that updates quickly while you are making adjustments. This seems a much better system to me. I think Reid's approach could work if it was more responsive.

Reid is a genuinely useful addition to the list of available eReaders for the iPhone. It offers some unique reading options and access to your Google Docs. I'd like to see it provide access to a larger pool of documents directly from the app but I will definitely continue to use it and if you need to read documents that you create or that colleagues provide then I'd recommend giving it a go.

Update : In response to my review Michael Coon from Minion has been in touch to say that a few of the issues mentioned above will be addressed in the next version. This includes looking at improving the slider controls and the ability to cache multiple documents.