Review Garbage or Great?: Lexcycle Stanza

Discussion in 'iTunes App Store Reviews' started by pss, Jun 1, 2009.

  1. pss

    pss New Member

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    Garbage or Great?: Lexcycle Stanza

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    Price: Free

    Overview:
    Lexcycle Stanza is an ebook reader available on the App Store for free. Possessing many handy features, it is easily considered one of the best App Store ebook readers available for the iPhone and iPod Touch. While it does have its shortcomings, Stanza does the job of ebook reader remarkably well and you may consider it your primary ebook reader after a few weeks of use.

    What's Great:
    One of the first things you'll notice about Stanza is the intuitive Apple-esque interface; It comes across with the professional aura of an app written by Apple themselves. There are handy usage tips that pop up when you first install Stanza, but Stanza is so easy to use, you won't need these after a few uses. Thankfully, these are easily disabled.

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    In this screen, you have access to your saved titles, and several options to download titles into your device. You can select a book based on title, author, subject, or latest read. The main screen is even flexible enough that you can add your own collection right to it using the cross at the bottom of the screen.

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    The books are displayed based on how the device is rotated. When vertical, titles are displayed in a particular sort order you can select using the "arrows" at the top. When you turn the device horizontally, it displays your titles in a coverflow style similar to how your music is displayed horizontally in the iPod app. I must note though that the coverflow is a bit "jerky" when moving through.

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    Selecting a book is as easy as tapping your selection regardless of what mode you elect to use. When you select a title, the cover is briefly displayed while the book loads into the background, and when the book loads, it remembers where you left off, a feature I found extremely handy. Stanza remembers your place in the book when you exit it or when you select another book.

    Note the grey bar at the bottom of the screenshot on the right. As you read, the app gauges your progression through the book in an unobtrusive progress bar that sits at the bottom of the screen. You don't really notice it unless you look for it, and if you're reading through a long title, it's very handy to see just how much is left before the story finally concludes.

    Turning the page is as easy as a simple swipe of the finger. When the page turns, it is accompanied by a page-turning animation that really serves to accentuates the user interface experience. You can also tap one or the other side of the screen, and tap the middle of the screen for the control panel, which is documented below:

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    The interface is unobtrusive as well. The controls for the reader don't shove themselves into your face all the time, or at all during reading. Dismissing it is easy if it's called up by error as well. The blue slider at the bottom takes you through any part of the book in a jiff, and the buttons above help you quickly do things such as jump to a chapter, adjust the display settings, find your way through the book, and even put several other options directly on the toolbar in a manner similar to dragging-and-dropping your toolbar options in the iPod app.

    One of my favorite features of Stanza is the ability to invert the display with the touch of a button. There are particular situations where one would wish to read the text inverted, or it could be a matter of personal preference. And this isn't the only option for dimming: scrolling your finger vertically in either direction will dim and brighten the display with more variation in whatever mode you select. You can invert the display with one tap of the yin-yang icon on the toolbar.

    You may not think the iPhone/iPod Touch is a suitable reading platform because of its small screen, but you may be pleasantly suprised. The size of the text is not fixed: you can blow it up and shrink it using pinch gestures you would use in the Safari app. The book re-loads every time you resize the text, however, and is not as smooth as Safari's web page resize. If you have good eyes, shrink it: if you have bad eyes, blow it up. It's very easy to do.

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    Stanza also allows you several methods of viewing your content. You have many different pre-loaded styles to choose from, and even can make your own based on what colors you want for text and background. It even permits your own background image as well, which you can easily select from the photo roll. The font is changeable as well, enabling Stanza to be very flexible in reading presentation options.

    Finally, Stanza has its own marketplace built-in, which you can select from the "Online Catalog" option on the main menu. Included free catalogs are Project Gutenburg, Pan Macmillian Tasters, Munseys, SmashWords, among others. But one thing that's great about Stanza is that you can purchase popular, copyrighted texts to read legally on your device using providers including BooksOnBoard. A drawback is how they are purchased, however: I will elaborate in a minute.

    You can even add your own collections to the Stanza catalog, and import non-DRM books into the app using Bonjour and Stanza Desktop.


    The Garbage:
    Stanza, of course, is not perfect and has several major drawbacks. One major one is the method you purchase books with. Books are not purchased from within the app, but rather through Safari and BooksonBoard.com, which requires a registration. I predict this will be somewhat alleviated with the upcoming microtransactions in OS 3.0, which will make the payments credited to your iTunes account with the tap of a button.

    Another major drawback is the rather weak Stanza Desktop. Stanza Desktop remains the only method you have to get your existing non-DRM books into the app, and is very, very pre-beta. Much of the formatting is lost when books are converted, and I have found it rather difficult to edit vital information such as title and author, which will sometimes end up as something like "BOOK.TXT" I expect this to improve with time as well.


    Verdict:

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    I *highly* recommend you pick this one up. It costs nothing and is an overall excellent ebook reader. If you're looking for a simple reader with a moderately easy way to get books, Stanza's for you. If you're tied to a lot of DRM-books or have a lot of books purchased already, I would seek an alternative such as Kindle for iPhone. An interesting thing to note is Amazon's purchase of Lexcycle, which may eventually result in the merge of Stanza with Kindle for iPhone for a killer ebook reader that supports more DRM-encoded titles and imports them more easily.

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  2. Tourniquet.

    Tourniquet. Member

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    what is this? lol
  3. pss

    pss New Member

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    I meant to hit preview instead...please check back in a little.
  4. SumDaii

    SumDaii Active Member

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    *wits, grabbing both knees*
  5. pss

    pss New Member

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    A'ight, all ready.
  6. SumDaii

    SumDaii Active Member

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  7. studangerous

    studangerous Super Moderator Emeritus Staff Member

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    Nice review. Great content. A few ideas to better the presentation: use CENTER tags around images and leave a blank line after images before the next line of text; add an App Store link; make sure all images are correctly rotated.

    The verdict bar is a great idea. Maybe you want to colorize inside the bar to better show the great/garbage ratio

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    Also, if you are considering doing more reviews, some use of gif images would really show off your multiple images here well (and is great way to get over the 10 images per post restriction).

    Top work!
  8. pss

    pss New Member

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    I added the CENTER tags to my existing review. For my next one, I will definitely rotate the images when they need to be rotated.

    By using GIFs, do you mean animated GIFs that show several images in one?
  9. studangerous

    studangerous Super Moderator Emeritus Staff Member

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    Yes, check Education's reviews on this forum. Good example of gif use and there's some other great ideas you can pick out of his reviews.

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