I just bought Eucalyptus – the new e-reader application for the iPhone. At £6 it’s the most I’ve paid for an app1, but I’m hoping it’ll be worthwhile – it downloads its books directly from Project Gutenberg, the heroic volunteer-created database of thousands of public-domain texts. I already have all the Sherlock Holmes stories, Alice in Wonderland, the complete works of Byron2, On the Origin of Species, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, some early Bertrand Russell and even a Kurt Vonnegut short story3 to keep me going on the next train journey.
First impressions are good: the app works well. The text is easy to read, and appears almost instantly – the latter is particularly important, as I find delays on e-readers maddening. Flicking across the screen produces a fast, non-annoying and aesthetically pleasing page-turning animation (it even takes note of where you grab the ‘paper’, if you look carefully), while the text-size can be increased/decreased with a standard iPhone pinch/expand. It seems to save the last-read-page correctly, for multiple books, and if you were reading a book when the app closed, it goes straight back into it – there’s no need to mess around in menus. It also appears to save an image of the last read page, which it then displays while the application loads in the background, so startup is very snappy indeed. That’s pretty thoughtful. Downloading books is easy, with a built-in search as well as ipod-like browsing of the library, and the ‘processing’ of each file happens smoothly in the background. And it generates book covers around the iconic Penguin design, which is a nice touch.
On the down-side I downloaded a bunch of books and tried to read one while all the others were still processing, and the app crashed. This doesn’t mean much, as iPhone crashes can be related to all sorts of things, but I’m hoping it won’t be common. I’m also a little worried about battery life: the iPhone’s battery isn’t all that hot, and it’ll be interesting to see whether extended reading periods with the backlight on are a drain.
Of course, I haven’t actually tried reading anything on it yet. But I’m nevertheless quite chuffed with Eucalyptus. £6 seemed a lot at first, but I’ve been wanting an e-reader for years, and if the app Just Works like it seems to, I should finally get through plenty of I’ve-always-wanted-to-read-those classics. Excellent.