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Whatever your preferred reading matter, these are the reading apps that matter
When it comes to traditional media, there’s still something about the smell of books, and the feel of paper in the hand that’s impossible to replicate in digital form. We’ve long since found peace with consigning shiny discs for music and TV to history. But books? No.
And yet books and magazines can also be heavy and unwieldy. Unlike your iPhone, you won’t necessarily have one on you at all times, nor be in a position to comfortably read – for example, when crammed into a train carriage on your morning commute.
In this round-up, then, we’re exploring the best reading apps for iPhone, which you can dip into anywhere, whether you’re keen on the latest novels, classic literature, action-packed or thought-provoking comics, or even slices of the internet.
One thing that’s worth bearing in mind is there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. Depending on the content you want to read, you may need several apps. But nothing in our selection will break the bank, and many of the apps are free. Most importantly, all of them are good.
The best iPhone apps for ebooks and PDFs
Our first set of apps concentrates on traditional reading matter: books. However, while physical books are typically all paper tomes, there’s less unity in the digital world. Some ebooks are locked within proprietary systems; and those that aren’t come in various formats, such as ePub and PDF. These apps have you covered, whatever you happen to favour.
Free • v5.12 • 174 MB • By AMZN Mobile LLC
Think of digital books and ‘Kindle’ springs to mind. Amazon’s hardware and software solution provides access to millions of books. Amazon Prime users get additional perks, including a thousand free volumes on rotation.
On iPhone, the app provides easy access to your collection, enabling you to download books and magazines for offline reading. A Discover tab helps you find new things to read, and enables you to download samples, although purchases must be made in the Amazon app.
The reading experience could be better – you can’t turn off jarring page-turn slides – but you do get decent theme settings, and a clever ‘page flip’ feature for flicking to somewhere else in a book without losing your place.
Be mindful, though, that Kindle is all about the ecosystem. Although you can send non-Amazon documents to Kindle, they’re sometimes mangled, and there’s no legal way of exporting most purchases to read in a different app.
Free • v3.5 • 0.7 MB • By Apple
Broadly speaking, iBooks is Apple’s answer to Kindle. It doesn’t match Amazon’s offering in terms of range and pricing, but is fine for discoverability. Also, it’s a more open app, in that you can use it as a reader for ePub and PDF documents.
Adding these could be simpler (you must import them one at a time on iOS using a Share sheet, or load them using iTunes), but once they’re on board, the reading experience is great.
With ePub, the iBooks interface feels slicker than Kindle. The speedy page-turn animation is a nice nod to the past, and the themes are excellent. Prefer scrolling rather than page-flipping? There’s an option for that, too.
PDF isn’t quite so well-served – you’re back to sliding pages about. But you can quickly get at a thumbnails grid, chapter listing, and text-based search – all ideal for perusing larger volumes.
Free + $4.99/£4.99 • v3.1 • 76.3 MB • By Appstafarian
Marvin pitches itself as an app for people passionate about reading books and comics, and it’s geared towards those with an existing collection of DRM-free documents. The app purports to support ePub, CBX and CBR, although the last of those repeatedly failed during testing. PDF is a no-show.
However, if your collection tends towards ePub and/or CBZ, there’s a lot to like. You can import from various sources, and heavily customize the appearance of your books and comics. With ePub, you can adjust page transitions, typography, and justification. For comics, you get sharpening and contrast options, and subtle optional shifting background colors based on each page’s content.
For free, all features are available, but a reminder banner sits at the foot of the screen. It’s removed with a one-off IAP.
Free • v54.2 • 190 MB • By Dropbox
Dropbox is primarily a cloud storage service, and it’s mostly in that capacity that it’s included here. Sign up and you get 2 GB of free online storage – enough for a decent chunk of anyone’s ebook or digital comic collection. Importantly, most apps import from Dropbox – more, in fact, than from iCloud.
But at a pinch, Dropbox is also usable as a PDF viewer. Sure, everything scrolls as one big page, which isn’t ideal; but you do get offline storage, search, page thumbnails, and fast access to chapter markers. Not one for regular reading, then, but fine for the odd PDF if you’re using the likes of Marvin for everything else.
Adobe Acrobat Reader
Free • v17.06.12 • 80.1 MB • By Adobe
On PC, Adobe’s app is a popular means of reading PDFs. On iPhone, it’s less essential, but there are nonetheless features that make it worth consideration.
After importing a PDF, you can access chapter markers, and ‘scrub’ through a document’s pages by dragging a page number tab. And there are alternate views: a Dropbox-like continuous scroll, an iBooks-like single-page, Reading Mode and Night Mode.
The last of those inverts colors (switching imagery to greyscale first), and Reading Mode attempts to extract text from the current page of your PDF. It’s not always successful, but can prove useful when documents are too fiddly to read on the iPhone’s small display.
The best iPhone apps for reading comics
Although some people remain snobbish about comics, the medium has enjoyed a renaissance of late. Blockbuster movies and indie books alike have furthered comics as an option for everyone, rather than them being seen purely as a juvenile pursuit. Two apps stand out for reading comics on iPhone.
$4.99/£4.99 • v9.1.3 • 39.3 MB • By Bitolithic Pty Ltd
This app is designed for people who already have a digital comics collection on their computer, or housed in cloud storage. CBZ, CBR and PDF documents all worked seamlessly during testing, and imports can be displayed as a grid or list, and even organized into groups. This can be done manually, by drag and drop, or by assigning tags to items, in order to create smart collections.
The reading experience is strong. Comics are generally rendered well, and you can adjust the background color, remove the page-turn animation, go full-screen, and toggle a two-up view for comics that have double-page spreads. And if a comic’s tricky to read on the small screen, flip your iPhone into landscape, turn on assisted panning, and page-turn taps will instead gradually move you down a zoomed page, until you reach the bottom. Nice.
Free • v3.10.1 • 56.9 MB • By comiXology
Now owned by Amazon, comiXology is Kindle for comics. Whatever comics you buy on Amazon or the comiXology website show up in the app, and can be searched and filtered in various ways. You can also find new content to add to your wish list.
When it comes to reading, comiXology is more impressive than Kindle. The app prefers full-screen, but handy options are a mere tap away: a grid-based page browser; options for transitions and letterboxing; and a panel-based guided view for compatible comics. It feels considered and sleek.
Like Kindle, however, it’s worth noting comiXology is a closed system. You can’t upload an existing collection, although some publishers do now at least allow DRM-free downloads of your purchases, so you can save copies on your computer and read them in other apps.
The best iPhone apps for reading web pages
These days, a lot of reading happens online: magazine and newspaper articles; blogs; reference sources. Our final selection of apps is all about making the internet better from a reading standpoint, whether subscribing to sites or saving pages to read offline at a later date.
Free + $4.99/£4.99 IAP • v1.6.2 • 10.3 MB • By Supertop
This RSS reader is the best on iPhone when it comes to reading. After pointing it at whichever sync service you choose to use (Feedly comes recommended if you’re new to this), your articles are presented as a scrolling list. Excellent typography differentiates headings, publication names, dates, and article synopses.
Within individual articles, this attention to detail continues, and there’s a clear emphasis on reading, with Unread going full-screen whenever possible. Neatly, when you finish an article, you can continue to drag upwards to spring to the next. Alternatively, drag in from the right for actions, such as viewing the original piece on the web.
The free app is limited to 50 articles and then three per day, but that’s enough to see whether you want to plump for the IAP. Chances are, you probably will. Only if you juggle a slew of feeds with dozens of articles per day might Unread feel limiting – and then specifically in terms of speed and article management. For everything else, it’s pretty great.
$4.99/£4.99 • v3.0.5 • 11.9 MB • By Silvio Rizzi
Although Reeder’s reading experience can’t match Unread’s, it’s still not bad. The standard theme is perhaps a little gray and lacking in contrast, but it’s perfectly readable. The app also provides fast access to a button for loading the content from most sites that only provide synopses rather than ‘full feeds’, to save you clicking through to a web page every time.
Where Reeder really shines, though, is in terms of efficiency. It’s a much faster app than Unread for rifling through feeds, enabling you to quickly swipe away things you’re not interested in, and to save or share interesting finds. Also, notably, it doesn’t require a third-party sync service (although many are supported). Newcomers can use Reeder alone to delve into RSS, although doing so means feeds won’t sync to other readers and platforms.
Free • v7.3.3 • 55.2 MB • By Instapaper Holdings, Inc.
Our final entry echoes Apple’s own Reading List inside of Safari, in that it’s designed for you to save web pages to read later. But unlike Apple’s solution, which saves the entire page, Instapaper’s only concerned with the content. The end result is closer in nature to Safari’s Reader view, only with the added benefit of offline reading for downloaded articles.
Once you’ve set up an account, you can send content to Instapaper from browsers on any platform. So whenever you come across a long-read or blog post you fancy delving into, but lack the time for, send it to Instapaper. Not only will you be able to read it at a time that’s most convenient for you, but also you’ll only get the meat of whatever you save, and not the associated cruft that usually surrounds content on the web.