Paper vs Pixels – Advantages and drawbacks of reading on iPhone

Eucalpytus - Book CoverA couple of weeks ago I was buzzing with excitement because my new work phone (an iPhone!) arrived. I spent Friday night, not out with friends or watching TV, but surgically attached to my phone and thinking every five minutes about what new ‘Apps’ I could download. If you don’t know what an iPhone App is, in a nutshell it’s a ‘application’ which you can download to your phone which adds functionality (a bit like a program on your computer). Typical examples include functional apps, like to do lists, calendars, or expense charts, fun apps like games or novelty items like a Zippo lighter on your phone – some free, some cost a few pounds. The beauty of the apps on iPhone is that  there are lots of creative ideas floating about which use the functionality of the phone itself, like it’s ‘accelerometer’ (a sort of motion sensor), it’s microphone or it’s internal magnet.

I could go on, and on (yes it really is quite inspiring!) but I have to admit that the App that I really got excited about was the ‘Eucalyptus App‘ by the Gutenberg Project. You pay £5.99 (or $9.99) to download it but once you’ve bought it gives you access to all the books that have been made public online by the Gutenberg Project – that’s over 20,000 books for (almost) free! Of course it doesn’t mean you’re going to be getting the latest Dan Brown or Man Booker, but it does mean you can read Dickens, Tolstoy or in my case Wilkie Collins’ novels on your phone. So having had it a couple of weeks and been reading Armadale on it (for Savidge Reads Sensation Season), I wanted to give you my pros and cons Print vs Pixels!


1 – An excellent reading experience

Eucalpytus 2While I don’t think I’ll ever find reading on a phone as good as thumbing the pages of a lovely paperback, I was super impressed by the experience of reading on this app. I had already used my Nintendo DS which had a similar program whilst travelling (also to read Wilkie!) so I wasn’t totally new to using a reader, but let me tell you why it’s so good.

  • Once you’ve downloaded them, books are displayed with covers very similar to the recent new penguin classics range (see first photo), so you don’t miss out on having a smart cover.
  • The fonts chosen are the same as what you would get in a book, so it renders like a real page, except you can ‘pinch’ them to expand or zoom out and make the text bigger without losing the page layout.
  • It feels very tactile because you turn the pages using the touchscreen, by swiping your finger across, a little like you would when leafing through the pages of a book.

2 – It’s so portable!

Don’t get me wrong, I love big chunky books on my shelves and in front of the fire with a cup of tea / glass of wine, but I do not love them in my handbag and on the tube! This App means that I am currently carrying Ulysses and Armadale around in my handbag with no extra shoulder-strain. It’s not dependent on internet access either so I can read it underground.

3 – No dog-eared pages

I’m terrible at remembering my bookmark, so often dog-ear my pages (boo-hiss!). The app remembers I am in the book so I don’t have to!

4 – Note-making is easy

Ok, so this isn’t actually a virtue of the App itself, but I have found myself jotting things down in the ‘notes’ bit of my phone as I go along, because of course I’m using the handset for both. I am too forgetful / lazy to remember to carry a pen and notepad so this works well for me. Plus I can then synch it with Outlook and have  already typed-up notes for blogging from. Yes I know I’m a geek!

5 – It’s going to save me money on classic books

I was going to spend about £6 at least on Armadale in print, so simply by buying the app I’ve saved, and now have access to thousands of others. Of course classic books are nice to have anyway, but if I end up loving them I can buy them retrospectively from a second-hand shop.


1 – You can’t read it in the bath!

Technically that’s not true, I could read it in the bath but soapy wet hands and electronics don’t go well together. For me that’s quite a drawback as I love lounging in a long hot bath and reading until it’s not so hot! Also, I haven’t tried it on the beach yet but the Nintendo DS wasn’t good at all for reading in the sunlight because you couldn’t see the screen.

2 – It won’t fill a bookshelf

This isn’t a big deal for me because I will probably end up buying copies of the books I love, but electronic copies of books will never have quite the same tactile and sensory appeal (fusty smells, crinkly pages, interesting covers) as your favourite hardback or paperback copy.

3 – Too many distractions

While I can pick this up more easily when I’m on the go, as I always have it with me it can be difficult to settle down to because the nature of the iPhone is that it allows you to, nay encourages you to multitask. With a good book, it’s easier to take it somewhere quiet and not be distracted.

So overall? I genuinely love this App because of the care and attention that has gone into making it an enjoyable reading experience. The benefits don’t completely outweigh the negatives but they are very strong plus points. I’m not sure that I would buy new books for my phone unless I was going away for a long time and couldn’t pack hard copies, although having said that I did take about 10 books travelling with me and traded as I went! I’m pretty sure that I wouldn’t ever buy a device dedicated only to reading books as I wouldn’t want to carry something seperately unless it was actually a book.

I think that what it means is that I will choose to read in different formats in different situations. For example I’ve downloaded Ulysses for when I’m travelling, but I have a paper copy that I’ll read at home…in the bath!

Have you used a digital device for reading yet? Do you think you could be converted? Will paper-format books always be around?

10 responses to “Paper vs Pixels – Advantages and drawbacks of reading on iPhone

  1. I’ve not enjoyed reading books on the iPhone yet. I love my phone, I really do, but reading on it just doesn’t do it for me. I just don’t like electronic reading – call it being stuck in the past, or whatever…

    I do make notes on it, and make the page references for quotes on it as well.

    • I didn’t think I would either (actually I was quite vehement when my boyfriend got me the Nintendo DS classic books program), but it comes in handy in certain circumstances 🙂

  2. Hmmm it sounds good but sadly, and you know how dear you are to me, this is something that I just won’t ever be convinced by – you cant replace a book. Well you can, but you know what I mean. Sony are sending me and e-reader to try but I just don’t think its going to happen for me, though if its getting the ‘youth of today’ reading more then that’s great.

    I do wonder how authors earn any money from this system?

    Glad you are loving it though!

    • I don’t think I would like an e-reader either and wouldn’t pay for new books (I like to have something physical for what I pay for), but having it on your phone is quite handy!

      More importantly, I can’t believe you used the expression ‘youth of today’ Simon!

  3. Excellent posts! I live with an iPhone addict — I keep asking when he’s going to get an app that does the dishes and fixes our meals! Heheh.

    I trialled a Sony Reader last year. I liked using it, but when the batteries went flat I didn’t bother recharging it. It has sat in my wardrobe ever since. I think that tells you my reading format preferences!

  4. When I finally splurge on an ipod I will give this application a chance. I can’t say you have entirely convinced me but you have certainly persuaded me to try it out. I love the tactile feel to a book too much and also love reading in the bath – I will never be fully converted away from real books (the horror!) but it would be handy for the tube.

    • No, I feel the same. My dream is one day to have my own mini-library so I don’t think I’ll ever give up on the real thing!

  5. Pingback: Vooks?! « Novel Insights

  6. I have an IPOD touch and my brother suggested the Eucalyptus app. I love it! Still love regular books but this is so handy on the go! However, I was about half way through Tom Sawyer and the next time I tried to open Eucalyptus, the leaf appeared but then it jumped back to my home page-no Tom Sawyer or anything else…any thoughts?

    • That’s annoying! Perhaps something changed when you synched on iTunes? I love it too. I’m reading The Moonstone and I have a paperback at home but read it on the app when I’m on the tube it’s perfect for that!

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