Stanza: The iPhone Becomes a Great E-book Reader.

I doubt the folks making Amazon’s Kindle are scared, but I’m surprised at how much I’m reading books on the iPhone now that I have the 2.0 software and the Stanza application.

There are lots of books or readers for the iPhone, so why did I finally settle on Stanza? There are four reasons:

  • Price.
  • Ease of getting books.
  • Usability.
  • Customizability.


Stanza is free. There’s a boatload of Public Domain books out there (most of the classics) and they are free as well.

Ease of getting books:

Is downloading them right to your device easy enough for you? When you launch Stanza you get the Library screen below. (Note the item called ‘Sherlock Holmes’ is a category I made myself to place the entire works inside for easier access; just one of many ways to customize this app.)

The ‘Online Catalog’ button takes you to numerous categories (type, author, etc.) of books available for download.

One of the categories listed in their catalog is ‘Most Popular’. Below is the first page of that category (there are ~200 titles listed):

Clicking on any title asks if you want to download it. Say yes, and that’s it. They download quickly (5-30 seconds on WiFi). Once downloaded the book opens in Stanza ready for reading.


When reading a book, there’s a lot of personalization you can use to get the pages looking like you want them. Below is a screen shot of my page (the screenshot is weak, in person the text is sharper and the background not so dark):

Notice that the iPhone’s entire screen is dedicated to reading (i.e., even the “info bar” at the top of the iPhone is hidden). That’s just one of the multitude of user options. Believe me, if you hate my page you’ll be able to make yours completely different.

You can flip the iPhone and read in landscape if you want, but I prefer to hold it in portrait. While in a book, just tap a page and menus appear at the top and bottom with a few common items, one of which is a Bookmark item that lets you move by chapter:

Other commands on the quick toolbars let you change font size, perform a search, delete the book, or get back to the Library page.

When reading, you “turn” pages by either swiping left or right or tapping the left or right side of the screen. The latter can be turned off, and I did so because occasionally when changing positions I’d touch an edge and change the page. I like turning the pages by swiping; it feels natural to me.

Further, you can have the page instantly change or use a slide effect. If the latter, you select how long the slide takes. I like the slide but set it to be a bit faster than the default. It now gives just the right amount of feedback on page turning.


As mentioned above, if you think my page sucks, make your own. Below is the settings page (found in the iPhone’s Settings section, not in the app itself):

Each one of the categories provides many options. For me, the default white page is a bit bright (computer screens always seem that way to me), so I picked more of an off-white color (the one I’m using is called Navajo White). I’m too lazy to count them all but you have ~150 color choices for your page.

Don’t like my font? I’m using Georgia, but the two dozen or so fonts that come on the iPhone are all available. Knock yourself out. And fonts have the same color choices as pages.

Font size? Just set a slider for your default, and you can easily adjust up and down within the app.

But maybe you’re Mr. (or Ms.) particular, so setting font, size, and color is not enough for you. You also want justified text, with more leading and a bigger margin. Guess what? You can have all those. In fact, justified text is the default, but I prefer ragged right.

There are even more ways to customize it, so you should go through all the settings to see what you like.

Other stuff:

For Mac users there’s a desktop application that allows transfer of files from your Mac to the iPhone. With so many freebies to download directly to the device I have not tried this.

Since no connectivity is required after a book is downloaded, this makes the iPod touch a great reader as well. Download your favorites and read all you want when you’re not on WiFi.

Oh, and what would a new app be without bugs? I’ve noticed sometimes the app will stop scrolling pages. It’s almost like it freezes, except I can exit the app via Home as usual (i.e., I do not have to force quit) and then open it again and it remembers where it left off. There were also a couple of times a book download times out, or I’ll choose a category and it tells me to try later. Is that the app, the iPhone, or my connection? I don’t know.


When the Kindle came out there was a lot of talk about if it could replace the “book experience”. That is, the physical act of hefting the book, “curling up” with it, flipping through pages, etc. I don’t discount any of these, but I’ve come to believe part of why the Kindle has to compete with that is because it is the size of a book.

Honestly, with the iPhone I never think about that. It’s smaller and lighter than any book, and the one-handed operation with a simple flick of the thumb to turn pages is so smooth and intuitive I was immersed in reading before I knew it. I think a big key is to use the option to hide the info bar. With the entire screen taken over, and using a color/font/design of your choice, it was easy for me to forget I was holding an electronic device that also takes calls, gets emails, etc.

If you’re a reader, you owe it to yourself to try Stanza. Just download the thing and a couple of classics you’ve been meaning to read (no, you didn’t read them all in college and, besides, you’ll appreciate them more now) and give it a whirl.

12 thoughts on “Stanza: The iPhone Becomes a Great E-book Reader.

  1. So nice to find someone with some original thoughts on this topic. realy thank you for bringing this up. this web site is something that is needed on the web, someone with a little originality. Goodl job for bringing something new to the web!

  2. People should be aware that the Stanza desktop app does not fully support 64 bit Macs (e.g. basically everything Apple has sold for a few years) as I’ve found out and as noted in their faq: It makes it very impractical to get documents you’ve already got into Stanza on the iPhone. No Thanks.

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  4. Note that there is now a Windows version of Stanza Desktop, so it is no longer Mac-only.

  5. Stanza is by far my favourite Appstore app, I love the online catalogue and rendering. I use it in conjunction with the (free) Mac desktop app to transfer pdfs/ DRM-free ebooks. Tip: If you see ‘unknown title’ in the iPhone when using such shared books then you need to add 2 lines into the text at the start:
    Title: the title
    Author: the author

    They mention they’ll add metadata editing into the next version of the desktop app.

    I LOVE Stanza, the best thing I can say is that when you’re reading a book you forget you’re using a mobile device and it feels very natural.

  6. I had given up finding a good reader for my Touch. Thanks for pointing this one out!

  7. Whoops – that last sentence was supposed to read “Maybe Apple will someday prove that they are NOT really anti-book ” !!!


  8. My thanks as well for pointing us all at this great app. I’ve tried quite a number of iPhone book readers and this is absolutely the best so far. About 3 or 4 large trilogy ebooks I purchased online were too big for Bookshelf and eReader to handle but Stanza handled them with aplomb.

    The links to the online free libraries of out-of-copyright books (and Creative commons license books like Cory Doctorow’s) within Stanza are great, but if you’re a science fiction or fantasy reader, I recommend you check out Baen Books who sell ebooks in these genres for around the $6 a piece mark. The good thing is they don’t have any DRM so can be easily loaded onto the iPhone using Stanza complete with the cover art etc.

    Maybe Apple will sometime prove that they are really anti-book despite what Steve has said and start selling eBooks within the iTunes Store (and providing free eBooks as well I hope) to make the experience just that little bit more all-encompassing and straightforward.


  9. Thanks for a helpful review. I plan to get an iPod touch (64GB, please Apple) or a Pay As You Go iPhone in the next few months (lost my cell phone a few weeks ago) and sort of miss having a library of books on my Palm IIIc (woh that sounds so retro now!). I started taking the bus/train and would love to read while I listen to music on my 30GB iPod 5G… with a 64GB iPod touch I would only need one slim device.

  10. I’ve picked up this app a week or so ago. Been looking for a decent reader and this one is promising. The challenge in the e-books world doesn’t involve the public domain titles but the new, commercial titles. There are plenty of places that sell them, such as Amazon. The question is, will your download be compatible with Stanza? Will DRM get in the way? Some places like appear to allow various formats to aid in that, but Amazon’s zeal to sell Kindles may be discouraging to eager downloaders. We’ll see.

    Stanza itself is a diamond in the rough. As noted in your review, the app has some slow spots, as well as its Mac application and its own website. Hopefully popularity will aid the developers in improvements.

  11. Thanks for the recommendation and thorough, thoughtful review!

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