Marvin Free eBook Reading App for iOS
In Why Are We Still in the Dark Ages of eBooks? I wrote about my frustrations with the lack of auto-scroll eBooks readers for iOS. Later I wrote reviews of Tomes and uBooks, two auto-scroll capable eBook reading apps that are okay, but not ideal. Today, I am pretty excited about a new eBook reader called Marvin that has recently arrived on the scene. It does not yet have auto-scroll, but it soon will.
Marvin = eBooks + Intelligence
Even without auto-scroll, this young app is already vastly superior to every eBook reading app for iOS that I have tried, which is most of them! Marvin was brought to my attention by a direct email from the developer, who wrote Marvin because of his dissatisfaction with existing eBook readers for iOS. I’ve been communicating with the developer through private emails and through the MobileRead forum. He clearly has a passion for making this app the best it can be and has been incredibly responsive to feedback and requests from the growing Marvin fan club.
Note: I’ve been using the soon-to-be released 1.2 version of Marvin as a beta tester, so some of the features I discuss here are not yet available in the currently available version. I’ll try to make a note of this when I mention upcoming features.
Marvin Unique Features
In addition to the developer’s enthusiasm and openness to user input, Marvin offers a beautiful, clean user interface and many thoughtful customization options. But it also offers features unheard of in other reading apps–notably, its “Deep View” book analysis engine which “reads” the book for you and identifies common names, places, and themes in the book. Marvin can build a summary of the book plus link you to articles, biographies and other related information about the book, which you can collect, save and share in the book’s summary. I’ve only been using Marvin a short time, but I’ve already found this Deep View incredibly helpful for looking up characters and places in the books I am reading.
Marvin Reading Experience and Settings
As far as the reading experience with Marvin, it’s clear the developer really had readers’ needs in mind. Marvin’s settings let you customize text size, fonts, colors, margins, line spacing, paragraph spacing (coming in 1.2), paragraph indent, full screen mode (hide status bar), two-column reading (coming in 1.2), gestures, and much more. Marvin comes with a selection of excellent screen-optimized fonts, and you can choose your preferred font for body text as well as headings. There is even a special font included to assist readers with dyslexia.
Marvin currently provides iTunes sharing, “Open in,” and Dropbox support for importing books, and in the upcoming version, it will have a built-in Web browser, OPDS catalog support, and support for Calibre server. The existing Dropbox support is seamless and works very well. I’ve been testing the Calibre server support in 1.2 and although password-protected servers are not yet supported, a workaround is provided that works fine when the server is added as a favorite.
Marvin currently allows you to define up to three different color schemes (day/night/other), and in 1.2 you will be able to switch between them with a pinch/spread gesture. Most eReader apps let you easily adjust screen brightness, but Marvin takes it a step further by giving you control over contrast and temperature as well, which can improve night-time reading.
You would think all these options would make the settings screens a nightmare to navigate, but it’s all laid out in an elegant and intuitive way, plus there are help screens and a tutorial to get you up and running quickly–though I doubt you’ll need them.
Marvin’s developer seems to have thought of everything. In the library screen and while reading, you can check your progress in a book and read book information and other metadata (such as date first opened and date imported). You can sort the library in a number of ways, and even do a random shuffle when you don’t know what you want to read next.
While reading, Marvin unobtrusively shows your progress in the whole book (coming in 1.2) and the pages remaining in the chapter. While reading, you can select text to copy, email, and share. The handy “Extend” and “+Word” buttons help you select text more easily–even across pages. You can search for selected words within the book, in the iOS dictionary, or on the web. Marvin offers multicolored bookmarks, highlighting, and notes–and, get this–you can export your annotations, highlights, and bookmarks to a universally compatible XHTML format that can be later restored, edited, or shared with friends. The Deep View summaries you create with Marvin can be made into eBooks themselves, and shared.
So what are the downsides of Marvin?
- Right now, Marvin is only available for iPad (including iPad mini). However, an iPhone version with iCloud sync is already on the roadmap.
- Marvin currently only supports DRM-free ePub files. This means it won’t open most Apple, Kindle and Nook purchases, unless you learn how to use Calibre to strip the DRM from them and convert them to ePub files, as I do. Marvin can’t open library eBooks, because these are DRM-protected.
- Marvin does not yet offer a hands-free auto-scroll or vertical scrolling mode of reading, but it is coming very soon!
Geek in the Forest Verdict: I’m in Love!
There’s more I haven’t talked about, but why don’t you just go get a copy of Marvin and check it out for yourself? Oh, yes, it’s free, too! I’m not going to load this article up with a bunch of screen shots because the Marvin web page already has plenty–and, what are you waiting for? Just go get it already!