A while back, I wrote about eBooks and how so few iOS apps offer a good auto-scroll reading experience. This article will take a look at Tomes, the auto-scroll eBook reading app I currently use. I wish I could say Tomes was my favorite eBook reader app, but that honor goes to the now-discontinued iFlow Reader app. Though iFlow Reader is still available in the app store, there’s no way to get new books into it, so it’s no longer a viable option. When iFlow was shut down, the only auto-scroll-capable alternative I could find was Tomes (formerly BookShelf). A free version was not offered, so I took a chance and laid down my $5 for it.
I have used Tomes regularly for more than a year now, and while it has some quirks and annoying behavior, it’s gotten much better with recent updates, and I prefer reading books with Tomes over any non-auto-scroll eReader app. At the time of this review, the current version of Tomes is 3.1.2.
Here is a summary of Tomes’ important features, pros, and cons…
- Provides built-in support for many online book sources.
- ShelfServer, a free Java-based app from the same developer, allows you to import books you have on your Mac, Windows, or Linux computer over WiFi.
- Natively supports eBooks in the following formats: ePub, (some) PDB, TXT, HTML, PRC, MOBI. Some additional formats are supported through ShelfServer conversion. DRM-protected books are not supported.
- Direct browsing of Calibre server is supported, so Calibre can be used to convert other formats to make them Tomes-compatible.
- Built-in book sources include: WebScription.net, Sci-Fi bookstore, Feedbooks, ManyBooks.net, Smashwords, Project Gutenburg, and Internet Archive Catalog
- Auto-scroll for hands-free reading. Adjustable speed via on-screen buttons.
- Many customization options for fonts, colors, text size, justification, margins, etc. Choose from several preset schemes or create your own.
- Quickly toggle between day and night reading color schemes.
- Offers a number of dictionaries you can install for word look-ups (though none are very comprehensive in my experience).
- Tap-and-hold a word to search the book, the installed dictionary, or Wikipedia.
- Select passages to copy the text or add a note.
- Browse table of contents and add bookmarks. (However, adding bookmarks always results in a crash of the app for me. A workaround is to use notes instead.)
- Organize your books into folders. Delete or move books and folders.
- Save web pages from the built-in browser for offline reading in Tomes.
- Easy importing of books from the web, including Calibre server.
- Shows your position in the book as a small progress bar. Tap the bar for percentage or to jump to a location.
- Many customization options. Ability to change preferences on a per-book basis without changing default preferences for all books.
- Universal binary app runs on iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad, so you only have to buy it once for any iDevice.
- Works on older devices and older versions of iOS. Updated for iOS 6 and iPhone 5.
- Supports large files (no file size limit).
- Privacy controls to password-protect the entire app or specific books.
- Does not offer gesture-based control for pausing/resuming auto-scroll or adjusting speed.
- Scrolling speed buttons are small and close together, making them hard to hit while reading.
- It’s difficult to reposition text in the screen without stopping auto-scroll. Then you have to bring up the toolbar to start it again.
- Development is slow, updates are scarce, and developer does not respond to emails.
- Support forum is overrun with spam and appears to be abandoned. Website has not been updated in more than a year.
- Doesn’t utilize the iOS dictionary to look up words while reading.
- No options for sharing passages on social networks (but you can copy text to share manually).
- No position syncing through iCloud. (An option for position syncing via WebDAV servers is offered, but I have not been able to get this to work.)
- Bug in latest version does not switch day/night color scheme until you exit the book and return.
- Adding bookmarks causes Tomes to crash.
I realize that’s a lot of “cons,” and if you look in the App Store reviews, you will find that Tomes has a very low rating. However, this eBook reader has recently been updated, and it is working much better since version 3.1.2. Unfortunately, it was buggy for more than a year prior to 3.1.1. I hope this means the developer is back in the game and we’ll start to see more frequent updates to Tomes.
The truth of the matter is, most of the negative points I mention about Tomes are not deal-breakers. You can work around them, and once you’re into a book and reading, there’s not much to complain about. For me, the lack of gesture controls is the biggest annoyance with reading in Tomes. The buttons for pausing and starting auto-scroll and for controlling the scrolling speed are small and hard to hit without taking your eyes from what you are reading, so a gesture based control would be a big improvement. It’s also annoying that if you use your finger to reposition the text in the screen, it usually stops the scrolling and then you have to bring the toolbar back on-screen to start it again.
In previous versions of Tomes, imported books often opened with odd formatting and tiny text that could not be resized in the app, making it impossible to use for some books. I was sometimes able to fix these issues by re-converting the books in Calibre, and eventually got in the habit of doing this for all my books before I load them into Tomes. The latest update of Tomes seems to have helped with this issue.
Tomes Works With Calibre
If you’re not familiar with Calibre, it is an excellent free open-source eBook catalog, reader, and converter for Windows, Mac and Linux. Tomes allows you to browse the books in your Cailbre library directly from the “Near-by” tab of the download screen, which makes loading books from your computer very easy. There is really no reason to run the ShelfServer program if you already use Calibre. You can also browse Calibre server from the mobile browser on your device and use “Open in” to transfer books to Tomes.
I used to be able to load books from Dropbox into Tomes by browsing the Dropbox website from Tomes’ built-in browser, but this no longer works. However, you can transfer books to Tomes from the Dropbox app by using the share button and then “Open in Tomes.”
Another annoyance is that after using “Open in,” the book is transferred to Tomes but does not actually open, so finding it is a bit of a challenge. The books eventually can be found in the “Inbox” folder under the main Documents section, but they may not always show up there until you browse to a different folder and then come back to the Inbox.
In my experience, using the “Near-by” tab to browse Calibre server is the best way to get your eBooks into Tomes. Keep in mind that I primarily use the ePub format for my books; other formats might behave differently.
Once you have your books in Tomes you will find a plethora of options for customizing the text and layout. Personally, I hate any e-Reader app that displays only fully justified text–I find it very difficult to read. I also want full control over text size, colors, margins, line spacing, and so on. Tomes offers all of this, including the ability to create your own custom themes.
Geek in the Forest Verdict: Good for Geeks
Because of the auto-scrolling feature, robust customization options, and the support for Calibre server, Tomes is my preferred eBook reading app, despite its quirks. With improved auto-scrolling control and a bit more polish, Tomes is poised to become the best auto-scroll reading app for iOS. If you’re looking for a good replacement for iFlow reader, don’t let the low app store ratings scare you away from Tomes. iFlow Reader had its own issues, particularly the convoluted way you had to import books, and Tomes paired with Calibre works much better in this regard.
Browse the screen shots image gallery below for many more details about Tomes and how it works on an iPhone and iPad.