uBooks xl is another one of the very few auto-scroll eBook reading apps for iOS. uBooks xl is a universal app, so it works on all iOS devices including the iPhone, iPod touch, iPad, and iPad mini. This review covers version 2.4.3 of uBooks xl.
First off, let me say that there is a free version and a paid version. uBooks is the free version and uBooks xl is the paid version which costs $4.99, and according to AppShopper, it has never been on sale. The free version of uBooks has ads, but other than that, the only difference is that you are limited to creating just one theme (color scheme) in the free version. Also, the ads are only in library management and settings screens, so you won’t have ads distracting you while you are reading. uBooks free version provides an excellent way to try out an auto-scroll reading app, if you’re not sure you would enjoy reading this way.
I’ll list the main features, pros, and cons of uBooks for you to skim, then go into my experience working with this eReading app.
- Support for html, .txt, .epub or .fb2 formats.
- Day and Night reading modes. On-screen brightness control.
- Auto-scroll reading with adjustable speed.
- Create custom themes for color schemes and reading appearance.
- Many options for adjusting the reading experience such as font, text size, backgrounds, colors, margins, tap zones, etc.
- Several animation options for page-based reading.
- Supports multiple languages. Can translate what you are reading via online translator.
- Option to browse library by categories (title, author and genre), or as one flat list.
- Can edit book title, author, and genre from book details within the app.
- Import books from websites (including Calibre server), iTunes, “open-in” from other apps, or through ad-hoc Wi-Fi or FTP server.
- Ad-supported free version is available.
- Copy, highlight, bookmark, and translate options are available for selected passages.
- Displays progress in percentage and provides a slider bar for jumping to a location in the book.
- Search for words or passages in a book.
uBooks xl Pros:
- Nice auto-scroll reading mode.
- Works with Calibre server and supports “open-in” for importing books.
- Many options for customization.
- Prevents scrolling through a whole book when auto-scroll reading, in case you fall asleep.
- Universal app runs on iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad, so you only have to buy it once for all your iDevices.
uBooks xl Cons:
- No gesture-based controls for auto-scroll speed, stop and start.
- No dictionary. Can’t look up definitions while reading.
- Default hyphenation is awful. I had to disable it.
- Does not support style formatting in ePub books.
- Settings are not explained well.
- Only displays full justified text.
- Can’t reposition text in the screen or adjust scroll speed without stopping and restarting auto-scroll.
- No options for sharing passages on social networks (but you can email selections, or copy text to share manually).
- No position syncing through iCloud.
The default theme of uBooks is an ugly yellow and brown color scheme, but thankfully you can create a custom theme with your own colors or choose the default gray and pinstripes color theme common to many iOS apps.
When you dig into the settings area of uBooks xl, it becomes clear that the developers are not native English speakers, as some of the options are not explained clearly. However, there are a good amount of options and tweaks for people like me who like to fully customize the reading experience. I especially appreciate the options for margins, fonts, and colors. There are not many font choices, but I think there are enough.
Unfortunately, there is no setting for text justification and all books are displayed fully justified, which often results in large empty spaces between words, especially on smaller screens like the iPhone or iPod touch. When I asked a company representative about an option for left justified text, I was told it was planned for the next version of uBooks.
Another major deficit in uBooks xl is that there is no way to look up word definitions as you are reading. For me, this is the primary reason it won’t replace Tomes as my main reading app. I’m not going to switch apps just to look up a word definition.
Another thing worth noting about uBooks is that it seems to strip out all formatting from imported books, at least with ePub format, which is the format I use the most and the only eBook format I tested in uBooks. In some ways this can be good because it ensures your text size and font choices are always used, but it also ignores any special formatting that might enhance the book you are reading such as indentation, italics, scene and chapter breaks, justification, and so on.
But enough about the flaws, there are many things to like about uBooks xl. First, it works with Calibre server for importing books via the built-in web browser. Just enter the URL for your Calibre server, and then you can add a bookmark for it, and even choose to make it the default home page, which is very nice.
Other options for importing books into uBooks are over Wi-Fi and FTP, iTunes file sharing, or “open-in” from other apps. With the Wi-Fi and FTP options, uBooks creates its own server, and displays the address within the app. You then enter this address in a web browser or FTP client on the machine where your books reside, and you can transfer them through this ad-hoc network.
uBooks xl Auto-Scroll Reading
The main reason uBooks is being reviewed here is because of its auto-scroll feature. I was introduced to auto-scroll reading with my first eBook experience on a Dell Axim and have been hooked on it ever since. The auto-scroll mode in uBooks is functionally on par with Tomes. You tap a button on the toolbar to begin scrolling, and use a slider to adjust the speed. Unfortunately, adjusting the speed while you are reading is a bit fiddly. You have to tap the screen to show the toolbars, which stops the scrolling, then start the scrolling again to show the speed slider. It’s also not possible to reposition the text in the screen without stopping scrolling. This is often necessary if you get to a section of text with a lot of short paragraphs such as dialog.
One nice feature of uBooks when reading in auto-scroll mode is that it has a feature to prevent scrolling through an entire book if you fall asleep. After an interval of no interaction, uBooks displays a pop-up notification to ask if you are still reading. This is a safeguard against having the entire book scroll through if you fall asleep reading. You can press “stop” or “continue” to keep reading. I never timed it, but I’d say the pop-up appeared after approximately 30 minutes of no screen taps.
Like Tomes, uBooks auto-scroll reading suffers a bit from the lack of gesture-based controls. Neither app makes it easy to adjust scroll speed or reading position without having to stop and start the scrolling. uBooks doesn’t break the book up into chunks like Tomes does, so interruptions are less frequent. I also felt like I didn’t need to adjust scroll speed as often with uBooks.
Geek in the Forest Verdict: Room for Improvement
Coming to uBooks after having used Tomes for nearly a year, there are a few things I like better about uBooks, but overall, I still prefer Tomes for most of my reading. I think the auto-scroll experience is slightly better on uBooks xl, but the lack of dictionary, loss of formatting, and absence of left justification are hard to get beyond. uBooks is definitely worth a look though, and the free, ad-supported version will let you try almost all the features and determine if auto-scroll reading is right for you.
Browse the screen shots image gallery below for many more details about uBooks xl and how it works on an iPhone and iPad.