4 Android e-reader apps: The latest word in reading

These smartphone e-reader apps will make it easy to enjoy your favorite book wherever you go.

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Cool Reader

Cool Reader is an ambitious e-reader with a text-to-speech feature that none of the other programs offers for free, but it's not the most sophisticated app of the group.

Cool Reader makes books available in several ways from its opening screen, which appears when you start the program (and if no book is already open). You can open the book you're currently reading or any recently read books, or browse for unread books in the file system or in any of seven bundled online catalogs -- or you can add your own. If a book is already open, getting to that screen is a little tricky. You have to tap to bring up the app's pop-up options icons and then tap the one labeled Root.

Cool Reader
Cool Reader

Cool Reader offers six fonts: one monospace, one serif and four sans serif. You can add additional fonts by placing TTF files in the Fonts directory of your device (according to the Cool Reader manual); similarly, you can add your own background images if none of the 30 provided with the program satisfy you. You can set font size and top, bottom, left, and right margins in single-pixel increments.

The app has a day/night toggle that switches between two sets of font and background settings; the day/night setting can also change the brightness of the screen.

Cool Reader can display a status bar, which it calls a title bar, at the top of the screen -- there's no way to display it at the bottom. You can configure the title bar's typeface, size and color. It can show you (optionally) the book title, page number, page count, chapter marks and percentage read, as well as the device's battery level. (The app displays its Eastern European origin by its use of a comma rather than a decimal point in the percentage-read number). Unfortunately it doesn't show your progress within your current chapter or story, as Moon Reader+ can.

The app also has an optional toolbar (that you can display on either side of the screen) that contains icons that take you to your library, the book's table of contents, search, options and other settings.

When reading, you can choose to use a document's internal style settings, but if you'd rather control styles yourself, Cool Reader gives you direct access to a wide range of format settings for paragraphs and other elements, such as titles and links.

The app also gives you a lot of options for gestures to control your reading experience. Cool Reader divides the screen into a 3x3 grid, and you can specify two actions for each zone, such as next or previous page, forward by 10 pages, or toggle day/night display. You can change screen brightness by flicking up and down on the left or right edge of the screen. You can select text to copy it to the clipboard, find it in the dictionary, add it as a bookmark or search with it. And you can set any of three page-turning animation options.

In Cool Reader, tapping on the center of the screen or the menu button brings up more options than does a similar action in the other programs. You get nine icons that take up the bottom third of the screen, one of which, "More," leads to 10 additional icons. Collectively, these icons let you control the app's operations -- navigate within a book via search, go to a bookmarked page, jump to a particular page or see progress percentage, and more. One of the icons, Options, lets you change the app's settings.

Cool Reader's process for selecting a word or a phrase is awkward. Rather than using a long press, you must tap one of the pop-up icons to toggle selection mode. You highlight your selection, and Cool Reader then displays icons that let you copy the text to the clipboard, look it up in a dictionary, bookmark it, share it or search for it within the document.

Cool Reader bundles links to 10 dictionaries, but you must install any that you want to use.

The app includes text-to-speech capabilities to read your text to you in a robotic voice. It also has a feature called Autoscroll, but rather than moving the entire screen up at the pace at which you read, it repaints the entire screen with the next page of text -- sort of an automatic super-slo-mo page turn automation.

One nice touch (unusual in a mobile app) is a comprehensive manual that explains the app's concepts, menus and settings. And if you like Cool Reader on your Android phone, you can also download versions that run on Windows and Linux platforms from the app's home page.

Bottom line

Cool Reader offers a broad range of supported e-book formats, top-notch ability to tailor CSS settings and some innovative features, such as its tap zones and text-to-speech. However, it also exhibits surprising awkwardness in its menu arrangement and text selection, making the overall reading experience not quite as smooth as it could be.

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