A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens: Enhanced audiobook for iPhones and iPads

Like the idea of digital books on the go? Remember Enhanced Editions – the people who brought you the Sarah Silverman Bedwetter iPhone app? Big fan of Christmas and charity? Well the same team have launched a charity edition of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, which features Miriam Margolyes reading along and a donation to the Dickens Museum for Christmas.

A-Christmas-Carol

Produced with AudioGO, who were formerly known as BBC Audiobooks, and won Audio Publisher of the Year six times. Enhanced Editions made a splash on the digital publishing landscape last year with their release of Nick Cave’s The Death of Bunny Munro, the first enhanced ebook offering audiobook synchronised to ebook, plus video, social media, and news feed feature.

Go to my Bedwetter review, ignore all the detailed information about alternative comedy and pretty much everything else applies – with one major exception – The Christmas Carol is optimised for the iPad right away, which makes for a slightly more comfortable reading experience. Miriam Margolyes reading of the story is infused with emotion and might help a slightly older child with their reading of the unabridged text. And it’s just fun to listen to. Also fun is the Tilt Scrolling feature. As all the chapters in Enhanced Editions are one long continuous piece of text – as opposed to actual pages, so there is no need to swipe across and you can simply scroll down for each chapter. Tilt Scrolling, as you have probably guessed by now, utilises the accelerometer so you can scroll down the chapter using a subtle hand gesture to control.
There is also a night reading mode, where the sometimes off-putting brightness of the iPhone screen is replaced by a black background, which is a little bit easier on the eyes.

The £1.79 is available at an App Store near you and is the perfect last minute Christmas gift for anyone who’s just seen Bill Murray’s Scrooged and wants more information about the source material.

Enhanced Editions: Sarah Silverman’s The Bedwetter iPhone ebook

You might be aware of US comedian Sarah Silverman. She had a brief stint on Saturday Night Live and can be seen on Mr Show, The Larry Sanders Show and loads of little guest shots on shows such as Seinfeld and movies such as “I Want Someone to Eat Cheese” with (Jeff Garlin’s movie for anyone curious about what Curb Your Enthusiasm would look like without Larry David). Very much a member of the US alternative comedy scene, her HBO special, “Jesus is Magic” and her Comedy Central show “The Sarah Silverman Program“, which featured her teaming up with Rob Scrab, author of the amazing “Scud the Disposable Assassin” comic.

The-Bedwetter

Which is all very well and good but what does that have to do with gadgets? Well Sarah Silverman has released an iPhone app for her autobiography The Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption, and Pee (she’s enuretic). Brought to you by Enhanced Editions, the app eschews the e-reader and tablet markets and focuses on the smartphone – a device which in all probability you’ll always have with you. Enhance Editions ensure that the text is properly formatted for the smaller phones screen, with easily navigable chapters, adjustable fonts and searchable text.

The app also doubles up as an audiobook, which Sarah Silverman reads and performs, where necessary. The audio book is broken up by chapter, with a time remaining and a simple navigation bar. It’s not as good as a Kindle, or even an iPad and the 441 MB app doesn’t even appear to be adjusted to work on the magic tablet, bar the horrible 2* scaling that technically works but that is wholly unsatisfying. But if you are hanging out on your iPhone, the reading experience is better than it would be on the standard iBooks app and having the audio book bundled makes it worth the price of admission (which is about £10). Plus there are a few app-only extra videos, and a little Sarah Silverman newsfeed.

But is it any good? Well if you enjoy any of her work (and you should definitely check out the Sarah Silverman Program), and her curious mix of surrealism, word play and shock humour then you should definitely check it out.

Sony Reader vs. Amazon Kindle

Everyone loves a good face-off. The iPhone vs. Android, for example. Or Xbox vs. Playstation. John Travolta vs. Nicholas Cage. In the UK e-reader segment, it’s Sony vs. Amazon. Both are offering better, cheaper e-readers than ever before. The problem is, like mobile phones, one e-reader is plenty – not even decadent French Kings would want one of each. That means there needs to be a “best” option. Which is it? Having had our hands on both devices, we’ve made a decision.

There’s no standardised e-Reader test, so we’ve chosen the categories that are most important to us to judge the devices. We’ll also only be referring to the most premium offerings – the Sony Reader Touch and the Kindle 3 + 3G.
Kindle

Unfortunately, neither Sony nor Amazon were keen for us to drop-test the devices – so that section had to be left on the cutting room floor (unlike the e-readers, which were neatly placed on the desk and definitely were not dropped once, even by mistake).

SCREEN: DRAW

Luckily for consumers, the bit that you’ll spend most time looking at is equally good in both devices. The technology is licensed from E-Ink, so both readers have the same 50-percent-better-contrast-than-last-time display.

PORTABILITY: DRAW

The newer Sony Reader Touch is the smaller of the two, looking much more like a paperback book than the Kindle. It’s also a tiny bit lighter – 220g as opposed to 241g.

The Kindle is more like a supermodel – the taller and slimmer offering. Realistically, however, there is no usable difference between the two. They’ll both fit in most bags and are light to hold with one hand. Any definite answer in this category would be disingenuous – no-one would really care about the little differences between the two.

USABILITY: SONY

This is the first category with a proper winner: Sony. The touchscreen makes navigating extremely easy, especially if you’re used to a touch-capable smartphone. It feels intuitive, lets you browse by book covers (like a low-tech Cover-Flow) and generally makes using the device a pleasure.

The text-based interface of the Kindle is neither as pretty nor as accessible. After having used the Reader, you’ll often end up foolishly poking the Kindle’s screen. That’s not to say the navigation buttons of the Kindle are bad, but nothing beats an easy poke.

FORMAT SUPPORT: SONY

Amazon is very keen to lock you down into their proprietary format – AZW. Sure, you can load on PDFs and text documents, but they all have to be DRM-free to run.

If you want a more democratic hand-held, you’ll love the Reader. EPUB, PDF, BBeB, Text, RTF, Word, JPEG, PNG, GIF and BMP are all supported. And while the Kindle is limited to the Amazon Store (which still has an impressive 420,000 books), the Sony lets you buy from any eBook retailer, as well as “borrow” eBooks from the library.

The impact of Amazon’s restrictions is lessened by the software Calibre, which lets you convert various formats to become Kindle-compatible. It’s an extra hassle, though, and one that sometimes creates strange formatting errors.

CONNECTIVITY: KINDLE

Only one of these devices lets you connect over 3G and wifi, and that’s the Kindle. The Whispanet service, for free wireless delivery of books and newspapers, works in over 100 countries, too. Add in a cute-if-limited web browser, and the Kindle will let you hit up the most popular book of all – Facebook – wherever you are.

The Sony has a nice USB cord, though.

BONUS FEATURES: KINDLE

Both devices pump out a huge range of features that their rival is lacking. Sony has excellent PDF support, utilising “re-flow” to rearrange PDF text so that it is easy to read on-screen. It’s a similar technology to that found on the Android web browser. Amazon offers PDF-conversion, but again, the process can do some funny things – especially with pictures.

Sony’s PDFs also benefit from Quickview, which instantly loads up a low-quality preview of the page you are browsing through. It’s feels like you’re actually flicking through a book and improves PDF navigation immensely.

Add in the ability to borrow books from local libraries, write annotations on-screen, highlight text, touch a word for a definition and double-tap to translate it into one of ten languages and you have some really interesting features on Sony’s side.

So why does the Kindle win? It’s certainly not for the paid-for subscriptions to magazines, newspapers and blogs. Don’t get me wrong, it is nice that the options is there, but you’re not saving much money and are getting quite a cut-down experience.

The jewel in Amazon’s bonus feature crown is the Kindle software. Thanks to a massive expansion, you can read your Amazon-purchased books on your PC, Mac, iPhone, iPad, Android and BlackBerry phones and the soon-to-be-released BlackBerry Playbook. Wherever you are, even if you forget your Kindle, you’ll be able to continue reading from where you left off. The software not only synchronises your download library between devices, but also remembers the last page you were reading.

PRICE: KINDLE

On unit price, the Kindle comes in a lot chapter than the Reader. £149 for the 3G version beats the £199 price-point for the Reader. The £109 wifi-only version runs cheaper than the £129 for the Sony Reader Pocket, too.

In terms of book pricing, the Amazon store frequently undercuts other eBook retailers by as much as 50%. This may change, but at the moment it is certainly very one-sided.

OVERALL CHAMPION WINNER: KINDLE

With battery-life and storage options almost as equal as the screen, the real differentiation between the two comes from the eco-systems, bonus features and price. If you don’t mind being locked into Amazon’s cheaper system, you’ll lack some format support options but you’ll definitely save money.

As for bonus features, the Kindle has the only killer one – the variety of platforms you can read your purchases on. The Sony Reader’s annotation feature isn’t fully-formed, instant word translation doesn’t add to the reading experience and highlighting is another pretty minimal innovation.

If you’re going to read a lot of PDF’s, the Sony Reader is by far the superior option. The cheaper price, however, should kindle frequent readers’ interest in the Amazon device.