My Android ebook reading workflow (optimized for frequent turnover of ebooks)

Synopsis: Aldiko’s not appropriate if you plan on constantly rotating the collection of ebooks on your mobile device. Instead, a combination of Calibre, Moon+Reader, and DropBox seems to do the trick. Consider using Moon+Reader as your default reader unless you need Aldiko’s capabilities for dealing with large ebook collections, as Moon+Reader has a more polished reading experience than Aldiko.

A major contributor to my decision to get an Android tablet was my desire to be able to read ebooks comfortably. Namely, with more portability and a form factor closer to the usual book experience. (the other major contributor was my desire to be able to read research papers comfortably, but that’s an issue for another discussion)

Until recently I was using Aldiko as my primary ebook reader, because it seems to be most popular reader, going both from the Android Market impression and Google searches for “Android ebook reader” and similar terms. Aldiko’s great if you have a large, static, well-tagged collection of EPUBs. The interface makes it a breeze to find books based on tags or authors, and keeps track of your recent reads, but it has some really annoying drawbacks. First, it is awful at properly removing books: it leaves behind the tag information for files that have been deleted. Even reinstalling Aldiko doesn’t seem to fix this. On a related note, oftentimes Aldiko has multiple index entries for one book. This may have been due to me having two formats of the same file, but one would expect that any ereader should recognize this and adjust accordingly.

These are somewhat major usability issues, but the main problem I have with Aldiko is that it’s just not aimed at a user like me, who constantly switches out ebooks. Aldiko is not designed for rapid turnover of books. It’s aimed more at people who store all their ebooks on the device, add books occasionally, and don’t delete any books. That’s a dealbreaker for me, since I have lots of ebooks, don’t want to waste space on my tablet storing files I won’t look at for several years, and want to regularly switch out books I’ve finished reading for ones I plan on reading soon.

Tonight I’ve been experimenting with a new setup of Calibre, Moon+Reader, and DropBox that seems to provide a setup that suits my style more. Moon+Reader has a book database, just as Aldiko does, but it’s also more amenable to reading EPUBs on a file-by-file basis (I forgot to mention that Aldiko can’t just load an EPUB off the disk: you have to import it into Aldiko’s special purpose database first). I’m quite impressed with the reading experience in Moon+Reader: it doesn’t have the collection organizational tools of Aldiko, but on a per-book basis, the navigation capabilities and formatting options as well as the overall feel of the application is more polished.

My setup is simple: in Calibre, I use the “connect to folder” option to load my DropBox folder as a device, then sync the books I’m currently reading to the device. On my tablet, I then open the files from DropBox using Moon+Reader. As long as I don’t reboot the tablet (or force kill DropBox), I’m able to interact with the file as though it were stored permanently on the tablet (e.g. Moon+Reader will store your location and return to it every time you visit the book). If you want, you can also favorite the ebook files in DropBox so that a local permanent copy of them is mirrored to your tablet, and then import them (from your DropBox scratch folder) into Moon+Reader. This method has the advantage that you don’t lose any metadata when you reboot the tablet, and if you delete the files from DropBox, they’re deleted locally and automagically from Moon+Reader. The only disadvantage to this technique is that the DropBox application doesn’t let you favorite folders for now, so if you have multiple ebooks in a folder, you have to favorite them all manually. This isn’t a big deal.

  • First, I have not been receiving your RSS feeds. Something must be amiss.

    Second, I tried using Caliber but was unsatisfied.
    But I was searching for an iTunes like ebook curation software. Thus far, Papers and Caliber were the best but still failed at ease and convenience of iTunes.

    I would be a bigger ebook mobile reader if I had an iPad, but I read mostly on my laptop or desktop.

  • swiftset

    I’ll check into the RSS.

    The offerings for ebook management seem slim. If you know Android programming, you could corner the market there 🙂 Actually, you could do the same with paper management.

    What kind of features would you want in an ebook manager? And what is it you don’t like about Calibre? I suspect that Calibre is a bunch of components (since it’s written in Python) or could be decomposed so, that could be put together under a different UI to maybe match your requirements.

  • Good post. I’ve been thinking of the same thing. I can also suggest using Dropsync app on the market which keeps a folder on Dropbox in sync with a corresponding folder on your device. Kinda same thing as Dropbox does on your PC.

  • Gazza

    I’ve had problems trying to load E-pubs from Google Drive into Aldiko but you mentioned that if you make an e-pub a favourite in DropBox you can then download a copy to the tablet. I wonder if when you STAR an e-pub in Google Drive it fixes that error. Will try tonight.

    • swiftset

      No idea! I haven’t had a good reason to try Google Drive yet. Let me know how it works.

  • EtrnLwanderer

    I did follow your 2nd suggestion of marking the books my favourite (individually) in the mobile version of Dropbox and then importing them from the scratch folder into Moon+Reader. What I’ve noticed is that the books arent sync’d to let you continue reading on the PC (on Calibre) at from the very same page/chapter where I’ve left off on the Moon+Reader.
    Any suggestions? Btw I have the Pro version of Moon+Reader.

    • swiftset

      I don’t know how position syncing is supposed to work: if it’s based on modifying the ebook file itself, then this technique should work. If it’s based on the application using a metainformation file, then there’s no reason Moon+Reader and Calibre should both use the same file. I’d check into the mechanism that book programs use to save the location if I were you: it may not be feasible to sync between them. Or see if there’s an app/plugin for this.

      • Etrnlwanderer

        Given the lack of a user manual of any sort for Moon+ Reader, its just been a lot of groping in the dark, trying to sort this out 🙂
        There is an option under the miscellaneous tab , once you have an ebook open in Moon+Reader, where you can tick a box marked as “Sync reading positions via Dropbox”. I did check that option as well. Other than the fact that it adds a meta file to the dropbox sync folder, it hasnt done anything to keep things sync’d.
        Oh well.. I guess I’ll just have to keep on experimenting…
        If you do come across a solution, please let us know? I’m sure there a quite a few souls out here, like me, who’d nominate you for sainthood, if you do 🙂

        • bbman335

          This is a few months old, but the MoonReader sync option is only for keeping the reading position in sync across devices that use MoonReader. For instance, if I open a book, read several chapters of a book on my phone, then I open the same book on my tablet, MoonReader will prompt to tell me that the book has a new reading position. That’s all the option does. If you don’t use multiple devices with MoonReader, the option is uselees, but I love it (I don’t read books from calibre though).

          One thing I thought I would mention, I have all my books on Dropbox, but use FolderSync (Android) to load them all up from DropBox onto my tablet (wifi only). Then I just run an import on MoonReader and I have all my books there…if I delete a book from Dropbox it is also deleted from my tablet (and vice-versa) with this process.

          • Etrnlwanderer

            Thank you, bbman335. I haven’t been experimenting too much since my last post, but I will try out what you’ve suggested (Dropbox – FolderSyncing). Good to know that the Moon+ sync option is for multiple mobile devices. Will be useful when I get a few more devices 😉

  • Ara

    Just to elaborate, with Calibre, you can just set it up to work directly off the DropBox folder. Click on the “Library” icon (it might say something like “XXX books”), then choose the option “Switch/create library…”. If the library is not already at the DropBox location, it will move it.

    Of course, this assumes that you have enough space on DropBox. My eBook library is about 3 GB…

    I also like the FolderSync option, although I might prefer to just sync those files that I am reading, keeping the space open for videos.

    • Ara

      One more comment: Calibre also has the option of syncing directly with MTP devices (such as Google Nexus 7) via USB. In that case, you bypass DropBox entirely.

      But I do like the idea of keeping my eBooks in DropBox and just accessing the ones that I need.

  • I recently started using Moon+ Reader because I wanted text-to-speech, which even Kindle for Android does not have. Previously, I’d used primarily Kindle for Android and Aldiko.

    What’s really cool about Moon+ is that you can actually link it directly to calibre’s book server. You can run the server on your computer and then view it as a catalog from Moon+.

    The other feature I really want in a non-kindle reader is the ability to sync reading between devices (like my Galaxy Nexus and Nexus 7), since I usually have my phone with me, but not always my tablet. Moon+ appears to be able to do this on a per-book basis with Dropbox integration. I’ve just now started to try it so I can’t vouch for how well it does(n’t) work. You have to enable it in the ‘Miscellaneous’ options when in reading mode.

    • Oh, I see someone already mentioned using Dropbox for sync. So far I can’t get it to work.

  • Sorry, one more comment. It appears to be important to use the same filename between devices. Kind of a no-brainer but I screwed it up because of some changes in how I put files on the devices between the two. Now it works great!

  • thematrixofdeath.com

    It’s a pity that the perfect ebook reading app for Android still doesn’t exist, the lack of collection organization like Aldiko’s makes the shelf feature useless… better to have all the ebooks in neat folders in Dropbox and open them from there, like this article says. I find the unified library doubly offending when it creates covers for the documents that don’t have one, it makes finding a book all the more difficult.