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.