Posted by: mikecane | September 26, 2009

PDF On The iPhone

Someone asked me on Twitter yesterday if a Sony Reader PRS-300 would be good for reading books that have been purchased in the PDF format.

Given its slow processor, I can’t imagine it being a good experience. And using text reflow would make it an aesthetically tormenting experience.

I haven’t bought an iPhone. With the word of AT&T’s bad service, I’ve held off — and now there are rumors of it being liberated from AT&T and perhaps landing at Verizon in January, so I’m holding off. I don’t want to lock myself into a two-year contract with rotten cell service.

I’d hoped to get one of the new iPod Touch models, but Apple disappointed me by not including the camera I wanted in it.

All this is preface to explaining that I thought an iPod would be a better reading experience for PDFs than a Sony Reader PRS-300. But I needed to see this for myself, so I stopped at the Apple Store in SOHO this morning to do some tests.

All PDF display is done via Safari. I’m unsure if this requires a persistent wireless connection, however.









That’s Black Silk. In portrait mode, the text was too small for me. Tapped-in and in landscape mode, the text was crisp and readable.

Cliff Burns:





His short story, Least, at this post.

Again, portrait text was too small. But even landscape was too small for me. Zooming in gave me a comfortable size (ie, book-size text) but would require scrolling side-to-side. Cliff could easily fix all that, however.

Google Books:





That’s Success: A Novel.

Google Books PDF was a real pain to use. First, it seemed to require a persistent connection and even at that early hour, the WiFi at the Apple Store was laggy. Second, even with the iPhone 3GS’ powerful CPU, there were delays in moving from page to page. On top of all that, the text was too blurry to be enjoyable. I held up the iPhone screen to the screen of a MacBook right next to it. Weirdly, the Google PDF wasn’t easy to look at on the MacBook screen, either — I was seeing the pixel grid of the screen!

All of this did teach me one important thing, however: Apple really, really needs to do a tablet with at least a 6-inch screen. And, ideally, bundle a PDF reader with it. I think the higher pixel density of such a screen would make it an incredible eBook and PDF reading device. It would top everything out there.


  1. Fascinating and instructive, as always, Michael. Thanks for using one of my tales as an example and it was an excellent illustration of the promise and limitations of these goddamn e-readers and affiliated devices–so many different kinds and screens and capabilities that my head spins like a fucking lathe.

    You indicated I could fix my PDFs to, perhaps, make them more amenable to some of these e-readers and you really must drop me a note (in plain English) how I can facilitate these corrections. Remember, I’m a doofus when it comes to technology and my time constraints are terrible. But if it can be done easy-peasy, lemme hear from you, big fella.

    Always a pleasure, Michael…

  2. Hmm…so was the main problem text size? ‘Cause don’t forget I’ve been reading my PDF books on a Palm Z22, which displays what I’d imagine is about a 6pt font.

    I’ve been looking for a good reader for about 18 months now and don’t really want to go to an e-ink dedicated reader, sooo…I’ll either keep looking or settle for something mediocre one of these days.

    Thanks for the info though. I’m still considering the iPod Touch.

    • I’m no longer considering the iPod Touch. Am I flaky or what? Back to researching Sony 300.

      Great info, but it all just sounds like too much work. If it required constant wireless connection, that would be a deal breaker for sure.

      Thanks for helping me with this.

  3. […] PDF On The iPhone More PDF On The […]

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