Ever since Manchester Libraries introduced ebook lending, I’ve been waiting for the chance to read them on my phone. On Feb 5th, while doing my bit to drive up loan stats, I found that the waiting is over! OverDrive now offer ebook support as well as audiobooks for iPhone, iPad, and Android devices, and I just had to try it out.

I’ve been reading ebooks on my phone for quite a while, using a nifty little text reader called jjReader. It’s fairly basic, but that’s what I like about it – I can customise text size, colour etc, and it’s quick and responsive. You can choose how you turn pages – I favour an upwards flick that’s easy to do with the index finger, while holding the phone top and bottom between thumb and middle finger. (I thought I’d take a photo of how I hold my phone for reading, then realised that my camera is on my phone. You’ll just have to imagine it.)

Best thing about jjReader? No ‘page turning’ animations! I appear to be the only ebook reader who hates these – for me, they interfere with the clear and direct passage of story to brain. I don’t fixate on page turning when I’m reading a physical book: it’s a mere physical necessity to make my way through the story. Why is it deemed such a desirable thing to have in ebooks?

So it was with a little trepidation that I downloaded Bill Bryson’s ‘Down Under‘ to my phone. Out of my chosen books, it had to be that or ‘The Mating Season‘ – this is for bedtime reading, you see, and I don’t read anything with a plot at bedtime. Strictly short stories/humorous essays/poetry/light non-fiction. And Wodehouse. This is in an attempt to keep my reading addiction under control, and stop myself staying up to 3am every night to finish books…

The trepidation was because I really, really wanted to like the OverDrive Android app. Borrowing library ebooks to my computer is exciting enough, but to my phone?!? To be able to choose from current, in-copyright works to read instantly and for free wherever and whenever you like? Tell me you didn’t just come over all goose-pimply at the thought.

But what if the app was horrible? What if it was like the Kindle app? (it lasted about 2 hours before I deleted it. Don’t ask.) What if I couldn’t change the text colour? My phone has a very bright screen, and reading on a white background it simply out of the question. What if next page navigation was awkward? What if it had non-optional page turning animations?

I’m very pleased to report that it isn’t at all horrible. Sure, it’s not as fast as jjReader, but I didn’t expect it to be, and the load times are bearable (faster than Aldiko, for instance). You have only 2 colour choices, but as one of those is white text on black background, I’m happy. Page navigation is a little awkward – you need to tap the right side of the screen to move forward. As I usually hold my phone in my left hand to read, this does mean there’s a bit of stretching, and the occasional finger cramp, but overall it’s ok.

It runs full-screen, unlike jjReader which leaves the notification bar free. This means that if you get a message or email while reading in OverDrive, you either have to try to concentrate with a little green light winking at you (much harder than it sounds), or you have to exit out of the reader, clear the notification, turn OverDrive back on and wait for the book to load again. I realise that this is a peculiarity with my phone rather than OverDrive, and started turning automatic notifications off while I was reading. Then I thought a bit more, and decided that it really wasn’t healthy to be waking up every morning to the ‘you’ve got emails’ symbol staring blithely at me as I fumble for the alarm, so automatic notifications are now off overnight. What started out as a mild nuisance has actually helped me to manage my stress levels.

And the page animations? You can turn them off 😀

So what don’t I like about it? When you open up OverDrive, it shows you your library – what titles you have available (with cover image, which is nice), and how long is left on the loan.

Ahh. There we are. Every time I settle down for my 20 mins with Bill before sleep, I’m reminded of just how many days it will be before the loan expires, and the book will be gone. Now, barring accidents, I’ll get it finished on time. But there’s still something very unsettling about the prospect of having your bedtime reading whisked away.

I know why it needs to be there. I really do. Once ebooks expire, that’s it. They’re gone. You can’t ‘forget’ to take them back until you’ve finished. You can’t renew them. You get your 21 days, and that’s your lot. I’m fairly sure there’s no limit on how soon you can redownload a book you’ve returned, but you’d still have to go through the checkout/downloading/loading process again. Assuming, of course, no-one else has reserved it. If they have? Well, you don’t mind waiting 3 weeks to find out the ending, do you?