iBooks full review
That the iPad is a mobile device first, and e-reader second is highlighted in the fact that the application Apple supplies to read books: iBooks is supplied separately on the App Store as a free download.
It's a great app, mind. It's uses the epub format to display books and tapping the right and left side of the screen flips the page (or you can drag pages with neat animation effects). Display options are minimal, you can change the font and font size and adjust the brightness of the display, but that's about it. Hold the iPad vertically and you get one page, rotate it on its side to get two pages side-by-side. A lock button on the side of the device prevents the display from changing if you want to use the iPad while lying down.
Books can be purchased from the iBookStore or added to iTunes in a similar manner to iTunes. Only supporting one format is something of a shortfall compared to other e-readers although you cause a program like Stanza to convert most file formats to epub, and other iPad apps like Good Reader can display just about any file.
Books are stored on a visual bookshelf, which is nicer than the grey menus of other e-book readers and clicking the Store button takes you to the iBookStore (think iTunes Music Store with books). Apple lives up to its reputation by making it easier and more fun to buy digital books with the iPad than with any other device. And to top it all there are 30,000 free books loaded into the store from Project Gutenberg.
There is a dark cloud over iBooks in the UK though, because Apple has yet to announce the app outside of the US and its presence in the App Store, rather than built in to the device like Music and Videos suggests that Apple may not roll out iBooks worldwide; at least not at launch. Indeed Apple makes no mention of iBooks on the Apple UK website. We presume that Apple has to sign all the book deals before it can promise the app. It'd be a shame if the app wasn't available in the UK at launch though, because then you'd have to use other apps such as Good Reader or Stanza to read books, and although these are fine they do lack the finesse of iBooks. And there are all the free books Apple could make available while it waits for UK and EU book publishers to catch up.
Not that we'd take any other book reader over the iPad though. As an all-round device it's pretty hard to beat, and even though it costs twice as much as other e-book readers (and then some if you move up the models) it offers way more functionality. But as a pure reading device it does leave something to be desired. Partly because of the screen, partly because of the battery life, but mostly because the temptation to do other things beside read - such as answer email and surf the web - prove ultimately distracting.