Books in your pocket

eBook and printed book
All the reading pleasure in a portable size

We would all love to grab our favorite paperback, settle into our most comfortable chair, and immerse ourselves in a great story. But who has the time? We have errands to do, kids to drive around, and dishes to clean. The only downtime we usually have is when we’re stuck waiting — waiting in a checkout line, waiting for our lunch to be served, or waiting for the kids to finish softball practice. What if we can spend that downtime catching up with the book we’ve been meaning to read?

You can do this with the device you already carry around with you — your smartphone.

Nothing beats the readability of paper, or for eBooks, a full-size eReader or tablet. Unless you’re carrying a backpack or purse, you won’t have room to carry them with you. Besides, who needs one more thing to lug around? A smartphone fits neatly in a pants pocket, and it’s a device we’re never without. I find that I even have to carry mine around the house with me.

The right type of smartphone with the appropriate app can be an excellent eReader. I recommend getting a phone with a high-resolution display. All current iPhones with Retina Display meet that requirement as do Android phones with higher than 200 dpi screens. The higher pixel density produces crisp type that is easier on the eyes. You’ll also want a larger screen. The 4-inch screen on my fourth-generation iPod Touch is usable, but a bit cramped for reading. The 4.5-inch screen on the iPhone 5 and new iPod Touch is good. The 4.8-inch and larger screens on some Android phones and mini-tablets is even better.

You’ll also need your favorite eReader app. I recommend the ones from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Kobo because they can sync your books across devices. This way, you can read an eBook on your phone while you’re out and continue on your full-size eReader or tablet when you get home.

I recently used my Samsung Galaxy S3 and the Kindle app to read Collapse by Richard Stephenson. The text was clean and readable, about as good as 8-point type on paper. The 4.8-inch screen enabled a good amount of text to fit at one time and allowed margins around the text for readability.

With the Kindle app, everything is removed from the screen except for the book you are reading. Even the Android notification bar is hidden. You can display the notification bar, along with the book title, current chapter, and progress bar showing how much of the book you read by tapping the center of the page. You can highlight and look up words, add bookmarks, and share your progress by email and social networks.

For me, the most useful feature of reading on a smartphone is that I can use it with one hand. I can flip pages with my thumb while holding the device. This makes it easy to read while I’m in line at a store or walking around the mall.

Smartphones have limitations as reading devices. Just like any other device with an LCD screen, smartphones are hard to read in full daylight. You can set the Kindle app to display white text on a black background, but glare can still make reading difficult. If you want to read at the beach or the pool, you’ll be better off with paper or an eInk eReader.

You’ll also have problems if you need to use large type. Although reading apps can change the font size, a smartphone screen will only display a small amount of text at a time. Be prepared to do a lot of page flipping.

Overall, a good smartphone with a large high-resolution screen and a reading app is a good choice for reading on the go. It will keep you engaged with your favorite book when you can’t be at your most comfortable chair.