App vs App: Classics vs Stanza eBook Readers for the iPhone

It seems that e-book readers are going to be technology's next big thing. With the Kindle being named Oprah’s favorite gadget and other e-book reading devices battling for pole position, the e-book reader is populating daily culture. But who wants to pay that much money for a dedicated reading device that is admittedly limited and still has no true standard format?

Insert iPhone. We all know that the iPhone does a great job in converging multiple devices, why not add being an e-book reader to its capabilities? Obviously we won’t have any e-ink technology in the iPhone but the e-book readers in the iPhone, Classics and Stanza, offer ease of use and a great free selection—plus you don’t have to plop down an extra 400 dollars to read a book.

See what we think of Classics and Stanza in our App vs App!


Classics is wonderfully designed. Upon starting the app, a virtual bookcase filled with the covers of popular books gives you your reading options. The interactive bookshelf definitely makes for a virtually pleasing layout—it gives a experience similar to grabbing a book from your shelf, but in this case, tapping will suffice. You can also rearrange the books in any order, though the obvious flaw is when more books become available this design layout may not be the most effective to navigate.

What’s great about Classics is that the look of the pages seems carefully designed and well implemented. The pages look like pages of a book, complete with a clothlike texture and instant readability. Another great touch is the flipping of the pages, swipe from right to left to move pages in the most accurate rendition we’ve seen in an e-book reader.

Stanza makes up for what it lacks in groundbreaking design by offering seemingly limitless customization. If you want the color of the words a certain hue of grey or the background completely black, you have the option to do so. This amount of customization allows you to create layouts that better suit your eyes.

Stanza's library page is akin to the iPhone’s setting page—effective and efficient but hardly awe inspiring. It gives you a basic list to select from and it’ll narrow your selection from there. Overall, it works but it definitely feels like you have to learn how to use the controls before you read, rather than just get to reading right away.



Classics notable feature is its ability to realistically flip through pages. Because there is no customization options whatsoever in Classics, Classics needed to nail this feature to warrant any type of consideration. Luckily, they absolutely nailed it. The animation and physics of turning the page are extremely accurate and if you’re sliding the finger to turn but decide not to, it follows your movement and the page falls back in place. You really have to give it a try, it’s the most accurate representation of page turning that I’ve ever seen.

Also, I found that the overall page design of Classics was fairly easy on the eyes. It uses a tan/brown mix of colors to create a more paper-esque texture to the page. It almost looks cloth like. Overall, Classics did a wonderful job in presenting themselves and I enjoyed reading from the application.

But by no means is Classics perfect. It doesn’t have a great selection, offering only a handful of “classic” novels and it offers no customization whatsoever. There is no ability to customize page layout, to change fonts, no ability to add books—you really have to run with what the developers designed for you. You can’t even change the font size, so you’re stuck turning pages at a pretty fast rate. So though Classics looks great, it is definitely limited.

Stanza on the other hand, is completely customizable. You can add books, newspapers, magazines, and thousands of books from different publishers. The sheer number of books is simply staggering, you can always find something to read.

Also, you can customize the page layout to fit your eyes’ preference. The text color, background color, link color, font, font size, alignment, line spacing, margin width, images, and controls—it can really be tweaked to whatever you prefer. Want to read with a black background and white text? By all means! Black Helvetica text on a red background with justified alignment? Sure!

But in the end, I still preferred the overall look of Classics standard page layout over Stanza’s customizable options. No matter what I did, and I tried to emulate Classics, it just wasn’t as easy on the eyes. Also, turning the page is nowhere near as pretty. It only slides out in Stanza.

But the unarguable advantage of Stanza is its ability to add books. That makes it a much more powerful reader and definitely lengthens the life span of the application. You'll never be able to read everything that the folks at Stanza offers because it really has a library worth of literature! 


Final Thoughts

So I guess what it really boils down to is: do you want an e-book reader that looks good with a limited amount of books or a fully customizable reader with limitless options of reading material?

In conclusion, I think having a greater selection wins out. The fact that Stanza can add a variety of books, newspapers, and magazines to your library makes it the winner in this week’s App vs App. The complete customization of the page layout also deserves kudos because it lets the reader decide what he or she wants to see.

It’s hard to knock Classics though. As a reading application, it deserves stellar marks for nailing the physics of turning the page and offering such a great, easy on the eyes, page design. Even though customization is huge in e-book readers, the stock look of Classics is still by far the best look in comparison with the two.

But Classics falls short by not offering a wider reading selection. It simply can’t seriously compete as an e-book reader when you can only read the same “classic” books over again. I love this application and think the developers did a fantastic job, but the lack of selection makes it hard for me to give my full recommendation. I definitely think it still merits consideration as the most exciting reader app for the iPhone. But as it stands now, Stanza has still got it beat.

Classics Rating

The iPhone blog 4Star Review

Stanza Rating

The iPhone blog 4 Star Review

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Reader comments

App vs App: Classics vs Stanza eBook Readers for the iPhone


I've got both Stanza and Classics. I read many short stories on Stanza and really enjoyed using it. Check out Cory Doctorow's books! Stanza is a great way to read some very high quality books.
I tried Classics for a few days. The problem was that none of the books in the app were all that interesting to me. The page turn feature is a bit gimmicky after the 10th time. Without compelling reading material, Classics becomes kind of useless.

I agree with your conclusions. Classics has the usability and readability nailed. Stanza is all about content and availability and has tons of books available and a whole lot more on the way.
In the battle between the iPhone vs Kindle, the iPhone may have already won. Stanza has more downloads than Kindle has readers sold. And with a large and growing content base of free and for fee books my only advice is save the Kindle money for fee-based content on Stanza.

I've got stanza and it's excellent.a lot of books and magazines to choose from.Good review by the way.

Stanza also shows you where you are in a chapter, and a slider allows you move within a chapter. Classics does neither. It will save your place where you leave off, but otherwise offers no navigation within chapters or books. This is a pretty severe limitation - I like to know how many pages I've read of a chapter. Stanza is really amazing in the choice and flexibility. Classics looks good, but that's about it.

I actually use BookShelf to read books on the iphone. I find that it support more formats than the other two (classic's selection is too limited in particular and at least when I last tried stanza I couldn't get books from Baen's webscription on it).
I am surprised that you do not include it in this comparison specially considering that I think it is much more of a competitor to stanza than classic is

I love Stanza and the customization makes it really comfortable for me to read as I prefer a coloured background and, depending on how good my sight is, larger print. It seems to have a fairly large library and there's been a couple of articles about publishers offering books in Stanza.
I guess each e-reader has its merits but which ever one you choose, you'll have a potentially huge book collection which fits in your pocket - handy to dip into on a bus/train journey or whenever you fancy a quick read.

Ereader needs to be included in this matchup. It has access to he whole fictionwise ebooks online library and is customizable as well and free!

Stanza does have a page curl effect - it's in the settings when you've got a book open. They should probably make it a global setting, though. Ultimately, the turning of the page, while a neat parlour trick for Classics, is pretty useless in the context of actually reading (IMHO, anyway).
The Fictionwise deal gives Stanza a huge library to choose from, and most titles there are Kindle-compatible, for those who might want to read on both devices.

Turning pages is so last century. I prefer a reader that just lets you scroll vertically through the entire book as you read. ReaddleDocs does this (as does Safari if you're reading html or text books hosted on a web site)- I wonder if Stanza has that as an option. Of course with such a big "page" remembering your position and navigation controls are essential (which ReaddleDocs has but Safari doesn't). But ReaddleDocs doesn't let you customize the font size and renders text quite small.

The iPhone has a very small screen compared to a Kindle or books. The effective use of the iPhone as a book reader, therefore, requires requires a very different approach to reader design. The Classics app has lots of very pretty graphics and animations, but in the end, it does not wear very well. The small text size promotes eye strain and the cute page turning animation distracts the reader from total immersion in the material. A reader should not call attention to itself, it should disappear. The best reader is the one you are not aware of. At BeamItDown Software, we took an entirely different approach to reader design. We did not try to be pretty, we tried to be invisible and we succeeded. Our reader smoothly scrolls large font text at a user controlled rate. There are no pages to turn and nothing to distract you from the book you are reading. We think it is the best approach to reading on a small screen and the testimonials of our users seem to corroborate this conclusion. People who try it just love it. People who normally need glasses to read have no trouble reading without them because we let you read in font sizes up to 34 points. It you did this with a paging approach, you would be turning the page everyu two seconds. with scrolling text, it is not a problem.
If it gives you great pleasure to move book icons around in a virtual bookcase, then by all means buy the Classics. If you actually want to read some of the books then we suggest that you try one of the BeamItDown books or collections to experience the best reader technology for the iPhone. Some of our books are free so you can try it out at no risk whatsoever. We think you will not be disappointed.

I'm sorry, but I'm not a fan of the public-domain book repackaging scheme that Beamitdown seems to be.
The Accelerometer-based scroll control is a neat idea but autoscroll has been available in the Palm eReader for years - this is not a new concept. It's just one of the first time it's been included on the iPhone. It won't be the last, I'm sure. Unfortunately, your only real competitive advantage is very repeatable by other developers. If Stanza integrates the scrolling functionality, what separates you from them?
I'd be more impressed to see you make a standalone reader and build in hooks for content acquisition like Stanza or eReader - selling free content for a dollar and cluttering the App Store with several dozen books is lame. Let me load my own content on there. Or strike a deal with a non-public domain provider.

Auto scrolling does sound like a great feature. Reminds me of the TelePrompTer a news reporter might use. But there is something nice about just flicking upwards on the screen of the iPhone that makes it fun to use while you are reading.

problem i ahve with stanza 1.7 is when i am connected to wi-fi and want to download books from on-line cat--stanza goes to my last book so fast i cannot select on-line cat

I was recently introduced to the Beamitdown app and was thoroughly impressed. Sure it may be fun to flick a wrist and turn a page, however, as Dennis Morin stated above is such. Should the app not just vanish? Think about this. Have you really never experienced the intamacy of reading a book and just found yourself lost in the moment. Truthfully the only drawback to those moments is having to turn the page. That is the beauty of this integration. I personally, getting "more into the story" tend to read faster. With a mere tilt you effortlessly speed up the text and keep the fluidity of the moment. As for text size: It is wonderful not having to put my glasses on to read. I AM HOOKED!