The ubiquitous book – anytime, anywhere

I recently finished reading Cory Doctorow’s latest novel, For The Win. I’m not crazy about the book itself (a topic for another time), but the reading experience was different, more fluid, and ultimately better than what I’m used to.

Thanks to publisher Tor’s generosity at ALA 2010 last month I have a copy of the book in hardcover. And thanks to Doctorow’s business model of giving away free ebook versions of his works I had the text in e format too. This is the first time I’ve read a book while having access to both e and print versions at the same time.

As much as I enjoy my Sony Reader, a print book is still my personal ideal for most of the novel reading I do. I use the Sony primarily for convenience, like when I don’t want to carry a large hardcover on the bus. But if I’m sitting on the couch I still prefer a standard print book experience. With access to both print and e versions I was able to jump back and forth between the two, using whichever provided a superior experience at the moment.

And actually I had 3 options – Hardcover, Sony Reader, and the Aldiko ebook reader app on my phone. (Doctorow provides his ebooks in a variety of DRM-free formats compatible with a large number of devices.) I read the hardcover on the couch, the Sony on the bus, and a few pages here and there on the phone whenever I had some waiting in line time. It was convenient, easy, and I got through the book much faster than I would have otherwise.

But now I’m spoiled! Doctorow’s ebook give-away model is pretty unique, not many other authors do it. I’m not going to buy a book in both print and e, and library ebook options are pretty anemic. The only way this would happen again is if I pull titles from Project Gutenberg. But I’m not much of a classics reader, and Gutenberg doesn’t have a lot from my to-read list.

While I don’t think it’ll ever happen, I’d love for a purchase of a print copy to come with a free ebook counterpart. I’d even pay a little extra for the option, and the bonus to researchers of having a searchable text to supplement the print could be a considerable advantage.

My favorite Android apps

I’ve had my Motorola Droid long enough now to feel like I’ve always owned one. Those dark pre-smartphone days of last October seem hazy as they retreat into the past. I listed my favorite Android apps in my early days of ownership, but that list has changed a bit over time. And while I have a lot of apps installed, not all of them get used every day. Here’s the dozen or so android apps I currently use most often:

Setting Profiles
This is magic. Based on criteria like my location, presence of a wifi access point or time of day, Setting Profiles changes settings on my phone. For example: When my phone sees the wifi signal at work it turns the ringer off automatically. When I plug it into the car dock Bluetooth turns on. It’s a bit complicated to set up, but works perfectly. $3.95

Tracks my exercise via GPS. I use it to chart my times when I ride my bike home from work. I even used it to track a bike tour we took in Paris, and had a great time examining the route on a map afterward. Google’s My Tracks app performs a similar function, but focuses on just collecting raw data. CardioTrainer is tweaked specifically toward fitness tasks and provides some low-level analysis. Free.

I don’t play nearly as many games on the Droid as I did on my iPod Touch. Why that might be is a topic for another time. But when Drop7, my favorite iPod Touch game, launched an Android version I bought it sight unseen. $2.99

Foursquare & Gowalla
I like Gowalla better than Foursquare, but find myself checking in places with both for different reasons. Gowalla is more fun, but Foursquare has those tantalizing freebie specials. Gowalla’s Android app is also much prettier than the Foursquare counterpart. Free

Google’s excellent podcast client hasn’t changed much lately, but still works very well. Integration with Google Reader is handy. Free

Mototorch LED
This home screen widget turns the phone’s camera flash on for use as a flashlight. Comes in handy more often than you’d expect. Free

Foursquare + twitter + camera = picplz. This app takes a picture, then checks you in at a foursquare venue. I have an archive of pictures associated with the actual places I took them – both in GPS and foursquare venue form. The picture can also be posted to twitter. It’s like twitpic, but with better geodata. Free

PRO Paint Camera
The stock Android 2.1 camera app is awful. Focus and flash options are hidden away and hard to get to. Thankfully there’s Pro Paint Camera with a much better UI. I replaced the stock camera app and never looked back. Free

Quick Settings
Does what it says. Hold down the Droid’s search button and a menu of various options pops up. Volume, brightness, wifi, bluetooth, etc. Quick Settings puts all the toggles in one place. Free

If you’ve ever wanted to play a video file that’s in a format the Droid doesn’t natively support, RockPlayer does the job. Still in Beta, not yet available in the Android Market. Free (beta)

Android 2.1’s built in Exchange support is pretty useless – I couldn’t get it to see any folders other than my Inbox, Sent, and Trash. 3rd party to the rescue! (sensing a theme yet?) Touchdown does a much better job, though at a fairly steep price. The UI could use some work, but functionality is rock solid. Now that we’re an Exchange shop at work this is completely indispensable for me. $30

Twidroyd / Twitter (official)
I go back and forth on which of these two Twitter clients I like better. Twitter’s official client has an amazing UI and integrates twitter messaging into the phone’s contacts list, but Twidroyd has some extra functionality like the LED alert for new replies that I’ve come to rely on. I keep both installed and use whichever matches my needs at the moment. Free

Google Voice
Verizon wants to charge me $3 per month for visual voicemail access. Google Voice gives it to me for free. That’s a no-brainer. I don’t use the SMS or calling features, but might switch to them someday. Free