Review: Ionic


Smartphones and e-book readers are one of those technological matches made in heaven. You can carry a vast library around in your pocket, and read as much or as little as you like when you have a few spare minutes. This is why the Kindle has been so popular on Android, iPhone, iPad, and Windows Phone 7. Unfortunately, Amazon didn’t include Symbian in that list, but all is not lost because Ionic is the latest e-book reader for Symbian, taking advantage of the open ePub format, and without a hint of DRM in sight.

Author: Akos Polster

Version Reviewed: 0.06

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Anyone who has used the Kindle application on other platforms will use it as a benchmark by which they compare all other e-book readers. While it’s not quite relevant to Symbian, it is still a good standard to judge by. While not being quite as feature complete as Kindle, Ionic does tick quite a few boxes. Enough to make me wish it had been around when I was making do with the Adobe Acrobat LE PDF reader as an e-book reader on my Nokia E51!

Ionic smoothly scrolls through files vertically, rather than side to side. Most of the time this is a continuous scrolling of the entire book, but there are toolbar icons to move a screen at a time. Also, the settings screen has an option to use the volume keys to traverse pages. This option has the benefit of saving you flexing your thumb over and over during a long reading session; however repeated pressing may reduce the lifetime of your volume keys!

Reading in Ionic and spot the progress bars.

As you continue through a book, there’s a transparent progress bar at the top of the screen. There is also a toolbar icon to display the file’s embedded table of contents. However, tapping each section rarely took me to the corresponding part of the book. Most files have a hyperlinked contents page in their text as well – but tapping these links did not work either. In fact, the options for navigating to far-off parts of a book are quite limited. There’s no option to jump to a specific page or percentage, and there’s no search function. Fortunately, you can create bookmarks instead.

Creating bookmarks and browsing contents.

Ionic allows you to change the size and font of text. However, these are not accessed quickly – they have to be changed via the settings screen which is accessed via the main menu. This means there are no pinch to zoom gestures (which are also missing from the Kindle application, admittedly). Fortunately, the colour scheme can be switched between black on white, white on black, and sepia, just as with the Kindle application, which can help save your eyes and battery!

Ionic is capable of displaying embedded images, but their size is not adjusted to fit on the screen, nor is their size affected by the zoom level. You can’t even drag an image to view the rest of it. So if there’s a caption on the image – as there was on my copy of A Princess of Mars – you actually can’t read all of it.

Setting the theme and viewing images in Ionic.

One aspect where Ionic quite impressed me was its presentation of books stored on the device. I’m glad, for the sake of the non-geek users, that there’s no file selector. Instead, the application scans all file systems for files it can read, and then displays them in a library view – much like the built-in Music application has always worked.

The “Add Books” menu option brings up a page with the all-important “Import” button which initiates a scan for new files. The page also gives a list of websites where you can find more e-books to download. While I’m in favour of this abstraction of drives and directories for normal users, the “Add books” page doesn’t actually advise how you’re supposed to get the books onto your device in the first place. It is possible that you could download them with your built-in browser though. More advanced users will know that they just have to connect their smartphone via USB and drag and drop their files across. Also note that Ionic is not meant for reading ePub files that have DRM. Therefore, you’re limited to downloading content that is either out of copyright or distributed without DRM.

Where to get more e-books, and viewing your library.

Ionic isn’t perfect, and I wouldn’t quite describe it as feature complete either. However, in the absence of more mainstream solutions, it is a worthy tool to have in your arsenal if you want to read books on your Symbian device. Just as long as you’re happy with reading from the vast range of DRM-free ePub titles that are available from places like Project Guttenberg.

I’m recommending this one – you can grab it for free in the Nokia Store.

David Gilson, 24th March 2012.


The author has since updated Ionic to version 0.64 and swiping between pages is now supported. Our score has been updated to reflect this.

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