Eucalyptus – Review
A lot of controversy has surrounded the rejection of Eucalyptus. For the past week, it has stood as an example of how Apple’s approval policy censors content as opposed to protecting end users from malicious code. Apple’s reappraisal of their decision was due, in part, to the vociferous objections raised by community members who heard about the applications rejection. Eucalyptus is now available on the app store for $9.99. Now that it has been accepted, the only remaining question is whether or not it’s worth your money.
Eucalyptus uses Project Gutenberg as a back-end content distribution system. Any and all books you find there will be available to you through this application. Once downloaded, your books are organized by Author or Title. Selecting a book to read will take you to its cover page or the last page you were on since last reading it.
The process of getting books is really simple and also rather unique. You are initially presented with a staff picks section, which outlines which books are notable to the developer in a bookshelf arrangement. Selecting a particular book will display a personalized card talking about why the book is noteworthy. If you agree with Jamie’s opinion, you can download the book right then and there. On the other hand, if your tastes spread beyond the confines of the staff pick section, simply hit the search section and punch in the title or author name. Handy search suggestions will help you complete your query. Results are split into individual book titles and authors. Selecting an author shows you all of their books so that you may download those that interest you.
Once you have selected a book to download, it is very attractively moved to your download view. There, downloaded books are queued, loaded, and installed. This is presented using a strangely pinched download bar. I initially thought this was a bug, further inspection revealed that it demarcates the download process and the installation process very clearly. Anybody who has tried to read a Project Gutenberg book knows that the "book" is simply a text file with no formatting whatsoever. This keeps the file size small, but makes the book incredibly difficult to read. The install process parses the book and creates an attractively formatted and catalogued product that is much easier to read and navigate.
Once you have downloaded a book, the Books library will show you the book as well as a handy pie chart icon, which shows you how far along you have read. Dark blue shows you much of the book you have read relative to the light blue background. Selecting a book will allow you to read it.
While all of the things I’ve mentioned can be found, in one way or another, in other applications, the actual reading of a book has been nailed in this app. You might remember Classics, a wonderful application which presented classic novels in a pleasurable and easy to read format. One of the ways it achieved this result was with an incredible page turning animation that followed your finger as you swiped. Eucalyptus has a similar effect, but the execution is vastly superior. Unlike Classics, the animation is not canned, but is drawn as you move the page. This creates a very believable illusion that you are actually flipping a page. In order to test the robustness of this animation, I grabbed a page and wiggled it back and forth. The resulting effect can be described neither in words nor pictures. It simply must be experienced for yourself. Pages have weight and relatively accurate physical properties to real paper. Heck, I’d even say that turning a page in Eucalyptus is even more enjoyable than turning a physical page in most books! I can’t say that flipping virtual pages is worth the price of admission, but if somebody you know has this app, find them and play with it!
The books themselves have a standard black on white theme with an attractive font. The default justification is full but left justification can be chosen through the settings app. The book title and page number are displayed on the top of every page and paragraph indentations are faithful to the source material. If anything doesn’t look right, hit the Eucalyptus logo on the bottom left of your book menu and fill out a feedback form. Since this is a 1.0 release, their parsing logic may still have some holes in it. Give them an indication of where in the text something looks off and provide a picture so that they can fix it for future updates. That said, you probably won’t need to use this very often as Eucalyptus nails text presentation unlike anything I’ve seen on an LCD screen.
This leads us to a significant issue with the initial release that will bug some users. The text presentation engine in this application is somewhat of a walled garden. You cannot change the margin widths, line spacing, font color, background color, or anything frankly. UPDATE: You can, in fact change the text size by pinching and zooming. The price for beautifully rendered text appears to be that editing the majority of its presentation is impossible. This may be changed in future releases, but there’s no guaranteeing that. If you value the customizability of Stanza above and beyond the reading experience provided by Classics and Eucalyptus, you will find this to be a deal breaker.
Another potential pitfall of this early release is the limitation of Project Gutenberg as a content source. It is limited to free and out of copyright material. Most of these books simply won’t interest the modern reader. If you fall into the category of readers that turn up their nose at the likes of Tolstoy, Austen, and Dumas; you won’t read any of these books. That said, the popularity and quality of this app would most certainly make it a prime target for paid content distribution platforms. However, only time will tell if this is the case.
The application also leaves out useful features found in other applications. First, it is impossible to browse Project Gutenberg by genre. In addition, it is impossible to view the most popular downloads on the service. This makes finding good material difficult. It is also missing the amazingly handy dog-ear feature found in kindle. These notable omissions are not deal breakers by themselves. However, combined with the high price and issues stated above, potential buyers will have to think carefully about parting with their money for this application.
Despite the above issues, Eucalyptus nails the reading experience better than any other application available to day. If you love to read, and have found that previous applications make reading feel too mechanical, you have found your perfect companion in Eucalyptus. If the above issues are fixed, Eucalyptus will have no real competitor on the app store. As it stands now, it still is my personal e-book reader of choice. Heck, I like reading classics anyways.
It is available HERE for $9.99.