Several weeks ago, tired of waiting for iBooks for the Mac, I put together a roundup of the best eBook apps for the Mac. I tested over a dozen apps, discovered more bugs and weird rendering than I ever had in one session, and came to the conclusion that Adobe Digital Editions was the best app for reading ePub eBooks on a Mac, non-native UI aside.
Then, in the comments, Igor let me know about Clearview, an eBook reading app I’d somehow missed. Clearview, it turned out, was the missing eBook reading app for the Mac that I’d managed to not discover. Here’s why it’s the best alternate to Apple’s iBooks on the Mac today.
A Mac App Mashup
You’d be forgiven for thinking at first glance that Clearview was actually Chrome, since it looks exactly like Chrome for OS X, albeit one without an address bar and a settings button on the right. The similarities with Chrome aren’t accidental; quite the opposite, in fact, since Clearview is built in part on Chromium, the open source version of Google’s Chrome. A quick dig through Clearview’s About screen reveals that it’s about as much of a native app mashup as you could get, using Skim for annotations, ichm and Libepub for chm and ePub file reading, respectively, and a mix of web code libraries like jQuery to round out the mix. Throw in the Finder-style library view, and you’d almost expect it to be a frankenstein app of the worst sorts.
Instead, what you find is an app that works perfectly for organizing your eBook library with a mix of books in any format you want, one that lets you annotate any eBook and choose how you want to save the changes.
The Clearview Experience
For all its browser looks, Clearview works more like an alternate Finder for your eBooks. You can drag-and-drop individual eBooks or folders of eBooks into your library (which doesn’t actually store the files, but rather links to them on your Mac), organize them into Reading Lists, and sort them with a Finder-style interface complete with a Coverflow view that shows the table of contents and a preview of your book’s contents. You can search through your library for book titles, but unfortunately can’t search across your whole library’s contents. Interestingly, you can actually drag .txt and other document formats into Clearview’s library, and when you open them it’ll launch their default app.
With eBook formats that it does support — including PDF, ePub, Mobi, and chm files — you’ll get the full Clearview reading and markup experience. You can choose a reading mode — one or two pages at a time, continuous, double continuous, or thumbnail — and color mode on any of the formats, and choose reading fonts on non-PDF eBooks (and yes, you got that right: you can use night mode or Sepia on your PDF eBooks). You can search through your book, jump to a page of your choice, and if the app’s chrome is too much for your tastes you can turn off the top toolbar and the status bar on the bottom or take the app full-screen.
It does a great job rendering all eBooks we threw at it, and simply looks great for reading. Plus, it’s rather handy to be able to open another book in a new tab with a simple CMD+T and switch between books with a CMD+tab, just like you would in a browser. That’s nice for research.
The markup features are the most interesting, though. You’ll find Preview-style markup options on all of your eBooks, along with traditional highlighting and bookmarks. PDFs get a bit extra, with the option to add shapes, but for any of your books, you can highlight, underline, or strikethrough text, or add a note to any part of your text. I especially like the underlining option, since I find highlighting rather distracting when re-reading a book but still like to draw attention to passages I want to remember.
If you add an annotation you want to remove, don’t worry: just click the edge of the annotation (perhaps a bit to the right of the last character you underlined or highlighted) and tap your delete key. Additionally, annotations aren’t actually saved to your eBook files by default, but are instead kept in Clearview’s database. You can choose to have PDF annotations saved to the original file from Clearview’s settings, but I’d tend to think that the default option of not saving them to the PDF files is nice. That way, your original book files are still their originals, and you still get the benefit of being able to mark them up.
Just Enough Features
I’d seldom argue that an app needs more settings; if anything, I’m of the opinion that more apps should be like iA Writer and have zero settings. But in Clearview, for once, it’s nice to see enough settings to make the app powerful without making it too complicated — something that eBook reading apps seldom get right. They either have next-to-zero settings (hello, Kindle for Mac) or way too many (need I mention Calibre?).
Clearview hits a very nice middle, with a great UI that’s anything but cluttered combined with more annotation features than any other eBook app has and the settings to make your default reading experience exactly what you want. You can set it to open ebooks by default in the reading mode (separate for PDF and ePub/Mobi files), theme, and font you want, and can also set your library to have a modern, grey background, a Mountain Lion-style texture, or an older iBooks style wooden background.
A few weeks from now, everyone who’s updated their Mac to OS X Mavericks will have what’s arguably the very best desktop eBook reader on any platform: iBooks for Mac. It’ll be free and will give you the nicest reading experience both for iBooks-purchased eBooks and for DRM-free ePub books. Combine that with Preview’s already best-in-class PDF reading experience, and you’ve got an app that’s hard to beat.
And yet, I can’t help but think that there’s two eBook apps that have the best shot at staying relevant in the world of iBooks competition: Calibre and Clearview. The former will obviously live on for its geeky features that let you convert eBooks to and from a myriad number of formats and sync them with any devices you want. The latter, I think, has a decent shot at staying relevant simply due to its flexibility and annotation features combined with a very nice reading experience.
If you want a great eBook reading app for your Mac today — or for any Mac you won’t be upgrading to Mavericks, I’d definitely suggest getting a copy of Clearview. And if you don’t think iBooks’ basic highlighting features are enough for your needs, and you want support for more formats and customization, then Clearview’s the app you need too. After trying all of the best ones today, I can’t shake the feeling that Clearview’s #2 after iBooks for a great reading experience on the Mac today. At $6.99, you can’t go wrong with it.