If you like to read on your Mac, then Apple’s WWDC 2013 announcement of iBooks coming to the Mac with OS X Mavericks was a breath of fresh air. Macs have had a great PDF reader — Preview — built in for as long as we’ve had OS X, but for ePub eBooks, we’re left to forge for our own best reading app. There’s tons of contenders, but very, very few exceptionally good apps in the category.
Even if you have Mavericks Developer Preview today, though, you still can’t get iBooks just yet. If you want to read eBooks on your Mac today, you need another option. And if your Mac can’t run Mavericks, or you don’t want to upgrade when it comes out, you’ll still need something else then.
That’s why we’ve got though every major eBook app for the Mac, tried them out, and put together the very best for you. There’s two standout apps, that we really recommend, and then others that fill in other gaps.
Here’s to the readers!
Thanks to comments here and on Twitter, I’ve added one app that I have no idea how it slipped by my radar before: Clearview. It’s the stand-out app, for sure, that any serious eBook reader should try out.
Thanks to our readers, we’ve added what’s now our new favorite eBook app to the list: Clearview. In what looks like a cross between Google Chrome and Preview, Clearview lets you organize your ePub, PDF, and MOBI eBooks, then read and annotate them in the same app. It renders all of them very well, and can either keep annotations stored in its own library so your files aren’t modified or can save the annotations directly to your files.
It somehow reminds me of Goodreader for iOS, perhaps just because it can read so many formats and has a Finder-style book organizer. The organizer is lacking, with limited support for metadata and no way to re-arrange your library. But overall, it’s a great app, one we’ll be reviewing in-depth soon.
Verdict: The best eBook reader app for the Mac, hands-down. It could use more advanced organization options, but beyond that, it’s great.
Leave it to Adobe — the people behind the PDF reader that’s standard, and yet universally hated, and the pro apps that are hailed as far too expensive as a subscription — to make the best free eBook reader for the Mac. And yet, they have. Adobe’s Digital Editions 2 is the app, after our testing, that held up and worked great though everything we threw at it. It’s fast, lightweight, and renders ePub eBooks perfectly.
Its UI is bare-bones, with a design similar to the help menu from any Creative Cloud or Creative Suite app. It doesn’t have options to change your reading font or background, and its 2-finger swipe is backwards from what you’d expect. But if you’re fine with just using your arrow keys, you’ll be fine. It’s the simplest app on the Mac to simply open and read ePub eBooks, with a decent library feature as well. It even supports DRM’ed eBooks with the Adobe DRM, the most common DRM outside of Kindle and iBooks — and the one that most libraries with digital books use. It’s fast, and likely the very best option if you want a no-fuss eBook reader on the Mac today.
Verdict: Download it, now. It works great as an ePub and PDF reader, regardless of whether you want to use it to manage your library or not. But it’s good at that too. Plus, it’s free – and uses a fraction of the ram other eBook readers use when reading books on your Mac.
Price: Free Download from Adobe
eBook apps bring out the big names in tech, as we see yet again with Sony’s Reader app. It’s designed as a companion to the gadget giant’s eBook reader devices, but it’s a decently nice eBook reader app on its own. It renders ePub eBooks beautifully, much more like iBooks on the iPad than any other app we’ve tried. Seriously, if you get frustrated by rendering oddities in the other apps, you should give it a try. If it was only faster and less annoying, it’d get far higher marks in our book.
But, it is slow, and a memory hog compared to the other apps we tried. Plus, while the reader view is nice, the library management is anything but nice. Then, its installer is straight out of the ’90’s, complete with an unsigned installer that Gatekeeper blocks by default, and a required reboot after installation. That’s enough to make it worth avoiding. That’s sad, though, because its actual ePub rendering feels more book-like than most apps.
Verdict: A nice app, bogged down with an ancient installer, draconian practices, and Sony’s services. It’s pretty, but a somewhat slow memory hog. And don’t even try it with PDFs.
Price: Free Download from Sony
Take iBooks, strip out all of the fancy UI, and you’ve almost got Kitabu. It’s a bare-bones free eBook reader that you can download on the App Store, and it’ll only take up a little over 2Mb on your hard drive. In exchange for that, it’ll give you the simplest ePub eBook reading experience you could ask for. Its rendering isn’t perfect, and you’ll likely find it not as fun for reading as many of the other apps in this list.
But, of everything we touched, this one feels the most “Mac native”. Its 2-finger swipe works perfectly as you’d expect, and you’ll find options to use any font on your Mac, along with the standard 3 background color options. For free, it’s the best alternate to Adobe and Sony’s apps.
Verdict: A nice free native eBook reader with no frills. iBooks without the book-style background. Great if you want something lighter than Adobe Digital Editions.
Price: Free Download from the Mac App Store
The newest app on the Mac eBook reader scene, Bookinist is the app that prompted us to write this article. It’s a brave shot at making a nearly perfect iBooks clone, months before Apple is set to release iBooks for OS X with Mavericks release. Bookinist brings the familiar book-style reading experience, complete with an iCloud-styled library (one that doesn’t sync with iCloud, though), bookmarking, searching inside books, quick font-tweaking options, and a 3D page-turning experience.
It could be great, if it weren’t for its many problems. It’s supposed to be able to open books without adding them to your library, but that only works sometimes at random. Add books to your library, and there’s no way to organize them or even remove them. eBooks render fairly nicely and you can turn the fake wood background off, but the 2-finger page turning is precisely the opposite of the default 2-finger swipe motion in OS X and you’d be better off without the very buggy page-turn animation. It’s an app we wanted to love, but just couldn’t.
Verdict: If you really want an iBooks style app today, you could do much worse than with Bookinist. Its price tag combined with its general quirkiness, though, make it very tough to recommend at this point. It’s not much better than the free Kitabu, and the other apps are better than both of those.
Price: $9.99 from the Mac App Store
Oh Calibre. If I had a dime for every time someone’s recommended you as the be all and end all of eBook apps, I’d be a rich man.
But see, I’ve never gotten the hype. It’s slow, its confusing, and its UI is even more outdated than LibreOffice‘s (and that’s scary). It’s decent for eBook library organization, lets you sync with a number of eBook readers, and has tools to convert eBooks to and from a ton of formats. That’s great. But if you’re looking for a fun way to read books on your Mac, this isn’t what you want. It’s anything but a simple reading app.
Verdict: Keep it around if you need to convert eBooks. Otherwise, don’t bother.
Price: Free download from Kovid Goyal
If you look around for Mac eBook app suggestions, Ehon is one of the first that’ll come up. And for good reason: it’s far more unique than most of the others, with a Delicious Library-style approach for organizing your books, along with more sorting and organizing features than you’ll find in most apps. And, it looks like a nice, modern OS X app.
The problem is, it ends up being fairly cluttered with two ever-present toolbars in addition to the already thick window borders, and a reading experience that’s more designed for comic books than traditional text-centric eBooks. Instead of a traditional table of contents, Ehon shows each book’s contents by “pages” — though these aren’t normal pages, they’re actually what other ePub readers would call chapters. Then, each page/chapter is treated as one long page, perhaps like a long page online. That’s great for comics, which normal ePub readers would break up and make confusing, but it’s far from idea for normal books unless you love scrolling.
Verdict: Ehon is great for comic books and organization. Beyond that, you’ll likely find it more frustrating than anything.
Price: Free download from the Mac App Store
eBook lovers everywhere rejoiced when Amazon announced that they were making Kindle apps for the desktop, first for the PC and soon after for the Mac. It brought the extensive Kindle library of books to almost any computer on earth, after they were already available on practically every mobile device on earth. If you want to buy books and read them immediately on your Mac, and then make sure you can still read your books later from any other platform, Kindle is the way to go.
But that’s where the good news ends. The Kindle for Mac app has barely changed since it was released, and is rather kludgy and slow at times. Its text formatting is far from the best, just as in its mobile apps, and its main strength is the library behind it, not the apps themselves. In fact, if you want a premium reading experience, you’d be better off using the Kindle Cloud Reader in your browser, which provides a far more fluid experience.
Verdict: Kindle is great for books purchased through Amazon, since it’s the only place to read them, but for DRM-free eBooks, it’s definitely not our app of choice.
It’s no wonder why we’re all so anxious for Apple to release iBooks for the Mac, since honestly there’s no perfect solution for reading and organizing your eBooks on the Mac. There’s a ton of apps, but unfortunately there’s a ton more junk than good stuff out there. Half of the apps on this list, even, have enough problems that we’d hesitate to recommend them at all if there were any better apps available.
For now — or for Macs that can’t upgrade to Mavericks once it’s released — here’s our advice: use Preview to read PDF eBooks, Adobe Digital Editions for ePub eBooks, and the Kindle app if you want to buy books protected books and read them on your Mac and other devices. Once iBooks for OS X is released, we’ll have to try it out and see, but I’d seriously guess we’d recommend it first for PDF, ePub, and purchased eBooks, along with the Kindle app to read everything you’ve already purchased. But really, Adobe Digital Editions is good enough that you shouldn’t have too much to worry about if you stick with it. It’s a surprisingly nice eBook reader app, despite its few faults.
If you read ePub or PDF eBooks on your Mac, and have a favorite app, we’d love to hear why you love it in the comments below!
Update: As mentioned above, we added Clearview to the roundup, and it’s easily a competitor for the best-of crown in the eBook reader app competition. I’m rather sure I’ll continue to enjoy using it for ePub and PDF eBooks long after iBooks is released. It’s the app you should try, for sure.