Free e-book downloads for iOS

Finally, a way to check out and read free e-books from public libraries, right on your iPhone--no iTunes required. But be prepared: setup's a hassle.

Enter OverDrive Media Console is an app that cuts out the middleman (i.e., your PC) when it comes to getting free epubs on your mobile device. With OverDrive, you can download library e-books (and audiobooks) directly to your iOS device.

That's the good news. The bad news is that getting the app set up is a major pain, and as e-book readers go, it's mediocre at best. Plus, the selection isn't what we'd call extensive, at least from our test library.

To download books, you must first "Add a Website" (meaning choose your library). This bumps you out of OMC and into Safari, where you'll search for your library. Once you've found it, you can browse for books, choosing one to download or hold.

To make full use of Overdrive, you'll need to supply your library card number, and possibly a PIN as well (which may require a visit to your actual library or its own Web site). With that done and a book queued for downloading, OMC asks you for your Adobe ID (assuming you have one--if not, it's off to you go). Sign in, then go back to Safari and tap Download again. Bleh. Thankfully, most of these steps are one-time hassles. Once OMC is all set up, it's a pretty simple matter to browse and download books.

Still, don't expect a lot of bells and whistles when it comes to actual reading. The app lets you adjust brightness, add bookmarks, and change font size, but that's about it. Our real problem is with the layout: text is formatted into an unnecessarily narrow column, with no way to expand or even to hide the onscreen controls. Also, it's not a universal app, so iPad users will have to suffice with a zoomed view. And it doesn't even support landscape orientation.

Consequently, although OverDrive Media Console makes e-book acquisition much easier than Bluefire Reader, you may want to stick with the latter for the moment.

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