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Marvin Redux: A Smart Ebook Reader Gets Smarter

by Michael E. Cohen

A month or so back, I took a look at Marvin, a free iPad ebook reader app from Appstafarian Limited (see “Marvin the Intelligent Ebook Reader (Almost) Gets It Right,” 10 May 2013), and, while I was impressed by its powerful tools for reading and organizing ebook collections, I was disappointed by its poor rendering capabilities when displaying complex ebooks, such as Take Control titles. I was also dismayed that Marvin made no attempt to respect an EPUB’s publisher-specified typefaces and text colors — although most EPUBs don’t include such specifications, some do, including, as I pointed out in my article, not only Take Control books, but such best-sellers as J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter EPUB editions.

Within hours of my article’s posting, Marvin’s developer, Kristian Guillaumier, had contacted us at TidBITS. In his email, he noted that he was aware of Marvin’s rendering issues with complex layouts, and he promised that he was going to devote attention to it in the next version of the app.

I am pleased to report that he kept that promise: Marvin now respects publisher layout specifications for any EPUBs that have them. And, as it should be, adhering to those specifications is a user-controllable option: Marvin’s Format pane now has a prominent Switch to Publisher’s Formatting option that you can enable or disable.

Take, for example, the Harry Potter books. While the old version of Marvin could present the books well enough that the reading experience was adequate, the app was unable to deal with such fine touches as the proper placing and sizing of the drop cap that opens each chapter. The new Marvin, on the other hand, when set to use the publisher’s formatting, does a splendid job of it.


Even better, Marvin’s publisher formatting option can even handle the salmagundi of complex formats contained in a Take Control book. Text colors, background colors, bullet lists, horizontal rules, hanging indents — all of which the previous version of Marvin stumbled over badly — are no obstacle to the latest incarnation of Marvin. In fact, if anything, Marvin does a better job of rendering bullet lists than iBooks does. The only shortcoming in how Marvin presents a Take Control book is in the way it presents linked text: although Take Control books tend to rely on blue text without underlines to present linked text, Marvin still insists on underlining those links — however, Marvin now does display them in the right color. I can live with that.


In my first look at Marvin, I said that Marvin could well become my go-to ebook app just for its toolset alone. Now, with its much improved text rendering, Marvin has earned a place on my iPad dock.


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