Review: Freda UWP


Back in 2012, Ewan reviewed the ebook reader Freda for Windows Phone 7.x, i.e. back in the dark ages(!) But this is 2018 and the UWP version for all Windows 10 devices has been out for a while. Which means that it's time for the formal review treatment here on AAWP. Freda+ is a cracking app that opens up whole new worlds of content, so read on...

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If for no other reason than to demonstrate yet again how good some of the Windows 10 UWP applications are - this turns your smartphone or tablet into a hugely customisable ebook reader, and all for only £1.70 (in the UK Store). There's a free version too, but you really, really don't want to see adverts when you're reading, so just pony up and reward the developers, eh?

I should preface all of this by saying that Freda isn't for commercial, DRM-ed (i.e. encrypted) books. These are off-limits on the whole under Windows 10 Mobile, not least because the old Windows Phone 8.1 version of Amazon's Kindle application is now extremely finicky in terms of letting you log in (to Amazon) and because there's no Kindle UWP app (yet). But don't let that bother you too much, since there are tens of thousands of public domain and free ebooks - and probably commercial DRM-free ebooks too (any ebook expert care to comment below?)

In fact, Freda does a great job of surfacing and managing ebooks for you. The interface is essentially three fold - your bookshelf (books on your device), shortcuts to places to download new books, and the reader itself. Each has received multiple polishes since the early WP 7.x version, five years ago, and the only times when I even questioned the interface was when the physical limitations of a 5.x" screen started to dominate. 

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Starting out with a blank bookshelf, it's surprisingly easy to get going, though not all sources are as useful. In addition to your own local ebooks (e.g. on microSD), and on your OneDrive (the natural place to hoard interesting ebooks for cross-device consumption, I think?), there's 'feedbooks', 'calibre' (though I was getting errors with this one, oddly), 'Project Gutenburg', 'epubBooks', and 'smashwords'. Some of which host commercial downloads, so browse in conjunction with some research at your end, perhaps on a desktop browser?

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Mind you, feedbooks and Project Gutenberg alone should be enough to keep you reading for a few years, at least. All the classics are here, of course, from serious (War of the Worlds) to saucy (Fanny Hill). 

Opening up an ebook is smooth enough - if there are illustrations then these are shown inline. In most cases, these are limited to 'cover art' to add atmosphere to the plain text experience, but some ebooks have multiple drawings or photos. 

As you'd expect from an ebook reading experience, tapping on most of the display advances the view by one page, while tapping on the left margin takes you back a page. There's a lot more, of course, I'll come back to the UI in a moment.

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There's one thing you need to know about Freda. It's insanely customisable. Essentially, you can have any colour text in any font and size, with any background, any line spacing, and any margin. Any. You can even ditch the screen altogether and have Freda read the ebook to you. Again, more of which later on.

Managing all these settings is a tiny bit cumbersome, but the developer has still done an insanely good job. For all of these combinations of settings to actually work and not conflict is a real achievement. Helpfully, a lot of the main adjustments are sliders and with 'nudge' buttons, for making small changes.

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With most Windows 10 Mobile phones (at least, though destops and tablets are more likely to be IPS LCD) using AMOLED screens, it's obviously better for the battery to have white text on a black background, but you can still play around with fonts, size and margins, of course. White on black is also better for the eyes, I contend, and you're much less likely to have eye strain.

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Tapping the '...' menu brings up the reading UI in full, with no less than four control ribbons, any of which can be collapsed/dismissed. From 'Play' nudge controls to a status/title bar to a font and effects ribbon to an overview of the book showing chapter starts, the interface can get a little dense on the phone, but it's easy enough to tweak whatever you want to tweak and then tap on the main text to dismiss the UI. 

The chapter overview is particularly interesting as you can drag the arrow manually to roughly set a position within the book.

At any point you can opt to have the book read aloud using one of your phone's/device's built-in text-to-speech options, but with the nice twist that you can also set the pitch and speed of the reading. The defaults were fine for me, though I know some people like going higher and faster, in order to cover more ground.

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This turns Freda effectively into an audo-book application, yet another string to its bow. Extra settings (see below right) are a little over-complicated, with three toggles where one would have done, controlling whether the display should be kept on or not while reading is in progress. There are subtleties here, I guess, like 'reading in the background' carrying on while you run other applications, but still...

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Also shown above right, for when your ebook collection is large enough, is a search function which filters your books by title, author or (err...) 'series'. And then by 'tag'. Maybe these apply to serialised and organised ebooks, but you shouldn't need to worry about these.

Hopefully I've persuaded you by now. If you have any interest in reading, if you ever think you'll have a few hours of downtime while travelling and want some emergency reading material, then Freda+ is well worth grabbing. It's not expensive, it opens up your Windows 10 devices (especially phones) to a new world of content, and it's one of the UWP stars in the ecosystem. So support it!

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