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Stanza vs. Classics: Maybe I Can Save You $3

I read a lot, and have been very impressed with Stanza for the iPhone as an ebook reader. Like many, however, the idea of Classics was appealing, and upon release I purchased the app.

So how does it compare to Stanza? Would I recommend it? The answers, in my opinion, are that it doesn’t, and I wouldn’t. Not now, anyway. 

Classics primarily touts two things: special book cover art and a pseudo real-book page-turning experience. But the former could be more hindrance than help when you’ve got a lot of volumes, and the latter’s novelty wears off quickly, though it seems to be the primary reason Classics has received a lot of praise. 


The books’ cover art, sitting on virtual “shelves”, are lovely. And since there are only 12 they present no problems scrolling through them. But if you get 50 or so on this thing it’s likely to be an awkward list. Too bad we don’t know how quickly we’ll get that many, since it’s not under our control. Currently it’s a dozen, and we have to wait for more. I believe content should be a lot higher priority than that. 

When reading, the Classics page is quite nice. A very light beige background with dark brown text. It looks great. And yet I have to see the menu at the top of the page all the time. Why? Further, I have to see the iPhone’s info bar above that. Why? 

It’s kind of hard to get immersed in reading when you’re staring at two menus that painfully remind you you’re not in any kind of book. It’s also an issue because the screen is small, so why waste space showing items that aren’t necessary? 

I’d talk about the rest of Classics’ features, but it doesn’t have any. You can drag the books in the order you want (again, that’ll be a lot of fun when you have 50 of them) but that’s about it. No control over how the page looks or any other visual aspect of the program.

And no searching! How could they leave this out in an ereader? When you’re in Classics, forget about finding that quote you’re looking for. 

In short, version 1.0 of Classics is a one-trick pony consisting of a really cool page-turning interface. 


Stanza lets you download public domain content directly to the iPhone. There are magazines, high school text books, content, and more.

But the biggest source is that you have all of Project Gutenberg to choose from. That’s 25,000+ books! You can browse these by several categories, such as author or subject, or even by popularity as shown below. Clearly, unlike Classics, content is front and center with Stanza. 

And so is the reading experience. You have the option to hide everything so the entire screen is the book page. You also have full control over what the page looks like. The font, leading, margin, size, background and font colors are all customizable. See below for the same page above in Stanza.

As you can see, I’ve chosen a background similar to what Classics uses, though I prefer my font closer to black than brown. Without a menu bar and the iPhone’s info bar, I do get immersed in reading. When you need to navigate via a table of contents, or get back home, or search, etc., just tap and the menus come up. 

As for page turning, Stanza doesn’t have Classics’ cool animation, but it has a couple of options to go back and forth. I prefer page swiping (like Classics), which uses a slide animation. While the slide may not be as cool as Classics, its duration is configurable and I get a very nice “turning” experience. You can use left and right taps instead of swiping if you prefer.

Aside from the nearly limitless customization and thousands of books to choose from, Stanza also has much better navigation through your library:

  • Scrolling List by Title (with or without book cover art) 
  • List by Author
  • List by Subject
  • Cover Flow view of book covers
  • You can create your own “libraries” and add books there. For example, I have one called “Sherlock Holmes” with all nine volumes in it. 

When your library gets up to 50+ books, the above will make it a lot easier to find and organize it than a shelf that can only show nine books at a time. 

Oh, and Stanza allows you to search through your book, highlighting each found occurrence.

On top of all this, Stanza is free. 

There is no question my major gripes with Classics can be added later as enhancements, and we’ll see if the developers do so. Still, some of them are obvious enough I wonder why they’re not there now. If the developers provide a lot of content (from which I can choose), and better navigation, and searching, and control over the page, then they’ll have… Stanza. OK, not really, but it will be better able to compete. 

As it is, my impression of Classics is that it’s a really good page-turning animation with a minimal book reader and content wrapped around it.

13 Responses to “Stanza vs. Classics: Maybe I Can Save You $3”

  1. I agree with you on many points of the above, the only problem I have is that Stanza’s typography is significantly weaker than Classics. I enjoy reading Classics more because the margins are consistent top/bottom as well as left/right, and the leading is more cleanly defined. Sure, the buttons take up real estate, but the header does a good job of showing my status, and the footer number is a quant reminder of traditional reading.

    If Stanza gets the typographic power (and it’s preferences aren’t there yet) of Classics, it’ll be a killer – or if Classic opens up like Stanza (which I doubt).

  2. The animation of the page-flipping in Classics is not as great as everyone makes it out to be. In fact, to my eyes it pops and changes direction for a couple of frames halfway through the motion making it extremely distracting to the reading experience. It doesn’t look natural at all.

    Thanks for the Stanza reference, I’ve downloaded it and can already tell that it will become my reader of choice on the Iphone.

  3. Dean,

    I can understand the frustration with crashes. I’ve downloaded nearly 20 books in Stanza and not had that problem.

    Regarding formatting, the vast majority of “classics” do not have special use of whitespace or “uneven” bottom margins (except at the beginning or end of chapters), and to tell the truth I’m not sure if I like Classics doing that or not.

    It takes valuable screen space with the info bar and menu (not to mention the footer on every page), and then limits it further because the reader may not follow a new paragraph from one page to the next? No thanks.

    Having said that, Stanza does need to support italics and bold, and Classics may handle diagrams better (“The Hound of the Baskervilles”, used here because I had it for both programs, does not have any), but only time will tell.

  4. Stanza crashes every time I try to download a book from any repository. Not impressed. I’ve managed to transfer a book via the desktop app, but the formatting isn’t very good. That is where I think Classics is superior. Each book is formatted to look good on the iPhone, so you don’t end up with paragraphs that start on the last line with a break before it for example. Each book is treated with the respect it deserves.

  5. Stanza is almost perfect — some passages in some books are hard to read as it currently doesn’t support text styles like bold or italic. In my eyes, that is a glaring oversight… well, it would be, if it wasn’t intentional. I believe the developers are slowly seeing the light regarding this decision.

    All in all, it’s an application I would gladly pay for.

    Now, the last major stumbling block is the often outrageous situation of ebook pricing. is selling some newer ebooks for up to $25. Clearly, this needs to change.