Many TeleReaders will be familiar with the Calibre e-book collection manager, that astonishingly powerful and ever-developing software tour de force from Kovid Goyal and his associates. For those that aren’t, Calibre is a free open source multi-platform interface which stores, and provides access to, a collection of hundreds or thousands of e-books in over a dozen different formats. It will find and display your e-books, convert them from one format to another, download cover images and metadata from the Internet, produce a list of titles and authors, and much more.
The drawback with Calibre from a tablet user’s point of view is the way it stores its files. Each author’s works are kept in their own directory, and titles are separated into subdirectories within these, making it difficult to browse and review the collection as a whole without using Calibre itself. Since Calibre as such is not yet available for tablets, tablet owners using file-management apps across a network may find it difficult and time-consuming to locate the e-books they want.
One solution is the free Android app Leger Calibre. I thought at first from the name that the developer was Spanish or French, but it’s taken from the Latin for ‘to read’. If you make a copy of your Calibre Library on an SD card, Leger Calibre will provide a browsable interface for it.
But I prefer a network-based approach. Tucked away amongst all Calibre’s other tools and options is the ability to run it as an e-book server. With this switched on, all the devices on your network can access your Calibre collection via a web browser. For instance, on my system the URL is 10.0.0.8:8080, and entering this in Firefox or Chrome brings up an elegant interface through which I can locate e-books by author, title or other categories and download them to that device, whether it’s a laptop, tablet, PC or netbook.
But standard Web browsers are notoriously hard to use on smaller tablets. So two separate app developers have written their own user-friendly interfaces for connections from an Android tablet to a Calibre server. Both are available, like Leger Calibre, through the Google Play store.
Calibre Library hooks into the Calibre web server and displays a simple page with a list of category options: newest books, books by title, books by author, etc. These can include text tags—genre or length, for example—as well as custom metadata that you have added to Calibre yourself. For instance, I have a column for ‘Pseudonyms’.
Books can be downloaded on to your SD card, and once downloaded, double-tapping on a book will display the book’s metadata and give you the option to open it in the appropriate reader app. The only other setting the user can change is a ‘theme’ that changes the text and background colors. The whole procedure is quick and painless. Calibre Library is one of those apps that just works.
Calibre Companion is more ambitious than Calibre Library. It uses a second Calibre option, a wireless server that operates through a different port to the web server (9090 by default), and provides for two-way communications.
For instance, books already on the tablet SD will appear in the Calibre Library on the PC when Calibre Companion is connected. Where Calibre Library ‘pulls’ books to a tablet, Calibre Companion works by ‘pushing’ books from the PC itself.
The connected tablet shows up as a ‘device’ in the Calibre toolbar, and Calibre can then be used to list and view books on the device, to send books to the device individually or in batches, and even—if there’s enough space—to keep the book collection on the device in sync with the main Calibre Library.
The books are listed in the app, and they can be grouped into categories and sorted by a second key within each group. Again, once a book is available on the device you can open it in the appropriate reader with a double-tap. I had a little trouble getting Calibre Companion to run at first, but the developers were responsive and we sorted it out in a couple of days.
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Calibre Companion and Calibre Library are both paid apps, but the convenience of having access to my Calibre library without jumping back and forth between folders or fiddling with a browser is something I’m willing to shell out for. Calibre Companion is a little more elegant in its reading interface, but Calibre Library has more grouping tags, and its ability to download a book remotely from Calibre makes the two complementary. At less than $3 each, they barely add up to the price of a discount paperback. Both are highly recommended.