How to read e-books on a $20 cell phone: Tips for the cash-strapped and plain adventurous

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Welcome, Slashdotters! Click here if you want to skip ahead directly to the step-by-step tips, including an introduction to the free version of Moon+ Reader, an international hit. To answer one question, yes, the 3.5-inch screens are on the older iPhones, not iPads. Reminder: Also check out How to start a cell phone book club.

lg home 2When I ran across $20 cell phones on Amazon, I couldn’t resist buying one to see if I could read e-books on it. Yes, I could—hour after hour.

I’ll never confuse this econo-phone with an iPad Air or upscale Kindle Fire. But e-books and affordable smartphones like the $20 model could help narrow both the digital and book divides in many countries.

The U.S. teems with “book deserts,” including major parts of urban areas; let’s fix that. Even affluent suburbs have “dried up” somewhat.

When I was in high school, I could buy cheap paperbacks of Norman Mailer and Saul Bellow’s novels off the rack at my local drugstore. But now? The much-shrunken racks just don’t offer the same range of books.

Meanwhile our per-capita spending on public-library books and other items is down to around $4 per year. In fact, it is less than $2.50 in my hometown of Alexandria, Virginia, where the elite are shopping for books at Amazon while the poor must fend for themselves more than before.

Book deserts and Alexandria-style miserliness are a national outrage, given the benefits of reading aloud to children, as well as the link between recreational reading and academic achievement. Kids with fewer books at their disposal are less likely to excel in school and life.

The $20 cell phone as a narrower of the digital and reading divides

Small towns, not just unlucky urban and suburban neighborhoods, can also lose out. Take Monroeville, Alabama, home to Nelle Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird. Monroe County’s public library had only about 26,000 books for some 24,000 residents as of a few years ago, and annual circulation was just several items per person, a fraction of the national average, even though the area has its share of famous writers. E-books, anyone? And I don’t mean just for business people, teachers, other professionals, and their children.

But what to read the e-books on? The overwhelming majority of people in the U.S. can afford much more than $20 cell phones, and many now own other e-book-capable devices, too, such as tablets or Kindles. Frustratingly, however, a fair number of the cell phones popular among the poor are “dumb” feature phones that can’t do much justice to e-books. What’s an extra-cheap smartphone for the cash-strapped—not just in the U.S. but perhaps also in some cases in developing countries like Zimbabwe?

Enter LG Optimus Dynamic Android Phone, aka the LG 38c or the LGL38C, the smartphone that I bought new on Amazon for $20, excluding shipping. With poverty rates so high among racial minorities and young families with children, low-end smartphones like the 38c might be a way to bring e-books to many low-income people in America and elsewhere, including the U.K., where so many libraries have closed. The trick is to awaken librarians, tech-savvy volunteers and nonprofits to the possibilities, in terms of training and motivation and the creation of community groups to promote smartphone technology for literacy and self-improvement. If many of the local poor already own smartphones, terrific! But either they or others will still need to install the right e-reading software and attend to other matters.

A confidence-builder, not just a phone

Cell phones like the 38c are not quite Kindle-simple to read e-books on. But you don’t have to be a techie—far from it. And in mastering the 38c-style machines as e-book readers, low-income people can build confidence in themselves as learners capable of going on to much more. Best of all, many can afford LG 38c-type devices themselves and enjoy pride of ownership right off the bat. The 38c I bought on Amazon—able to store thousands of e-books—sells for as little as $20.

That’s because it relies on an older version of the Android operating system, 2.3.6, and is no more powerful than the typical cell phones of several years ago. Also, it isn’t as as good as a tablet for picture books from sites such as Unite for Literacy and the International Children’s Digital Library.

But the 38c can display illustrated books when paper ones and other, better alternatives are not available. African parents read to their children from much worse hardware by way of Wordreader; in fact, its Android app runs on the 38c and offers picture books, fiction for young adults, classics,  and much, much more.

Free copies of Around the World in 80 Days—for every seventh grader in town

lgVern8fourWith free software, the 38c can easily call up text-heavy public domain books like Around the World in 80 Days. Scads of seventh-graders all over town could enjoy the same books and discuss them in classes and  book clubs without parents, schools or libraries spending a penny on the content itself.

Because display sizes vary, the image to the right almost surely isn’t at real-life scale, but if nothing else, you can see that with the proper hardware and software, the screen could be at least adequately sharp for the kids and others. You could experiment with different type styles, some bold, some not.

And, yes, the LG 38c can handle OverDrive library books, as well as the Kindle variety.

That said, I’m rooting for OverDrive and other library vendors to create sites without all the graphics that bog down owners of cheapie phones like the 38c and make it so challenging to discover the books they want to read. Give low-income library patrons with puny cell phones a choice!

Granted, the $20 LG has cons beyond its problems with graphics-heavy sites. For example, it is locked into the TracFone service, which apparently is subsidizing the phones while hoping that buyers will then buy phone time although they’re not required to. In addition, severe technical limitations restrict the number of programs you can load. And theoretically the $19.99 deal (shipping not counted) could vanish tomorrow. In fact, I’m using the term “$20 LG” only loosely since that’s the price not from LG directly but from a  particular third-party vendor on Amazon, Shopcelldeals.

But the basic ideas here will still apply to countless other cheap smartphones since Android is so common and the apps mentioned will most likely run on them.  And ideally this LibraryCity guide will inspire groups such as the NAACP or the AARP to arrange with various companies to offer extra-affordable cell phones already set up for easy e-reading. Public libraries and digitally oriented literacy initiatives like Unite for Literacy could also act.

At the same time, the organizations and their partners could offer more powerful phones that worked with almost any popular Android app, including the software for OverDrive, the most common e-book service among libraries. The OverDrive app enables you to read library books encrypted with Adobe DRM, one of the most common varieties of digital locks.

Let’s hope that a national digital library endowment eventually can buy out OverDrive at a fair price to pave the way for public and academic digital library systems with many time the number of books that the company and competitors offer. But meanwhile let’s think about devices and content for the present.

E-books vs. paper books: Beware of apples-and-rocks comparisons

I know. Some researchers have knocked e-books in terms of comprehension. But worrisome questions have arisen over the results. How can you meaningfully compare p-reading and e-reading, for example, when the overwhelming number of people in an experiment are not experienced in reading books off the screen? What about the quality of the hardware or the e-reading software used? PDF, a staple of many experiments, isn’t nearly as customizable for the reader as more modern e-book technology. This is worse than apples-and-oranges comparisons. We’re really talking apples and rocks.

Beyond that, I am not saying here: “Let’s get rid of all paper libraries tomorrow.” I’m in fact an inveterate booster of brick-and-mortar libraries—irreplaceable as study havens and as community gathering places and homes to such activities as story-telling.

Given the miserliness of so many politicians toward library books, however, paper libraries by themselves are not a full solution. So let’s encourage all kinds of reading, especially the recreational kind done at times and in places where normally people would just be chatting on their cell phones or listening to MP3s. Keep in mind that the very greatest books online tend to be findable in free editions even though students still need modern copyrighted books as well. A Salon writer got it right when she talked up War and Peace on the Subway. At least she can afford paper books. In the end, the real issue for the children of the book deserts isn’t pixels vs. paper, or the very most optimal display of books. It’s making the books available, period—and not just books but those matching the differing needs of kids and parents as closely as possible. This would be in line with the Five Laws of Library Science, which place a heavy emphasis on serving individual needs. Role models matter, one reason to for libraries to care about parents as well as children.

No MIT degree needed to e-read on the LG 38c, and the screen’s OK for a $20 model

The Salon article mentioned the iPhone. But you don’t need an MIT degree to be able to do plenty on a cheapie phone such as the LG 38c or something similar. No genius required. Just plenty of patience. I’ll supply detailed how-to’s later in this post, while hoping that libraries and other organizations can simplify the information on Web sites and create related YouTubes for volunteers and for the low-income people who would actually use the phones.

Individuals and organizations can also start cell phone book clubs. They would not just promote books but also help people learn to e-read properly and better understand their phones. Go here and stroll down for a few tips on e-book literacy, and also see How to get the most out of library e-books via the right gadget, text to speech and otherwise.

But first, let me share the reasons why the LG 38c is intriguing, besides the price and storage capacity. Along the way, I’ll also mention some e-book-related capabilities that are generic to a number of cheap Android phones. I’ve zeroed in on the phones running the Android operating system, incidentally, because they cost far less than Apple’s and because Windows’ phones don’t work with nearly as many e-book apps.

LighaheadTwelveYearsSlaveReason #1: The 38c’s screen of 3.2 inches is almost as big as the 3.5 inchers on old iPhones, and in that respect and others you’re getting a lot for your money, given that this e-reader costs no more than a somewhat pricey lunch in a small town.

Again, the 38c is no iPad Air tablet in size or sharpness. But libraries and other organizations need to plan ahead. Prices of better econo-phones than the 38c are dropping, and they have already come a long way.

I’ve just bought Lightahead’s six-inch LA-910T for $110 and have found the screen to be adequate for most people for e-booking. Double-click on the image to the left for a better reproduction of the LA-910T’s screen, so you can appreciate its sharpness (note: some of the nonscreen part of the image is cut off).

Based on past tech trends, future equivalents of the LA-910T will probably sell for less than $60 in a two years or so. Another possibility, now going for $52.99 and shipping on Amazon, is the BLU Dash JR 4.0K Android 4.2, with a four incher. I haven’t tried it. One phone I did test is the LG 39c, with a 3.8-inch screen and the ability to run somewhat more apps than the 38c. New, the 39c now costs $85 and shipping on the Amazon site.

Many and perhaps most people would rather read off cell phones with five- or six-inch screens. But for the cash-strapped inhabitants of book deserts, books on smaller screens will beat no e-books at all. What’s more, they can upgrade later on.

But why the interest in cell phones? Don’t Kindle E Ink readers have six-inch screen? Sure, and they’re great in many ways. They weigh less per inch of screen than phones do.

Phones let you text and make calls, however, and you can more easily Web-browse, even using your phone’s cellular-based data capabilities, not just WiFi at a public hotspot, if you can afford them from a company such as TracFone. In addition, compared to the E Ink Kindles, phones can slip into a side pants-pocket without as much risk of your damaging them when you sit down. Phone screens tend to be long and narrow, making the fit better than with an E Ink device or small tablet. With such advantages, your e-reading device can always be with you. You can squeeze in extra reading time when you’re in a line. Six-inch Kindles can fit in purses, but for at least half the population, pockets in various locations will count endlessly.

Furthermore, almost all smartphones now have color screens, so they are more attractive than E Ink devices for many young readers. What’s more, at $20, the 38c costs far less than a used Kindle, even a basic model. It’s also a feather-weight at 4.2 ounces. And unlike the Paperwhite, Amazon’s flagship e-book reader, Android cellphones like the 38c can read books aloud to you once you’ve installed the proper software—no big feat.

Although the LG 38c can’t exactly display hundreds of words per page, the text is easy to read with the right software, and I can truly focus on the material, as opposed to skimming a whole page. Yes, some books I might want to skim or go back and forth over a wide range of pages. But I’m thinking of these phones especially for the reading of novels and other narratives, as opposed to their use for, say, textbooks. As it happens, free e-book software can let you easily look up every occurrence of a word or phrase: a useful capability for teachers and students. You can even use specific phrases to stake out your place in a book, for purposes of discussion in a class or book club.

What’s more, the best e-reading software lets you turn pages with the phone’s volume control, located an an optimal place on the left side. You can move ahead or behind by tapping the right or left side of the screen. But for one-handed use—on a small, light-weight,  easy-to-hold machine—the volume controls are far better than taps. Since the controls let you move through books more quickly, you don’t notice the small screen as much as you would otherwise. You’re too caught up in the material.

Reason #2: Moon+ Reader and FBReader, among my favorite e-reading programs, work well on the LG, and like Kindle software, they allow you to move a page ahead or back with the volume controls. Furthermore, you can easily search for and download books directly within either app. The text-oriented interfaces—just the opposite of OverDrive’s current arrangement—will please readers who hate graphics bloat. Granted, kids and many others like images. For people with powerful enough machines, OverDrive can continue with the current sites.

Ideally U.S. libraries and bookstores in the future can place more emphasis than now on e-book without traditional DRM, so you can use apps like Moon and FBReader to read commercial works. In the case of libraries, perhaps there could be negotiations with some authors and publishers to pay up front for unrestricted or geo-limited use. Some experiments with the geo approach are already happening.

Reason #3: The WiFi is better on the $20 LG than on some other cheapie phones. With the $20 LG, you can go to your local McDonald’s and download even a long Dickens novel within a few seconds. You can’t find good WiFi at every library, but the closest McDonald’s or other chain restaurant may have it. Even the McDonald’s in little Monroeville is said to offer WiFi. Using Moon+ Reader, I downloaded Great Expectations in less than a few seconds at a McDonald’s near me.

Find out about McWiFi hotspots here, and go here for other ideas, and read this comparison of the WiFi speeds of hotspots from McDonald’s and others.

WiFi isn’t the only way to pick up books, of course.

If you can afford the TracFone service, you can use the data capabilities to download e-books. Check out rivals as well. Remember, TracFone just happens to be the service attached to this particular phone deal.

Also, students could copy books to their devices directly from school, library or home computers. Or schools and libraries could give away or sell—at discounts—memory cards loaded with thousands of public domain and Creative Commons books.

Project Gutenberg makes available books on CDs and DVDs. Perhaps, if the right business arrangements can be worked out, it can move on to SD and MicroSD cards as well.

Reason #4: Because of the way 38c allocates memory space, its let you use only so many apps, but it’s still ahead of many primitive feature phones. Furthermore, the $20 phone comes with a 4GB storage card and can accommodates MicroSD cards as large as 32 gigabytes.

Even with the 4GB card, you could store thousands of books (a different issue from memory space for apps). My entire e-book collection fit on a fraction of a 16GB card that I tested with the 38c.

On-board storage is nice, especially for students without easy WiFi access at home, but at school they might be able to benefit from the free Dropbox storage service or a similar one from Google to provide them with personal locker for their own books and notes. Project Gutenberg makes it a snap to send its free books from your Web browser to Dropbox.

Meanwhile take heart in the near certainty that prices will falling on Android phones without the 38c’s memory-related limitations for apps, and keep in mind here that I’m writing here about Android smartphones in general, not just this one in particular. The basic Android concepts are the same even though the exact procedures may vary in  places. And apps like Moon work more or less the same on all Android machines.

Reason #5: The battery life for e-reading, at least on my 38c, isn’t bad considering what I paid for it. I haven’t done a test, but I would guesstimate the life on my phone at five hours and maybe much longer. One way to conserve battery life is to make sure that the phone goes into hibernation quickly enough when you’re not using it. Then you can revive it by pressing the on-off switch and doing a quick swipe gesture on the screen.

The LG and other cell phones as a way to nurture the book culture

Yes, I’m just as gung ho as ever about well-stocked national digital library systems to multiply the number of books available for everyone.

But meanwhile, public domain collections still teem with a variety of old but extremely readable books begging to be popularized in small towns like Monroeville. The library, a church, a PTA or other organization there could show a movie of Around the World in 80  Days or 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and serve pizza—or fish?—to popularize Jules Verne. You can directly download either book via Moon+ Reader or FBReader, both well integrated with sites such as Project Gutenberg.

Students, teachers and others can also find, read and discuss countless free books of historical significance such as Solomon Northup’s Twelve Years a Slave, also directly downloadable with Moon or FBReader.

For people with more contemporary tastes, Feedbooks offers a variety of books from contemporary authors licensed under Creative Commons.

Librarians, teachers and others could familiarize themselves with the possibilities and steer kids and parents to appropriate books, including Project Gutenberg’s free titles with Alabama connections and other regional and local ones.

E-books downloaded directly from the public domain are no replacement for adequate library spending, far from it. But they do come with advantages such as the ability for people to “own” them forever and to share them freely. No need for library patrons on tight budgets to worry about fines! Commercial titles from library services also don’t have fines, since they self-expire. But in a sense that’s the point. They expire. Public domains books are yours for life, especially since you can get them without DRM, a major insult to serious book culture, which is built on the idea of permanence.

Nurturing the book culture locally would help kids in school and make charming little towns like Monroeville more enticing to newcomers, including retirees tired of the big-city hassles. Here and here, LibraryCity told how cellphone book clubs with a multigenerational approach could help—whether or not libraries themselves started them. Librarians could leverage this grassroots enthusiasm.

If you’re new to e-books, don’t despair. As promised, here’s a step-by-step guide to buying the LG 38c and getting it going—whether you’re cash-strapped or plain adventurous or curious. The guide is a work in progress and I’ll welcome questions, corrections or suggested additions.

Ready to gamble that $20? Here’s what you do next.

Step-by-Step instructions for reading e-books on the $20 cell phone

1. Planning to use the 38c as a phone—not just an e-book reader? Then call TracFone to determine if the Verizon network provides good coverage in your area for TracFone’s Android models.

Alas, as a phone, the TracFone 38c sold for $20 probably won’t work outside the U.S. even though variants could. It uses a technology called CMDA, while most of the world’s phone services rely on flavors of one called GSM. The good news is that Verizon’s network is extensive in the U.S., so you’re probably covered even if you’re in a rural area.

2. Fire up a computer—your own, a friend’s or another, such as a library’s—and go to the Amazon page devoted to the LGH 38c and read up on the issues you might expect. Don’t worry if all the technical terms baffle you; you’re just trying to get a general feel for the territory. A remember, you don’t need a TracFone sign-up to use the phone’s WiFi capabilities or insert a book-rich MicroSD memory card into the 38c.

Notice how TracFone’s charge system works with “Triple Minutes for Life”? A 60 minute card, lasting 90 days, goes for about $20 if you shop around, and it allows you 180 minutes of talk time and 180MB of data and 180 messages. Thinking long term, you can buy a one-year card offering 400 minutes for a bit over $100. Via Tripling, that means 1,200 minutes, 1,200 text messages and more than a gigabyte of downloads. A public domain book of a few hundred printed pages commonly takes up around 1MB in digital form, only around 1000th of an gig, so that’s a lot of reading. If you download books directly via FBReader or Moon, the data-related costs will be small. Meanwhile you’re getting voice and text service.

TracFone’s services aren’t the very cheapest—I myself use PTEL’s pay-as-you-go plan on another phone, and H2O’s plans also look interesting. But TracFone is what the $20 phone from Shopcelldeals works with, and you could be doing worse. If money is truly tight, just skip the phone service itself.

3. If you really want all the details before you buy, you can download the 38c’s quick start manual and users guide. The main download page for manuals and software updates is here. Remember, you can ignore the phone-related stuff if you’ll just be using the phone with WiFi. What’s more, the manuals are pretty good—not just for techies. You can also check out some Web pages directed at users of TracFone’s Net10 phone service. Net10 is not the service one for this phone, but the pages are still handy, in terms of matters not related to the service.

4. If the 38C is right for your particular needs, order the phone from Amazon or elsewhere.

5. Also buy a case if you think you’ll need it. The cheapest ones provide at least protection from scratches and minor drops.

6. When the phone arrives, just follow the instructions in the quick start guide and manual. Make sure that the battery contacts match up with the connections on the phone. The 38c’s start guide will explain the use and locations of the various controls. The volume controls are on the upper left on the side when you’re holding the phone the usual way, and the power button is on the top side to the right.

To see the other controls when the phone is on, press the button at the bottom in the center and the others will light up. The one on the left will give you menu options, which vary depending on the e-book  software or other app you’re running. The center button takes you to the home screen. And if you hold it down, you’ll go to the app manager, so you can better juggle around the limited memory space—more on that later on.

Meanwhile, remember a basic rule of computers and cell phones. If something starts acting up, you can always trying shutting your device entirely down, then starting up again. Just press the power button at the top and select a complete shutdown.

7. After the Welcome screen comes up, hit Continue. At this point or soon after, you may notice that the screen irritatingly goes dark if you don’t use it within 30 seconds or so—that’s just a battery-saving feature. Press down on the center button under the screen and the screen will light up again. Later, within the Settings app, you can lengthen the time before the black-outs happen, while also keeping battery life in mind.

8. In the next screen choose English or Spanish.

9. Next you’ll select the way you want the date displayed.

10. Decide whether you want the phone to be able to access the Net only through WiFi or through both WiFi and your phone service. Best to start out with WiFi only if it’s available—so you’re not billed when you’re downloading apps while starting up. You can change this later on.

11. The next screen will show you WiFi-related options. Leave the Network Notification checked. Ignore the WPS button option. Scroll down (via swiping the screen) if need be for a list of WiFi networks. Choose the one you’ll use for now, whether it’s at home or McDonald’s. Specify a password if need be and tap the Connect button. You should see a message saying that the 38c is obtaining your IP address. Once again, don’t worry about the jargon. Just make sure you’re connected.

Tips: The blue key with the downward-pointing arrow is your return key. Also tap EN if the keyboard looks weird.

12. Hit the Next button and you’ll eventually see the screen from which you can add your existing Google account or create a new one. You should glide smoothly through the “existing” Google account section if you’re already on Google—just remember that you might have to use an Application password rather than your regular one.

If you’re creating an account, you’ll enter your name and give a user name.

I created a test account called digitaldivide23—in other words, But instead use or to reach me, since I normally won’t check “digitaldivide23.”

13. After creating a password, respond to the security questions and supply a secondary e-mail address to aid you if you lose your password. If need be, you can leave that part of the form blank.

14. OK the terms of service.

15. Type the letters shown in the next screen, to assure Google you’re a human, not a bot.

16. Answer whether or not you want Google to know your exact location. Uncheck the first box—the one providing for collection of anonymous data. That’ll save battery life.

17. On the next page let Google be able to back up and restore your device, unless you’re extremely worried about bandwidth, in which case you might uncheck the option. Remember the tradeoff if you do uncheck the option.

18.  Agree to “Finish setup.”

19.  Skip the email service provider option. Later you can try out the Gmail app if there’s enough space on your machine. And if not, you can just use the Web-based version of the service at Here’s a low-bandwidth version of Gmail with just a basic view.

20. Tap “OK” to acknowledge that your setup is complete.You’ll see the home screen, the one with the icons of the apps you most commonly use. You’ll want to limit the number of apps there, so as not to slow down the machine. But there is one app you want to add immediately to the main screen—the one for Settings.

21. Tap the blue box at the bottom of your screen.

22. Then tap the X in the little red circle that you’ll see next. You’ll now have a view of all your applications, not just the ones featured on the home screen.

23. Swiping the screen, move down until you see the Settings icon.

24. Hold your finger down on the Settings icon and it will miraculously move to the home page for easier access when you’re customizing the phone.

Here’s related tip. You can swipe the main home screen—the one in designated by the center red dot at the top of your screen—and move to other screens to the left or right. Then slide icons there into the main screen. That’s how I picked up the control widget you see toward the top of the home screen in the first image in this LibraryCity guides.

25. Now tap the Settings icon and among the options will be one for Managing Applications. No need to mess with it now. But in the future it’ll be a handy way for you to remove apps you no longer want. You can also specify where you want the apps to store information. To save space in the crimped system memory, try the “Move to internal memory option” on all apps that Managing Applications shows. No magic here. But every little bit of effort in the memory department will help.

Alas, LG won’t let you remove factory-installed apps. So they hog space whether or not you use them. The LG will at least let you delete updates of apps, in some if not all cases.

26. Choose the Display option.

Within Display you can lengthen the time between screen blackouts or other interruptions, and you can also adjust the brightness, among other things. To stretch computing power a tad, go to the Animation option selector and choose none.

27. On the bottom right below the main screen, tap the temporarily lit-up circle, the one with the arrow. If you don’t see it, just hit the area to the right of the Home button. You’ll go back to a screen. This go-back-a-screen feature is among the more common ones you’ll be using in Android. 

You should now be again within the main Settings menu.

28. Tap Accounts and Sync. Notice the existence of the Background Data and Auto-sync options? You can try turning them off in the future if need be to conserve resources. Just remember that some programs might require you to turn them on again.

29. Press and hold the Home button, and you’ll see the App Manager come up. This is a crucial feature, since the LG38c’s usable memory is so limited. You do not want to run apps you don’t need. Tap the white rectangle. If you have apps running, get rid of them via Stop or Stop All. You have perhaps 150MB for apps, probably much less. So pick them carefully and flush the presently unused ones from memory.

30. Tap the Home button to get back to the main screen.

31. Hit the Google Play store icon. The store is where you can download free apps and buy the for-sale ones.

32. Tap Continue.

33. Accept the store’s terms of service.

34. Hit the magnifying glass at the upper right.

35. Type moon and you’ll see “moon reader” among the choices. Select it. Or just type Moon Reader while you’re searching.

36. Choose whether you want the free, no-frills Moon+ Reader or the Moon+ Reader Pro. The latter is now on sale for just $2.49 and the usual price is only $5 or so.

I’d recommend Pro if your budget allows. It’s ad-free and faster and lets you choose the icons that you see at the bottom of your screen when you’re within a book.

But you can upgrade later, and since we’re aiming this at the very poorest people, let’s go for free.

37. Choose Download, then Accept & Download. You’ll see an Installing message.

38. Tap Open once that’s done. The screen should now say Initializing Application.

39. Cancel if/when you see the option to go Pro.

If you’re not Pro, keep in mind that you can get rid of pop-up ads by clicking on the X at the top left whenever one appears.

40. For a better view of the the sample books at the top of the screen—the covers are too small to read from—you can tap My Shelf and see their titles. But for now, don’t worry about this.

41. From Moon Reader’s home screen (reachable by tapping the Home icon), hit Project Gutenberg.

42. Notice? You can see the most popular books, the latest books or random books. But let’s instead be more specific. Notice the magnifying box at the bottom of the screen? You can use it to search among the tens of thousands of books by title or author or mention. Let’s just type Verne, short for Jules Verne. Sure enough, Around the World in Eighty Days shows up.

43. Tap on that title and you’ll see a screen offering an ePub version. Choose it. ePub is a popular, nonproprietary e-book format.

44. Download Around the World in Eighty Days.

LGhomeScreen45.  Tap Read and, voila, you’ll see the book! Hit the back button, the one on the lower right under the screen, to get rid of the instructional pop-up.

Remember, you can move forward in the book by tapping the right side of the screen and back a page by tapping the left.

Better, you can use the volume control buttons on the left side of the 38c to move forward or backwards.

46. Psst! This is  out of sequence, but you need to know that Eighty Days will have appeared automatically on the home screen of your Moon+ (image to the left). You won’t always see Eighty Days there. But you can bring it back later.

While within the Home screen, tap the three-dotted line at the top right. You’ll notice a great possibility for the future, Continue Reading—for when you want to resume the book you were last in. But you can also find already-included books by hitting History. 

Within History, tap the title you want to add to your Favorites, and it’ll appear. Then, while within the book, tap the center of the screen, hit the gear-like icon at lower right, then More Operations, then Book Information, then Add to My Favorites, then Save (within Favorites).

By the way, while within Book Information, you can hit More and see other features, including the ability to e-mail the entire book (just for your own use if it’s a commercial work) or find out what people have been saying about it on Twitter and elsewhere.

47. Now let return Eighty Days, actually still in front of you. I know—the type is probably too small and too faint for you. But relax. You can fix that in a hurry. Tap the middle of the screen (or the Menu button under the main screen, to the left of the physical Home button) and follow the other steps ahead.

MoonScreenControls48. Hit the gear-style icon at the bottom right in the screenshot. The screenshot to the right below shows what you see after you tap the center of the screen while within the book. I’ve tweaked the brightness and contrast a bit so you can better see the control icons below the text. The blue and white dot above the text, by the way, shows your relative place within the book, as indicated by how far the dot is to the right. Also, the upper right of the screen will display a percentage indicator.

49. Select Visual Options from within the Options menu summoned up with your tap on the gear.

50. Notice? You can increase the type size, select a different type style, tweak the line spacing and make many other changes. Let’s stick with Serif for now but check the bold box. For yet bolder letters, you can choose a heavy font such as DroidSansBold and even bold it.

Via the Theme section you can alter the colors of the type and the background. If glare bothers you, for example, you can choose white letters against a dark screen.

Moon also lets you reverse things via a control from within the book you’re reading (visible after you tap the middle of the screen). But the background is darker if you do the change through the Theme menu.

Another possibility, if glare is a concern, is for the letters to be darker than the background but for you to use a light-brown background. But do keep the background light enough so the letters easily stand out from it. With bolder letters, that’s easier. Everything is interrelated.

51. Within Visual Options, hit Control Options at the bottom of the screen if you want to change things such as which volume key takes you to the next page. But let’s not mess with this right now.

52. Still within Visual Options, choose Miscellaneous. Then consider other options such as how long you want to keep the screen awake. I went for 10 minutes. Go for five or less if you later find that battery life is a real concern.

53. Keep scrolling down within Miscellaneous and think about yet more choices. Beyond the default selections, I myself would go for Show Reading Time Remaining, Indent First Line of Paragraph, and Trim Blank Lines and Spaces. Also make sure your enable Swipe Right Edge of the Screen to Adjust Font Size.

Within the Miscellaneous menu, you can pave the way for Moon+ to sync your places between books on different machines, so you can “pick up” where you left off. This function isn’t perfect but seems to work about as well as the equivalent from Amazon.

The key is to specify Dropbox or Google Drive as a place to keep track of your positions in books. The Miscellaneous menu will offer that option down toward the bottom of the screen. It will direct you to the Dropbox or Google site Web where you can enter appropriate set up information. You can hold down the Home button and fire up the task manager to switch between Moon+ and the Web browser if need be.

54. In blue or purplish letters—still within Miscellaneous—you’ll see Customize Reader Bar Options to let you choose icons. Alas, they won’t work except with the Pro Version of Moon. On another 38c with “Pro,” I got rid of Auto Scroll and replaced it with Search. I also added Speech, which turns on Moon’s read-aloud function.

Sorry, no TTS in the free version. If you go Pro and want read-aloud capabilities, I’d recommend either the Acapela speech engine (the Peter voice is my favorite for use with it) or the Ivona engine (I favor Amy—English-accented, like Peter; no snobbery: I simply like the voices). The speech is far, far superior to the 38c’s normal TTS. The tradeoff is in memory space for other applications.

Acapela and Ivona are paid apps.

55. Use the back button to the right of the physical Home button in the center, or the arrow icon on the top right within Moon+,  to work your way back to Around the World in Eighty Days. Now press down on a word and you’ll see it in blue, along with an option to install a dictionary. Give your OK.

56. You’ll go to the Google store and automatically be sent to the page for the ColorDict dictionary. Tap on the Install rectangle.

57. Then hit Continue to review your account. If you don’t want to add PayPal or another payment method—needed to buy for-sale programs—just hit Skip. You’ll return to to the ColorDict page and tap Accept. ColorDict will download and install. Yes, mercifully, ColorDict is free.

58. Open ColorDict. Wait for it to index.

59. Use the back button to return to Around the World. Now, when you call up the dictionary, it’ll be there for real.

60. Check out the icons at the bottom of the screen, the ones that the free Moon won’t let you change. The first one on the left will let you choose between the usual portrait orientation of a book (long and narrow) and the landscape mode (short and wide). The second will let you choose between black-letters-against-a-white-background and white-on-sort-of-black. The third turns on autoscroll. Two taps of the go-back-a-screen button will stop it. The fourth icon lets you add a bookmark or see existing ones. The fifth takes you from chapter to chapter, and the sixth is the gear summoning up the options menu.

61. Try out the highlighting features. Hold down on a word and keep moving to the right and perhaps down until you’ve made a selection. You’ll see a bar mentioning the dictionary and other options, including “More.” The latter leads to a “share” men, though which you can perform such miracles as mailing the selected text to yourself via Gmail. Yes, the 38c comes with the Gmail app already installed.

62. To close the book  tap center of the screen, then the gear-style icon to the right, then Exit Reader (you’ll have to scroll down a tad to see it), then either Back to Book Stack, Back to Home Screen or Close Moon+ Reader.

63. Bear in mind that if you’re using Moon, you can easily read free books from Feedbooks, which publishes some of the best-formatted public domain classics. Fire up the 38c’s Web browser and go to Press the starred ribbon in the upper right to go to the bookmark menu of the browser and then add Feedbooks. Even better, you can access the Feedbooks site directly from within Moon+ Reader. Just click on NetLibrary and use the Add New Catalog function after scrolling to the end of the page. The Web address to plug in is

64. Also consider trying FBReader and other Android-based alternatives. Yes, OverDrive’s app will run on the 38c, and it can read Adobe-DRMed books, but as noted, it comes with hassles on such a puny machine. Another way to read DRMed books from libraries and elsewhere is the Aldiko reader, from within which you can download directly from Feedbooks. Feed, by the way, has commercial as well as public domain titles.

65. While you’re at it, also enable Moon to download Internet Archive books directly. The Web address to use within the NetLibrary menu is

bearliteracy66. If you’re the parent of a young child, sample the 100 free picture books available on the Unite for Literacy site. The books are brief originals with colorful covers and lively illustrations. Significantly, they’re designed to be read on screen. They are not just scans of paper books, and a well-regarded librarian named Jamie LaRue has blogged about and otherwise talked up this initiative.

Helpfully, the picture books don’t read themselves aloud. You have to click before the audio begins. That way, you can better interact with you child and try to engage her in the story—read Unite’s tips.  Also see LibraryCity’s tips on early childhood literacy even though they’re in a tablet rather than cell phone context.

Scrolling down, you can sample Unite’s library. Click on a title of interest to you. Swipe the pages to “turn” them. Click on the loudspeaker to hear the audio. And if you want your child to hear narration in Chinese, Spanish or other alternative to English, click on the icon with the globe at the top left. Although the photo shows the phone standing up, you should turn it on its side when reading, so you and your child get a better view of the text.

The Unite site hopes to get the books sponsored by businesses in the towns where they’re read, and while it would be great if tax money and other means were sufficient, that’s not going to happen right now. Long term, a partial solution would be a national digital library endowment, a  dream that Unite founder Mike McGuffee supports. But let’s not neglect the needs of the present, one reason I’m so happy his group is around. One hundred books isn’t a true library in size, but it’s a start, and they’re all free and are helpful to beginning readers. Maybe Unite could even arrange for ePub editions of its books and for inclusion in the catalogs of titles reachable directly from within Moon+ and FBReader.

67. As for OverDrive, you might not want to mess with the company’s app, given the space crunch on the LG 38c. Instead, if your library site uses the service, look for a link to it, and bookmark it within the phone’s Web browser. Sign in with your library card number or otherwise, taking care to ask the browser to remember the number (this doesn’t always work). Bookmark the service. Also bookmark the page developed to your account with the service. When you return there, you’ll ideally see your library card number—but you’ll probably still have to tap the “Sign in” rectangle to proceed.

Within OverDrive tap, the “Hamburger icon” on the left to see the book collection. Tap the icon with the human silhouette to see the books you can download or have downloaded. You can generally read books in Adobe DRMed ePub or in Kindle format (sent to your Kindle app), or with OverDrive’s browser-based reader—which allows you to save books for reading offline.

Also, OverDrive allows you to read books within your browser. Give the browser option at least a try since it will eliminate the need to mess with the hassles of Adobe DRM or install the Kindle app. On the negative, the browser-based interface isn’t as usable as, say, the Kindle apps. Despite the space needs of the OverDrive app, you might end up with it after all—Adobe DRM hassles notwithstanding.

Frustratingly, as already noted, the OverDrive site is slow, slow going on the 38c because of all the images of book covers. As I’ve said, why not offer an express text-heavy version as well? Even viewing the site on more powerful machines, I’m constantly frustrated. The other thing is that there should be an easier way to limit your searches to books not already checked out.

For more on the nuts and bolts of using OverDrive, see the company’s help page and this menu.

68. The Google Play Books app comes with the the 38c and offers a rich assortment of commercial and public domain titles, and you can try it, but I myself much prefer Moon and FBReader since I can better customize them. When I did get around to Play Books, it wouldn’t even open. The problem apparently results from the LG 38c’s limited resources, especially with the new programs I installed. Play did better with fewer competitors for memory space. Also, bee sure to read books in the “flowing text” rather than image mode. One strong point of Play Books is the text to speech on public domain books and presumably on many if not most commercial titles. But don’t forget the details of speech engines (including those within the Voice Input and Output menu of Settings). Also remember the desirability of adding a third-party voice rather than relying the insufferable built-in one, as long as enough memory space is available.

69. If you’ve got a young child, check out the International Children’s Digital Library. Despite the ability to blow up the actual words in a picture book when you tap on them, the books are much harder to read on the 38c than those from Unite for Literacy. Remember, these are reproductions of paper books. You may have to spread your fingers apart on the screen—the pinch-or-zoom routine—to be able to read even some of the blown-up words.

That said, ICDL is a valuable resource. Cell phone reading just wasn’t as quite as common when it was created some years ago. The site looks great on desktops and tablets. The real downer here is that the ICDL couldn’t find the financial support it needed, and the project is in suspension. Methinks this might be a logical pair-up with Unite for Literacy. Unite is strong on super-basic texts without the more developed stories in the books from ICDL;  but its collection is a fraction of the size of the latter. On the other hand, its technology is more recent, and an enthusiastic team is in place. ICDL’s team has more or less disbanded.

The ICDL servers are on place and the site goes on, but new initiatives are not happening. This is why, despite so many pleas, ICDL has not developed an Android app. What a shame! Browser-based approaches have their place, but an app would be easier for owners of machines like the 38c to use. A project for Unite, whether or not it teams up with the remnants of ICDL?

Meanwhile don’t forget to try out the Worldreader app.

70. Go back to the Google store and install Amazon’s Kindle app if you want, although you may have to delete some others to make room. The speed won’t be blazing-fast. But the app works, with both library books (in tandem with the OverDrive service) and for-sale books. You won’t be able to change typefaces. But you can vary the size by pinching and spreading your fingers. And within the Settings menu, you can enable the Kindle app to use the volume controls as page forward and page back buttons.

71. If you want to limit your child’s access to social media apps while not doing so for e-book-related ones, consider installing Screen Time Parental Control.

72. Psst! Hacker types can “root” the 38c and delete factory-installed applications they don’t need. How annoying that the 38c’s app manager won’t let you do this. I won’t get into the details here since I haven’t had a chance to test the root procedures. Also, keep in mind that rooted machines—that is, those with more user privileges than the manufacturer permitted originally, in areas such as deletion of factory-supplied apps—pose additional security risks.

Yes, I’ve focused here on books at the expense of the other capabilities of the 38c (and similar Android machines), including the phone-related ones (discussed anyway in the 38c’s documentation and on the TracFone site). Want to learn more? Why not organize a cell phone book club so you, your friends and maybe others can together explore books and technology?

Detail: I am not going to delve such issues as filtering and determination of content suitable for minors—at least, not in depth. Take it for granted that public domain sites and others may contain at least a little problematic material unless they specifically promise otherwise. One way to deal with the issue in many culturally conservative places might be to load up the memory cards of the 38cs with books to read in Moon or FBReader but deny students the ability to use WiFi. What a shame—given all they can learn from the Net! But do what you need to do.

Another strategy would be for schools and other institutions to require parents to sign permission forms allowing students to use the phones and cruise the Net, with the understanding that the students will be subject to suspension or other penalties if they are caught inappropriately using the technology.

Here in the United States, the law mandates Internet filtering for E-Rate-funded school and library machines used by minors. All kinds of complications have resulted, such as inability to access some Web sites with life-saving medical information on topics such as breast cancer. Many libraries have spurned the E-Rate program for this reason. Those with E-Rate, however, just might find low-cost phones to be a good way around the related hassles, since the devices are so cheap that parents and kids can buy them on their own. I am not a lawyer but hope that a legal specialist in this area can step forward with appropriate guidance.

Note: This is simply a “First edition,” and I may well be refining it. Please e-mail me with suggestions or corrections, including the typo-related variety.

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