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I am considering buying a smartphone. One of the primary uses of the device would be reading of e-books in PDF format. I'd like to experiment with various combinations of display resolution and diagonal so that I can see if PDF reading would be comfortable for me with the particular combination.

Is there an application out there that would allow me to simulate a display with specified resolution and size, so that I can decide if it is a good fit for my reading? Or perhaps is there some other way to find out?

Thank you very much!

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Typically, a phone's pixel density is much higher than a computer screen, so the same resolution will look physically larger on a computer screen. I'm not sure how you could get around that, and if you forced the issue (e.g. scaling down) the text would be less clear, defeating the purpose. –  Bob Apr 28 '12 at 18:40
@Nikola: What Bob is saying is that you can simulate a specified resolution, OR size, but not both at once. –  Ben Voigt Apr 28 '12 at 19:17
@Bob - thanks for that. I am going to experiment with Android SDK and see where does that take me. –  Nikola Anusev Apr 29 '12 at 7:23
The main thing is the pixel density difference. Things look very differently on mobile devices. –  dnbrv Apr 29 '12 at 18:43
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1 Answer

up vote 3 down vote accepted

You can install the Software Development Kit (SDK) for your platform of choice (for example, the Android SDK, iOS SDK, or Windows Phone SDK), which comes with an emulator for that phone platform. (Note: iOS SDK is only available on Mac.)

You could also open the PDF on your computer and zoom out until it's the same size as a phone screen, but as Bob mentioned, neither of these options will give you the same experience as using apps on the phone. The only good way evaluate the experience is to actually try viewing the PDFs on a phone. If you don't know anyone with a smartphone, you can upload your PDFs somewhere, go to a cell phone store, and download some of the PDFs on the phone. Then you won't have to wonder whether they'll look good on the phone you're looking at. (Personally, I'd recommend something with at least a 4" screen.)

That said, you probably won't be happy reading PDFs without reformatting them for your mobile device, simply because an 8.5x11 sheet of paper shrunken down to a roughly 4" diagonal page are going to be too small to read comfortably without zooming in...and zooming and panning to read a page is annoying.

But fear not! As Bob mentioned in a comment, PDF reader apps can often automatically "reflow" text to fit the screen better. You can also use Calibre to convert many file types into any of various eBook formats. It works really well for books that are mostly text, but can have less-than-optimal results if your eBooks have a lot of tables or images.

One more thing worth noting: if you primarily want a portable device for reading, you should also consider getting a reader with an e-ink screen, like the Kindle or Nook. It takes a few days to get used to the way the screen flashes on each page change, but the reading experience is very close to reading a paper book. They're bigger than phones, but still quite a bit smaller than tablets. I use Calibre with my Kindle Keyboard and highly prefer reading eBooks on the Kindle over reading them on my smartphone or tablet.

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Often, mobile PDF readers come with a 'reflow' mode. It 'reflows' properly tagged text in PDF files to fit on the smaller screens with only up/down scrolling. I've used this successfully on a 2.2" screen about 5 years ago, and am still using it with a 4.3" screen. It's not perfect, however, so weird formatting may come up... which is where a dedicated eBook format/reader is better. –  Bob Apr 28 '12 at 19:52
Thanks; I've added a mention of the reflowing feature. I think either my PDF reader app doesn't support reflowing, or the few PDFs I've tried reading on my smartphone haven't been properly tagged. –  rob Apr 28 '12 at 20:18
Thanks for the thorough answer, now I see I should have mentioned more details in my question :) PDFs I want to read are primarily programming-oriented, which means lot of code samples, tables and pictures. I've already tried Calibre but exactly as you say, results were not good enough. I've also had an e-ink reader, but again, I found the slow page changing, flashing and general slowness of the device unbearable. Now, I use iPad for my PDF reading, but I would like to get rid of it and have one device only. I'll try to install the Android SDK and see what does it have to offer. –  Nikola Anusev Apr 29 '12 at 7:22
Thanks for the extra background. Based on your additional information, I think you'll be happiest using your programming references on a tablet or as paper books. It's not very convenient, I know; but I think the phone screen will be too small to be practical when you're trying to code and look at examples at the same time. –  rob Apr 29 '12 at 7:57
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