Digital Reading Room: Summer travels

[As tablets get more powerful, with more memory and sharper-looking screens, their apps are getting a makeover. Increasingly, mobile apps employ multimedia—combining words, pictures, audio, and video—in new and interesting ways. In our Digital Reading Room series, we’ll look at some eye-catching multimedia apps and tell you which ones deserve a place on your mobile device.]

It can be hard to find something good to read on your tablet, but not for lack of options. Rather, in a world where Apple’s App Store has swollen to include 255,000 iPad apps, the competition for your attention and your money can be a little overwhelming. There’s no need to aimlessly wander the aisles of your local App Store or give up the search entirely: Digital Reading Room is here to handle all the work for you, finding new and noteworthy ebooks, reference materials, and other apps that blend compelling reads, integrated multimedia, and great design. This first installment hits the road with apps aimed at taking you to new places without you ever leaving your comfy reading chair.

Jack Kerouac’s On the Road

One of the better features in the On the Road app is a map drawn by Jack Kerouac showing the trips chronicled in his classic novel.

On the Road is a thrilling ride in print, and it remains a touchstone of American literature and culture: Jack Kerouac’s classic novel is really a thinly disguised memoir combining three cross-country trips he took and time spent fellow “beats” like Alan Ginsberg, William Burroughs, and Neal Cassidy. I’ve long been interested in Kerouac, Ginsberg, and Cassidy in particular, and was disappointed that few of this app’s “amplifications” went beyond the superficial. The sections of photos and videos are anemic: The video section includes two videos, totaling four minutes in length, and there are 20 images in the photos section. Some winning elements include audio clips of Kerouac reading from the book, letters sent from the book’s original publisher, Viking Press, that detail changes considered necessary to avoid legal problems (libel and indecency), and maps Kerouac drew of the three trips the book chronicles. There is a version of the book itself, of course, and it does include some notes that you can access by tapping on [blue] bars placed beside the text. Both the iBook and Kindle versions of On The Road sell for $13, and perhaps the extra content is worth $4. But the actual eBook included with the app does not enable readers to highlight passages or take notes, and for me, and I imagine many other readers, that’s a big disadvantage.

Where to Get It: $17; iOS App Store

The Verdict: Maybe worth a look.

London — A City Through Time

In addition to write-ups on the history of London, the London — A City Through Time app also includes 360-degree panoramic views of local landmarks, such as Emirates Stadium.

The 2012 Summer Olympics have put a spotlight on London, but as this app demonstrates, the city has been center stage for 500 years or so. London — A City Through Time seems like a bottomless well of well-designed information that takes full advantage of the iPad’s capabilities. The app packs in text, audio, video, and images both current and historical. The stunning 360-degree panoramic views of dozens London landmarks, created by Will Pearson, are almost worth the full price: You can move your iPad in any direction and see what you’d see if you were standing in that spot. Despite two puzzling flaws—there’s no way to bookmark where you are to return to that spot later and you can’t take notes—this is a great app if you have any interest in London at all.

Where to Get It: $14; iOS App Store

The Verdict: Definitely download.

Negro Leagues Baseball Museum

The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum app includes a timeline juxtaposing the rise of the Negro Leagues with major events in U.S., African-American, and baseball history.

The problem with this virtual version of the Kansas City, Mo., museum is that there’s just not enough there to do an interesting subject justice. It’s not like that material isn’t out there: More information about baseball’s Negro Leagues, both textual and of the multimedia variety, can be found at sites like BlackBaseball.com and Major League Baseball’s site, where a section on the Negro Leagues includes many videos. In contrast, the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum app features a single YouTube clip and a few dozen photos. A quick YouTube search quickly revealed a short tour of the Negro League Baseball Museum produced by Fox Sports, which could have easily been replicated in some fashion by the app’s producers. The best alternative to this app may also be the simplest: Wikipedia’s page on Negro League Baseball, which unlike the Negro League Baseball Museum App includes not only a boatload of information, but also scores of links and lists of other resources, both on the Web and in print.

Where to Get It: $4; iOS App Store

The Verdict: Give it a pass.

Fotopedia National Parks

QT Luong’s photos (accompanied by descriptive text‚ dominate Fotopedia National Parks.

If you’re planning to visit any of our national parks, or simply want to do some armchair traveling, Fotopedia National Parks is more than worth whatever time you spend downloading and browsing. The app’s features more than 3,000 photos by QT Luong, as well as some descriptive text. It also includes easy methods to search (using maps, places within parks presented in lists, and a simple search function), bookmark favorites, and share images via email, Facebook, and Twitter. It’s great material with a price tag that can’t be beat.

Where to Get It: Free; iOS App Store

The Verdict: Definitely download.

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