We had a couple of issues with the Apple book service. Using iPhoto to create the book is as simple as you can expect it to be. However, usually with simplicity comes a lack of power features. Some layout techniques are just not possible, and your options are quite limited. That being said, it was good enough for my first attempt at creating a coffee table book.
So when the book finally arrived, there were a couple of things that put me off and some things I liked.
The paper on which it is printed is a bit too thin - it does not have a premium feel to it. It measured 0.16mm
The surface texture is very smooth, with a low gloss appearance. It is not bad.
The print quality is not high enough for me. I can see the individual dots of the print process with my bare eyes. The arrangement of these dots also caused horisontal and vertical lines to appear as unwanted artefacts.
The edges of all text look jagged.
A non visual problem was the horrible odour of the book (sure this is not important to some people, but for me one of the fascinating things of opening a new book is to inhale that new book smell - and this is lacking here).
All in all the book was not terrible, but I did not feel warm and fuzzy over the money spent considering what I got for it.
So I decided to give Blurb a try. Firstly, their Mac book design software is absolutely out of this world. The UI is quite un-Mac like, however it is extremely powerful. Without further ado, here are my initial impressions.
The book had a nice odour :)
Print quality is much higher than Apple's, however my copy had two issues which I am not too pleased with. The first is a faint horisontal band over some of the images. You need to look closely to see it but it is definitely there. The second is grain in the smoother tonal areas of the photos. We asked them about this and their response had been rather good - they have already printed and posted a new book to correct the banding issue, but they indicated they could not do anything about the grain as this is inherent to the print process used by their printers.
The paper (we selected premium paper) is a little bit thicker (at 0.20mm) than the Apple book, and has a nicer surface finish (a very smooth pearl finish but with more stippling on the surface than the Apple book).
The text was rendered as good as a high quality laser printer - needless to say this is more than adequite.
The binding of the book itself is very impressive - it has a high quality, durable feel to it