Apple bundles an ebook reader with the iPhone and iPad and it is good, but it also has limitations and there are alternative apps for reading ebooks that offer a variety of benefits.
What is wrong with iBooks
The main problem with iBooks on the iPhone and iPad is that it is a closed system. If you purchase a book from the store in the app, it can only be read in iBooks on the iPhone or iPad.
Imagine building up a large library of purchased books and you decide to switch to an Android phone for a change. If you buy iBooks, you would lose them all because iBooks is not available on any other platform. iBooks reader is only on iOS and macOS.
The iBooks books you buy have protection systems to prevent them from being read elsewhere. There is no iBooks app for Android. There never was and probably never will be.
This does not affect other ebook readers and many are cross platform. You can access your ebook library on the iPhone, iPad, Android phones and tablets, sometimes on dedicated ebook reader devices like the Kindle and Kobo, on the computer and so on.
Wherever you go and whatever device you use, alternative ebook readers enable you to read your books.
These are all free ebook readers and they all provide at least some free ebooks. Most have online stores with millions of ebooks available.
Google Play Books
Price: Free | By: Google | Size: 59MB | iOS: 8.0
Google Play Books - Books & Comics to give it its full title is Google’s book reading app. It is, of course, available for Android phones and tablets, but it is also available for the iPhone and iPad.
The books are registered to your Google account, so you can download them and read them on any device. Syncing is automatic, so you can begin reading on one device and continue on another.
Books are downloaded from the Google Play Store and when the app starts up, the home page displays a list of recommended books. There are thumbnail images of the covers, titles and a link to download free samples so you can read the first chapter or a few pages to see whether you like it.
The recommendations can be improved by telling the app what sort of books you like, such as romance, mystery and thrillers, history, self help, poetry, science fiction, and so on. After selecting one or more categories it offers to download samples to your library.
All the books you own can be listed or just the ones that have been downloaded to the iPhone or iPad.
A Night Light feature makes reading in the evening easier on the eyes by changing the colour slightly throughout the day. Alternatively, you can choose between black, white or sepia paper. Several different fonts are available and you can adjust the line spacing.
The app is great, but Apple does not allow in-app purchases outside of the App Store. This means that books cannot be purchased, not even free ones, from within the app.
You must go to the Google Play Store in a web browser. This can be done on the phone, tablet or computer. This is better than it sounds because the Google Play Store works very well in a browser on the computer.
You can browse books of all prices and genres, find free books, buy cheap and full price books and so on. Your books are there when you next fire up the Google Play Books app on the iPhone or iPad.
Price: Free | By: Amazon | Size: 164MB | iOS: 9.0
Who hasn’t heard of Kindle, Amazon’s ebook reader? There are so many reasons why this app is better than Apple iBooks that it is hard to know where to start. How about the fact that Kindle is everywhere? It is on the iPhone, iPad, Android phones and tablets, Amazon Fire tablets.
It is also a series of handheld ebook reader devices that last for weeks on a single battery charge, are lighter than any tablet and have a screen that works in sunlight.
Amazon, of course, has a huge range of books in ebook format and the website is very easy to browse and buying books is just one mouse click.
Apple won’t let Amazon sell books from within the app, so you have to go to the store in a web browser, but you get used to it and there are so many benefits to be had from the app. It has a Discover section that shows books you might like and they can be added to your Amazon Wish List.
The Amazon app on the iPhone and iPad is brilliant. Your book library is synced and all your purchases are there in the app. It shows what you are reading and how far you have read. Tap a book and it opens at the current page no matter whether you last read it on an iOS or Android device.
There are controls for changing the font type and line spacing and colour - black, white, sepia.
There are useful features within the ebook reader, such as word definitions, highlighting in different colours, copying, and notes. While reading the text you can insert notes at any point.
The Kindle app has an unusual, but very interesting feature called X-Ray. Amazon says it ‘shows you the bones of the book’, like X-Rays show the bones in your body. It is sort of like that. It shows things like people, terms, Wikipedia entries and so on, all related to the book in general or the page you are reading. It is like background information the characters, plot and places.
Price: Free | By: Barnes & Noble | Size: 77MB | iOS: 8.0
This app is from Barnes & Noble, the book store, and it is a direct competitor to Amazon. It hasn’t had quite the same success as Kindle, but it is a good alternative to Apple iBooks.
The app is available on the iPhone and iPad, Android phones and tablets, and Windows. However, it is not available in all parts of the world. If you live in the US then check out out. If you live elsewhere you might find that it is not in the App Store.
As with the other apps, you buy books at the Barnes & Noble website and they are added to your account. The app syncs with your account and so you can read your books anywhere and on any device.
Barnes & Noble advertise that there are over one million free ebooks in its library. There are free books on Amazon and Google Play Books, but it would be surprising if they have more than 1m.
There are day, evening and night themes to reduce the strain on your eyes, and you can add bookmarks, highlights and notes as you read.
Discovery is an important feature in Nook and there is Free Fridays ebook selection, and free daily streams of ebook excerpts, magazine articles and book news.
Unfortunately, I’m not in the US, so I cannot try the app. It sounds good though, so check it out.
Price: Free | By: Wattpad Corp | Size: 86MB | iOS: 9.0
Wattpad - Free Books and eBook reader is an ebook reader, but there is where the similarity with Kindle, Play Books and Nook ends. It is a completely different type of ebook reader that offers something unique. It is available on iOS, Android and the web.
Wattpad is a community of writers and readers. Anyone that has an idea for a story can write it on Wattpad and publish it. Writers are encouraged to write and publish short chapters one at a time rather than wait until a book is complete before publishing.
Many books are complete, but some are still being written. Wattpad says there have been over 300 million story uploads and 45 million people use it a month, 90% on mobile.
That means there is a huge amount of choice and you can browse the books by genre. There are suggestions, such as featured stories, a search facility. However, it isn’t easy finding anything beyond the featured books. The community aspect means that when you find a writer you like, you can follow them.
Books are not simply static text and some have video clips and a YouTube video can be embedded at the start. You can vote for books, add comments and share books. A Facebook Messenger button enables you to send messages to friends, perhaps about the book you are reading.
All books are free, so getting them isn’t a problem and you can browse them, download them and add them to your library from within the app.
The ebooks vary in length and quality. Some are like short stories that take 10 minutes to read, while others are like regular novels. Some writers are brilliant, but some, well, let’s just say they need a bit more practise. In a way, it adds to the fun and every now and then you discover a great writer and a great story.
Kobo Reading App
Price: Free | By: Kobo Inc. | Size: MB | iOS: 8.0
Kobo is modelled on Amazon Kindle and there is an online book store with five million ebook titles to choose from, there are apps for every operating system including iOS, Android, Windows and Mac, and a range of hand-held ebook readers similar to the Kindle family.
The home screen of the iPhone and ipad app provides access to the books you have recently been reading, which makes it easy to continue a book you have started. There are also suggested books that you might like. There are lists of recommended books, related reads, today’s top 50, and free books.
As with the other apps, it is hard to browse those five million books, so beyond the suggestions you will need to use the search facility. Choose a book and you can see what books other people read, which helps discovery of new titles.
Free books can be downloaded and read within the app. However, books can only be purchased online, which as mentioned before, is Apple rules and not an inability to provide a service. You can save previews of books and anything you purchase at the website appears in the app ready to read.
The reader itself is fine and there are five colour schemes to choose from ranging from black on white to white on black, and 10 fonts. There doesn’t appear to be a dictionary, but there is a nice option to share quotes. You can select some text, hit the share button and send it to the usual places like Twitter, and others.
There is a section that displays an overview of the book as seen in the store, the contents, annotations you have made, and statistics. The stats show things like the number of minutes you have spent reading, the number of page turns, average speed and hours left.
More ebook readers
- Ebook Reader: This is an ebook reader for the books purchased at the Ebooks.com website. It is available on iOS and Android. There are over 1.2m ebooks available.
- There are many ebook readers that work with common ebook file formats. You have to find and download ebooks yourself because there often isn't a store, and they only work with DRM-free books, such as from Project Gutenberg.
There is no reason to stick with one ebook reader because they are all free. They all have free ebooks and they are different for each app. Having multiple ebook readers means that you have access to many more free books.
With multiple readers you can also compare prices in book stores and choose the cheapest one. stores have special offers and promotions from time to time and you may find a book a lot cheaper at one store than at another.
- Written by Roland Waddilove
- Published: 25 March 2017