Besides fulfilling the roles of phone, digital camera, music player, alarm clock, and many more, your smartphone is also a window into the limitless world of ebooks. You can browse, buy, and read books in digital form right from your device whenever you want, wherever you want.
But just like real libraries need people to keep things sorted and tidy, you’ll need an app to keep your ebooks in one place and help you find what you need. There are several options out there that might be a good fit for you and your reading habits.
Apple Books is only available for the company’s devices—iPhones, iPads and Mac computers—so you can forget about it if you want to use it on Android devices, laptops running Windows, or any operating system other than macOS.
You can buy new ebooks and audiobooks through the app and browse your own library, with all your reading synced across devices. Apple Books recommends new books based on what you’ve read in the past, and also puts up a list of top sellers. There’s usually a free sample you can read before buying, while a lot of out-of-copyright titles—like Pride and Prejudice—are free. One other useful feature is the ‘want to read’ wishlist you can build from the bookstore.
For reading, you can pick between eight fonts, multiple text sizes, and four different color schemes: black-on-white, black-on-sepia, white-on-gray, and white-on-black. The app also offers a scrolling view mode where ebooks just become one long page of scrolling text, rather than separate pages you flick between.
You can add colored highlights and your own custom bookmarks to any ebook, which will then appear as navigation options alongside the usual list of chapters on the contents screen. The app lets you search through texts too, and look up the definition of any word you come across with a couple of taps. This feature is also available offline by downloading a dictionary.
Apple Books is free for iOS
For a long time, the Kindle name was synonymous with e-reading thanks to Amazon’s popular digital-ink devices, not to be mistaken for the Kindle Fire Android tablets. But the platform has since expanded, and the company has developed a free Kindle app for Android and iOS phones and tablets, and for the web. Your reading progress will sync across all of them, including a physical Kindle, if you’ve got one.
The main feature that sets the Kindle app apart from the rest of the reading apps is access to Amazon’s huge library of ebooks—from free out-of-copyright classics like The Great Gatsby, to the most recently released books, most of which come with a free sample if you want to try them out.
Audiobooks are available through a separate subscription-based platform and app called Audible, also run by Amazon. Even though they are two different platforms, the Audible service has been integrated in the Kindle app, so if you were left on a cliffhanger but you’re desperate to go for a run, you can switch between the ebook and audiobook versions of select titles while you’re mid-read.
Within the Kindle app, you’ll also have access to the GoodReads community, where you can find reviews and ratings for the books you want to read, leave reviews for the ones you’ve already read, see recommended titles, connect with other readers, and more. The recommendation options in the Kindle app are impressive too: you can browse by category, see what’s popular with other readers, or let the app pick titles for you based on your purchasing history.
Overall, this is just about the most comprehensive ebook app around. You get a choice of eight fonts, four colors (white-on-black, black-on-white, black-on-sepia, black-on-green), and the option of continuous scrolling. Bookmarks, highlights, notes, and word definition look-ups are all supported as well.
Google Play Books
Like many Google-developed apps, Google Play Books sticks to a sparse but nicely crafted interface, through which you can browse for ebooks and audiobooks alike. You can get out-of-copyright classics like Treasure Island for free, while most other books offer access to the first pages as a free sample.
Finding new books is simple and straightforward, as is browsing through books you’ve already bought. In terms of recommendations, you get only one list based on your previous purchasing history, plus a best-sellers list.
When it comes to the reading itself, you get to choose from black-on-white, white-on-black, or black-on-sepia set-ups to make your reading experience more comfortable. You can also pick from a selection of four fonts and modify text size, spacing, and justification for your convenience. The app also allows you to view the original pages of the book on the screen as if it were a PDF rather than adjusting the text to fit (which is the default with most reading apps). This is an interesting alternative if you want to enjoy classic manuscripts or books with particular design elements that don’t translate well to digital format.
Google Play Books syncs your reading across however many devices you have it installed on, though there’s no web or desktop apps available. You can add bookmarks and highlights, take notes on certain passages, and look up word definitions online and offline, too.
Libby is a little different from the other apps we’ve featured here, as it taps into U.S. local libraries to bring you free ebook and audiobook loans. As with a physical library, you can borrow books for a particular length of time and submit hold requests for books already loaned to other users.
What you need to get started is a valid library card number, which will connect you to their database and the thousands of titles they offer. Once you’ve taken out a book, it appears in the app and is yours for a specified period, the length of which will depend on your library’s own lending policy.
The Libby app lets you create bookmarks, add notes and highlights, look up word definitions, switch between three display color schemes (black-on-white, white-on-black, brown-on-sepia), and choose from a handful of fonts to get digital pages looking exactly the way you want them to. You can easily adjust font size and spacing, too.
Though Libby gives you access to thousands of titles for free and works in a friendly and intuitive way, it’s not the most feature-packed ebook reading app. The good news is that the app has been integrated to the Kindle platform, so if you prefer, you can get Libby to do the borrowing, then send titles over to the Kindle app for the actual reading.
Kobo makes e-readers, runs its own ebook store, and provides free apps for Android, iOS, and desktop devices that will keep your reading synced across all platforms—so it’s a lot like the Amazon Kindle, really.
The store covers everything from classics to new releases, and there’s usually a free preview you can read before you decide to part with your cash. Regarding recommendations, you only get one list featuring what’s popular with other people, so there’s a lot more to be done here.
When it comes to reading, the font size and type (with a choice of nine) is up to you, and you’ve got six reading themes to pick from as well: black-on-white, black-on-cyan, brown-on-sepia, white-on-charcoal, and white-on-black. You can change text alignment too, add notes and highlights, and even choose between two types of page animation (fade or curl).
If stats are your thing, there’s also an easy-to-access page that will tell you your reading speed, how many pages you’ve turned, how many hours (and sessions) you’ve spent with a book, and a few other equally useful (or nerve-wracking) bits of information.