The best apps to read books on your phone

Yeah, that looks like a real nail biter, but… wasn’t that your stop we just passed? No matter. Victoriano Izquierdo on Unsplash

In addition to fulfilling the roles of phone, digital camera, music player, alarm clock and many more, your smartphone is also a window to the limitless world of ebooks. You can browse, buy, and read books digitally right from your device anytime, anywhere.

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 that might suit you and your reading habits.

Apple Books

apple books screenshot
Apple Books is a comprehensive reading app that works well… for Apple devices. David Nield

Apple Books is only available for company devices – iPhones, iPads and Mac computers – so you can forget about it if you want to use it on Android devices, Windows laptops 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 readings synced across all devices. Apple Books recommends new books based on what you’ve read in the past and also offers a list of best sellers. There’s usually a free sample you can read before you buy, while many non-copyrighted titles like Pride and Prejudice– are free. Another useful feature is the “want to read” wishlist that you can create from the bookstore.

For reading, you can choose from 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 features a scrolling view mode where eBooks simply become one long page of scrolling text, rather than separate pages that 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 content screen. The app also lets you search texts and look up the definition of any word you come across with just a few clicks. This feature is also available offline by downloading a dictionary.

Apple Books is free for iOS

Amazon’s Kindle

screenshot amazon kindle
Tired of holding your device to read on the Kindle app? Have Audible pick up where you left off and play you. David Nield

For a long time, the name Kindle has been synonymous with e-reading thanks to Amazon’s popular digital ink devices, not to be confused with the Android Kindle Fire tablets. But the platform has since grown, and the company has developed a free Kindle app for Android and iOS phones and tablets, as well as the web. Your reading progress will be synced across all of them, including a physical Kindle, if you have 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, non-copyrighted classics like Gatsby the magnificentto the latest books, most of which come with a free sample if you want to try them.

Audiobooks are available through a separate subscription-based platform and app called Audible, also managed by Amazon. Even though they’re two different platforms, the Audible service has been integrated into the Kindle app, so if you’ve been left on a cliffhanger but desperate to go for a run, you can switch between versions ebook and audio of select titles while you’re halfway through.

Within the Kindle app, you’ll also have access to the GoodReads community, where you can find reviews and ratings for books you want to read, leave reviews for books you’ve already read, see recommended titles, sign in with other readers, and more. The Kindle app’s recommendation options are also impressive: you can browse by category, see what’s popular with other readers, or let the app choose titles for you based on your purchase history.

Overall, this is pretty much the most comprehensive ebook app out there. You have the 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 searches are also supported.

Amazon’s Kindle is free for android and iOS

Google Play Books

screenshot google play books
Google Play Books offers an extensive catalog and plenty of customization options. David Nield

Like many apps developed by Google, Google Play Books sticks to a sparse but well-designed interface, through which you can search for eBooks and audiobooks. You can get non-copyrighted classics like treasure island for free, while most other books offer access to the first few pages as a free sample.

Finding new books is simple and straightforward, just like browsing books you’ve already purchased. In terms of recommendations, you get a single list based on your previous purchase history, plus a bestseller list.

As for the reading itself, you can choose from black-on-white, white-on-black, or black-on-sepia configurations to make your reading experience more comfortable. You can also choose from a selection of four fonts and change the text size, spacing, and justification to your liking. The app also allows you to display the original pages of the book on screen as if it were a PDF rather than adjusting the text to fit (which is the default with the most reading apps). It’s a great alternative if you want to take advantage of classic manuscripts or books with particular design elements that don’t translate well to digital format.

Google Play Books syncs your reading across the number of devices you have it installed on, though no web or desktop apps are available. You can add bookmarks and highlights, take notes on certain passages and look up definitions of words online and offline as well.

Google Play Books is free for android and iOS


screenshot of libby
We weren’t kidding – with Libby, you can carry your local library in your pocket (not literally, though). Libby

Libby is a little different from the other apps we’ve featured here, as it taps into local US libraries to give you free loans of ebooks and audiobooks. As in a physical library, you can borrow books for a fixed period 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 borrowed a book, it appears in the app and is yours for a set period of time, the length of which will depend on your library’s loan 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 just the way you want them. You can also easily adjust the font size and spacing.

Although Libby gives you access to thousands of titles for free and works in a user-friendly and intuitive way, it’s not the most feature-rich e-book reader app. The good news is that the app has been integrated into the Kindle platform, so if you prefer, you can ask Libby to borrow and then send titles to the Kindle app for actual reading.

Libby is free for android and iOS


kobo screenshot
Want someone to remind you how fast you read? Kobo has the stats for you. David Nield

Kobo makes e-readers, runs its own e-book store, and provides free apps for Android, iOS, and desktop devices that will keep your reading in sync across platforms. So it’s kind of 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 deciding to part with your cash. As for recommendations, you only get one list of what’s popular with others, so there’s a lot more to do here.

When it comes to reading, the font size and type (with a choice of nine) is up to you, and there are also six reading themes to choose from: black-on-white, black-on-cyan, brown-on-sepia, white on anthracite and white on black. You can also change text alignment, add notes and highlights, and even choose between two types of page animation (fade or curve).

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) information.

Kobo is free for android and iOS

About Marcia G. Hussain

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