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If you went decades back into the past, you’d probably see dozens of people in public enjoying a good book. Whether a novel, a collection of short stories, or a biography, millions of people would bring a book with them on long car rides, on public transportation, or just out in the park, enjoying the sunshine of a lovely summer day. Sadly, it’s much less common in 2021 to see people out with a paperback in their grasp. Thanks to major advancements in consumer technology, those same readers are likely on their smartphones or tablets, playing a mobile game or checking up on their social networks. Sure, you’ll still see people reading paperbacks on the go, but it’s much less frequent than it was just a few decades ago. It almost seems like the traditional book has been replaced by shorter forms of entertainment.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that reading is dead. In fact, those same gadgets that have seemingly taken away from the paper book industry have also led to a brand new way of reading on the go. While nothing could ever beat the tactile feel of a real book in your hand—or, barring that, a physical eReader with e-Ink to give the feel of a real book—but thanks to the added convenience of your smartphone, you can keep a collection of hundreds of books in your pocket for on-the-go reading without ever having to worry about misplacing your novel or carrying an additional object on you during the rest of the day. There are dozens of eBook applications for Android that make it easy to customize your reading experience, and while it might not compete with the feel of reading an actual novel, it sure can come close. With phone displays growing larger and larger each year, reading a book on your digital device has never felt more realistic than it does today.
But which eBook application should you choose for your Android device? Of course, if you already have an eReader, you should choose the corresponding application that can sync your library of books over the web. If you have yet to choose a service for your digital library, you’ll want to look for the largest library, the best prices, and of course, the most customization options when it comes time to read your book. For that, we’ve got a few suggestions. Let’s dive into our top picks for January 2021.
It’s no surprise that Amazon makes one of the best eReader applications on the Play Store today. The company started out as a web-based bookstore well before they became the internet’s favorite online shopping destination, meaning books are in their blood. And while Amazon might be well-known today for their Alexa devices and their affordable line of Fire Tablets, their first venture into becoming a technology giant was the Amazon Kindle, a physical eReader that is still one of the best devices for reading you can buy today. But you don’t need to invest money into a separate gadget to experience the joys of owning an Amazon Kindle—you can gain the same type of experience just by downloading their app onto your Android phone. Amazon has brought a lot to the tablet with their Kindle app for Android, so let’s dive in and take a look at what makes their app rise above the rest of the offerings.
Amazon’s app has been cleaned up over the past year or two, and the flat, white minimalist approach to their design has certainly done wonders to increase the usability of their app. This is a good-looking app, no doubt about it, though there’s no doubt in our minds that Amazon has gone out of their way to avoid using any sort of standard Android design language. This is Amazon’s app, and it shows. There’s no sliding menus or material design here to speak of, with Amazon even using their own custom font instead of choosing to use Android’s own font for their designs. You don’t feel like you’re using Android when you’re inside of Amazon’s app, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The app is divided up into four tabs along the bottom of your display, and generally feels well-organized and well-executed.
Amazon’s main menu inside the app, called “Home,” displays your library, along with recommendations based on your previous purchase, making it easy to both pick up a new book and to resume reading where you left off. There’s also a specific tab just for your library that puts the focus on your virtual collection. You can view this in both grid and list forms, and multiple sorting options make it easy to find what you’re looking for at any given time.
The third tab along the bottom of your display is the Store, which gives you access to Amazon’s own Kindle Store to pick up new books. You’ll find recommendations and top charts here, along with daily deals and sales on cheap reads. The storefront is probably lacking the most visual panache when it comes to the app, presumably because it simply loads a webpage through which you can purchase books through. In our experience, the storefront was slow to load books and recommendations, and although it’s a fine way to purchase books when on the move, you’re better off using Amazon’s actual webpage on your computer to search and purchase new reads.
There’s also a “More” tab that hides your settings and device information, along with the ability to force-sync your Amazon collection. All of Amazon’s Kindle devices and apps are powered by Whispersync, a standard that makes it easy to sync your entire account between different devices. That doesn’t just mean your library, but also your bookmarks, notes, and of course, your page progress in each book. Whispersync works really well, and you’ll find that switching devices is easy enough that moving from your tablet to your phone, or your Kindle to your computer is easy enough to accomplish, making for a great experience if, say, you’re taking notes on a book for class or trying to look up something while studying.
The settings menu inside the Kindle app is pretty straightforward; most of the actual reading settings are done inside of settings. Outside of the standard settings for your Amazon account, your device name, and your payment options, you’ll find options for page curl animation, popular highlights within textbooks and novels, and even an option to use your volume buttons to control the turning of pages inside the app.
The benefit of using Kindle to read your eBooks over other apps on the Play Store really comes down to Amazon’s strength as a storefront, as well as their Prime ecosystem. Every book you could ever want to read is available on the Kindle store, from blockbuster novels like the Harry Potter series to self-published independent authors through the use of the Kindle Direct program. There’s content on the Kindle store you won’t be able to find anywhere else, and oftentimes you’ll find books on the store cheaper than you can find through Google Play Books or Barnes and Noble’s own online shop. Amazon has been known to have sales on bestsellers and genre-specific books, with everything from comics to novels often dropping in price to just a few bucks in regular sales. Hell, some bestsellers have dropped to just a buck or two in previous sales, making it easy to jump into a new novel without dropping a ton of cash.
And this is all without mentioning the added benefit of being a Prime member, which unlocks certain eBooks available online completely for free with Prime Reading. There’s a link at the top of the store that allows you to dive into the full list of available titles without having to guess. Finally, there’s also Kindle Unlimited, a subscription service that allows you to read a massive amount of books for just $9.99 per month, giving readers their own Spotify of sorts.
Of course, all the added benefits for Amazon members would be meaningless if the actual experience of reading inside the app was terrible. Luckily, for those of us who love to read, you’re likely to be more than satisfied by what Amazon’s brought to the table with their app. The actual reading display is as clean as the rest of the application, and though the bright-whiteness of the UI can be a bit much, you can activate a dark mode inside settings to tone down your display a bit. Pretty much every element of your book is customizable here, from the color of the page to the font of the text. Kindle has four different settings for page color, including a solid black with white text that is perfect for night reading, especially on AMOLED displays where blacks are at their truest.
There’s more font options here than you’ll know what to do with, though Bookerly, Amazon’s default font, is good enough for most cases. Font can, of course, be edited to increase or decrease in size, and the pages will reformat on your device so as to adjust for your preferred text size. The app has a separate brightness setting from the rest of your phone, allowing you to make it brighter or darker as you see fit, and you can even adjust the margin and line spacing of the text on the page.
Outside of the text settings for your book, there’s plenty of tools to use for reading and notetaking. In many ways, it’s near impossible to cover the amount of features that are utilized in this app, so we’ll quickly cover some of the best. There’s a powerful search tool that lets you search entire books for pieces of information; ask any college student how valuable this is for studying for exams or completing homework out of the textbook, and they’ll swear by it. The highlighting and notetaking feature also works well for keeping track of your thoughts while reading, and you don’t have to be a student to use it. Bookmarking on Kindle works a bit differently than it otherwise does in real life.
Since Kindle always keeps track of your place in a book, you can use bookmarks as a handy way to save chapters or passages you need to return to later on. Finally, it’s worth noting that Kindle integrates well with Audible, an audiobook service owned and operated by Amazon. You can choose to upgrade your books with Audible integration, which will allow you to read along to the book with headphones or through a speaker.
At the end of the day, Kindle is simply the best reading experience available on Android today. With a store packed full of bestsellers, blockbusters, and indie titles alike, with constant sales and promotions, not to mention a great reading experience on the go complete with tools for taking notes and customizing the reading interface, there’s no doubt in our minds that Amazon has simply nailed their application here. Whether on a tablet or a phone, it’s easy to crack into a good book using their app, and with the availability of your Kindle library on nearly every operating system today, you aren’t locked into Android for reading your book. Our only nitpick about Amazon comes from the storefront, which was a bit slow to load compared to a more natural, non-web-based interface, but it’s a minor complaint when you’re looking at an app as good as this. Kindle truly is the app for every reader, no matter of age or interest, and the experience of reading on Android has never been better. If you’re looking for a single eReader app, this is the one to get.
Let’s say this right off the bat: Google Play Books doesn’t quite compare to Amazon in terms of just how much it can do. Amazon’s been at the eBook game far longer than Google, with dedicated eReader devices backing the apps that Amazon has made for Android, iOS, and nearly every other manufacturer out there today. But Google has put some serious effort into Play Books, and just because it isn’t one of the top eBook applications on the market today doesn’t mean it isn’t a success on Android. Play Books is installed on every Google-approved Android device—basically every phone or tablet shipped in the United States not made by Amazon—so you already have it on your phone to begin with, without having to download and install a new application to read your books. Let’s dive into the Play Books experience and see what makes it so successful.
Play Books spawned from the Google Play lineup of applications, which also happens to feature a Movies app, a Music app, a Games app, and of course, the Play Store itself. Play Books is, perhaps, a bit less-known than Play Movies or Play Music, partially because the market for avid readers has, in some ways, already been won by the likes of Amazon. Still, Google’s app may in fact be a bit more appealing to Android diehards than Amazon’s, thanks to a familiar design language and a colorful interface that feels welcoming and unique all the same. Google gives each of the Play applications a theme color—orange for Music, red for Movies, green for the Play Store—and the shade of blue on Play Books feels calming and completely appropriate for an eBook application.
Those three tabs make the layout of the app fairly similar to Amazon’s Kindle app, but there’s something a bit more accessible about the application. For one, the store interface loads faster, giving suggestions and preview recommendations right within the app instead of having to load a web-based page disguised as a native storefront. It’s tough to give Amazon a hard time for their app’s problems, which largely stem from the fact that Google takes advantage of their in-app purchase system by taking a cut from each transaction. It’s unfortunate that Amazon’s ability to create a smooth storefront suffers due to payment options imposed on consumers by Google, but that’s the way these app stores work—Apple is the same way. Still, it’s Google’s gain. Play Books feels incredibly fluid.
The first tab is a homepage similar to what we saw with Kindle, with recommendations and a list of the top-selling books along with their associated pricing, including sale pricing if applicable. Google seems to base your recommendations off your previous purchases, so if you’ve only made one or two Play Books purchases prior to browsing through your recommendation, Google allows you to tell them what you like from best-selling books, automatically providing you with samples in your library. The library tab has a full list of your collection, viewable by both shelves and books. Books will provide you with a full list of your collection, including samples and full titles. Shelves, meanwhile, is more akin to a tile-based viewing system. Play Books automatically includes a copy of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Pride and Prejudice, so don’t be surprised if those titles line your virtual shelves upon first booting up the app.
Unlike Amazon’s Kindle app, there aren’t a ton of additional shopping features to discuss with Play Books. Google has some novels available for free through their service, though without a subscription model in place like the one we’ve seen with Amazon Prime. Google will occasionally give books away for free, but with Kindle, any Amazon Prime customer can read the first Harry Potter book right now, completely free of charge, included in the yearly plan that plenty of Amazon consumers purchase in order to use free two-day shipping on their items. It’s a great deal, and Google simply can’t compete there. That said, Google gives out plenty of Play Credit and discounts to consumers in order to get them to switch apps—booting the app up during our review process immediately presented us with the opportunity to save $5 on a title that cost $5 or more, and that’s not even mentioning the added possibilities of using Google Opinion Rewards to make some Play Credit for free by answering a few surveys on your device.
So while Google might not have special tricks for consumers up their sleeves with special deals or free bestselling books with a membership free, the company behind Android does offer an incredibly fluid and clean interface for actually reading the books you purchase through Google. Everything from the font to the page animations on Play Books just feels a little bit nicer than it does on Kindle’s own app. Google provides users with near-identical versions of the page and text customizations expected with any eReader application today. Six different fonts are available to choose from, and the font and margin sizes can be changed at will by the user, with text wrapping around the page to fit the reformatted layout. Google only has three page colors to pick from, though white, black, and sepia are typically the only three that matter, and the app has a new Night Light mode that allows you to increase the yellow hue on your display to make reading at night more comfortable. This even works in black-page mode, with the text highlighted in an orange-yellow color instead of the usual white.
Highlighting and selecting text is here, and any word can automatically be searched through Google in order to find the proper definition. You can also translate words from different languages right from within the app, and add notes to any highlighted word as well. Each book has a universal search option, and you can also sort through the table of contents quickly to find the correct chapters. Overall, it’s a much-tighter feeling application than Amazon’s Kindle, but of course, you miss out on some of the more “advanced” features offered through Amazon just aren’t there, or are available in a limited capacity. For example, there is a free “read aloud” option, but it simply uses Google’s own text-to-speech option, similar to the Google Assistant) that simply doesn’t work as well as a traditional Audible audiobook.
Play Books does a great job of emulating the experience most consumers have come to expect from their books. Unlike with Kindle, where you’re locked into an Amazon ecosystem of Kindle devices and approved applications, Play Books has the freedom to take your books to other platforms and devices, including your iPhone or iPad, your computer, and even Sony, Nook, and Kobo eReaders available on the market today (the Kindle is, unsurprisingly, not included on that list of items). In many ways, Play Books feels like a “default” option—it’s the app on your device, so that’s what you’ll use. That isn’t quite fair to the application, which is well-built in many aspects and powerful enough to score “runner-up” in this rundown of eBook applications. Unfortunately, when it comes to competing in the eReader atmosphere, it’s difficult to go after Amazon and their lineup of devices and services, but Google’s done a good job in this space. Kindle might still be the premiere place to read on any platform, but Play Books is great for any Android user looking to keep their content inside the Google Play ecosystem.
It’s important to remember when comparing eReader applications that not everyone requires an extensive store of eBooks in order to make the most of the application. While both the Kindle store and the Google Play Store offer readers deals and savings on purchasing new books—and Google even allows you to take your books with you to other platforms—some people already have their own collections of eBooks purchased through online stores or rented through their local library’s collection of digital books. Though Kindle and Play Books both offer the ability to import books from other sources, albeit with some limitations on the Kindle side of things, many readers want a basic reader without including recommendations or stores.
That’s where Media365 (formerly Universal Book Reader) comes in. There isn’t a whole lot of complexity to this app, with the option to load eBooks found on your device, along with an easy way to keep them organized on your feed. A store option does exist, but is hidden within its own map and is easily ignored if not required. The interface is solid, if a bit uninteresting overall, and the app supports nearly every eBook format you could hope for. Universal Book Reader is ad-supported, but it does have a Pro upgrade to remove ads. This app remains a favorite among Android diehards, and it’s easy to see why. With the flexibility of importing your entire eBook collection into the app, it’s easy to read for hours with Media365.
For years, it seemed like the Nook was the only true challenger to the Kindle’s throne. With the backing of Barnes and Noble and some underrated hardware, the Nook competed with the Kindle in the physical eReader space for years, and though the brick-and-mortar book giant still sells their devices online and in store, it seems the fight against Amazon has been lost for the time being. Still, plenty of people use B&N to purchase eBooks online, and the Nook app for Android offers a pretty solid reading experience overall. The shop is colorful and fun to browse, though it occasionally suffers from long loading times, and the actual library view feels much more modern than older versions of the Nook app on Android.
When it comes to reading, Nook knocks it out of the park. As with most Android eBook apps, the reading experience—from the font size and style to the color of the page—is fully customizable, and there’s even a custom reading mode for comics, allowing you to zoom through panels one at a time. Overall, Barnes and Noble has actually developed a solid reading app over the last few years, and it’s unfortunate it’s been so overshadowed by Kindle. Still, Amazon’s deals are far better than the ones offered by B&N, so if you’re looking to build a collection from scratch, you’d be better off living in Amazon’s ecosystem.
We’ve previously covered Moon Reader on our guide to the best PDF readers on Android, since it functions as both a PDF reader and as an eBook reader. In our eyes, it isn’t quite the best at either category, with PDFs presented as eBooks making it easy to read your collection on the go. Still, Moon Reader is a solid offering for those looking to bring eBooks found online to their collection, and can actually be a great offering for anyone looking to use an eReader to take notes in class.
Since plenty of college courses, especially English courses, now use PDF files to pass out shorter readings online, Moon Reader can make your PDFs feel a bit more like an actual book instead of a basic document. It isn’t quite our favorite app for reading traditional eBook documents—that honor still belongs to Universal Book Reader for documents purchases online—it’s still a solid offering, one definitely worth checking out for yourself. Like Media365, Moon Reader is ad-supported but does have a premium version available in the Play Store.
Wattpad isn’t a traditional eBook reader, but it’s earned special mention from us thanks to its offering of free, independently-written books on its online marketplace. As a free online community focused on telling original stories (along with fanfiction, or stories based on non-original IP), Wattpad is a great way to check out up and coming authors that start writing online for free before eventually either going down the independent publishing route or selling to a full-fledged publisher.
The Wattpad app for Android allows you to sync and download your favorite and saved stories to your device for reading on the go, and with a customizable reading experience, it may be the definitive way to read your favorite Wattpad stories. But that’s not all—Wattpad also allows you to write your own stories on the go, even publishing them to the web for other Wattpad readers to check out. Wattpad may not be a traditional eBook reader, but when it comes to reading free, downloadable titles online from independent authors, Wattpad is the best source out there today.
Sure, Comics may not be focus on eBooks directly, but if prefer reading comics over a classic paperback, you can’t beat the experience offered by ComiXology. Although the app was purchased by Amazon back in 2014, ComiXology does maintain its own identity away from Kindle, in a similar setup as Audible. ComiXology has pretty much every comic you could imagine, ranging from major franchises (Marvel and DC), to smaller franchises (Dark Horse, Archie) and independent publishers. You’ll also find a large collection of manga to read here, complete with translations, and a ton of graphic novels, like the Scott Pilgrim collection or several different Batman graphic novels that tell a complete story.
Comics are available by both issue and collection, making it easy to read at your own pace. Finally, like we’ve seen with apps like Nook, Comics has a built-in grid-based reading system that makes it easy to read your comics one panel at a time. ComiXology is the biggest name in digital comics today, and it’s easy to see why. Their collection is large, their app is solid, and they have the backing of Amazon behind them. Definitely grab this one today.
If you don’t see an app that should be here, let us know what it is