Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Five Android Apps for the 21st Century Reader

I recently joined the rest of the 21st Century and got myself a smart phone.  Or rather, my wife got one for me.  She found a rockin’ deal and was able to get two Droid Bionics for a whopping $0 with our biennial contract renewal.  Queen of the bargain, that one.  She takes after her mother.

But it was a dirty thing she did, because after less than a month of use I am totally and irrevocably hooked.  I freakin’ love this thing.  It’s the first thing I look at when I get up, and the last thing I look at when I go to bed.  Other than my wife, of course.  Hard to miss her when she’s laying right there next to me.  There are times, though, when even that almost doesn’t happen.  Is there a rehab clinic for smart phone users?  If so, it wouldn’t do me any good.  You have to want to kick the habit for rehab to actually work.

Part of the reason I love my smart phone so much is that, rather than hindering my existing hobbies, it augments them.  You know what I’m talking about.  Books.  Forget about Angry Birds and Facebook and internet porn (though some of those might get a little attention, too).  The books are where it’s at.  That’s why I’ve decided to list five of my favorite reading-oriented apps, along with a few more that deserve at least a mention.  Apologies in advance to any Appleheads out there, as all the apps discussed will be for the Android O/S.  I’m sure there are similar apps for the iPhone, as long as the powers at be haven’t struck them down with their Fascist Hammer of Smiting. 

1) Kindle and Nook Mobile – Yeah, I know they’re technically different applications, but since they do basically the same thing and are competing in basically the same market, I decided to combine them into one entry.  I only have the Kindle app myself, mostly because that’s the brand of e-reader I own.  But whatever side you happen to choose in the great eBook war (for me the die has been cast, and there is naught to do but wait and pray), either app allows you to do handy-dandy things like sync with your tablet device, read ebooks, and order new ebooks on the vendors’ respective websites.  They’re also completely free, and the stores have plenty of free books available for download.  Perhaps the greatest thing about these apps, however, is that they effectively eliminate the need for a Kindle or Nook.  You can do everything on your phone that you could do with your e-reader—not as easily, perhaps (screen size being an issue that immediately comes to mind), but for all intents and purposes it's basically the same functionality.  Now I’m never caught with a spare moment and nothing to read.  A comforting bit of knowledge, that. 

2) Google Play Books – Google Play Books, or Play Books by Google (the name has changed recently, so excuse me if I got it wrong), is also an e-reader, one that offers both free books and other books for a nominal fee.  Like everything else on this list, the app can be downloaded for free and even comes installed by default on some Android models.  Most of the free books are classics, but I’m an English major, so I dig classics.  Play Books also has some interesting features that separate it from other readers out there.  The coolest one to me was the fact that the copy of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes I downloaded could be displayed in the original text format (complete with ink splotches and archaic lettering) along with the original illustrations.  Can’t abide by the microscopic text?  No worries, just turn on the “flowing text” option and increase the font size.  The reader comes with a “read aloud” feature, though that piercing fembot voice can get damned annoying.  The only valid gripe I’ve heard of so far is that your books don’t actually reside on your phone; they have to be downloaded each time the app is started.  For someone with four or five books it isn’t going to be a problem, but if you have to download a library of 200+ books every time, it might get to be a data hog. 

3) Audible – I’m sure you’ve seen the commercials recently—a collection of ordinary people of different genders and ethnicities taking turns looking into the camera and telling you that only losers read their books.  All the cool kids are now listening to them using Audible.com.  Well, not really.  Close, though  They general conclude by saying something like, “Register today and get one audio book absolutely free!”  I listened to commands from the all-knowing box and did as it said, and I’m here to tell you that it’s not a gimmick—that first audio book is free.  Well, it actually is a gimmick, seeing as in order to get the audio book you have to sign up for a $15.96/month membership which kicks in automatically after your 30 day trial.  Me, I spat in Amazon’s face and promptly canceled my membership after my audio book finished downloading (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, if anyone is interested).  After listening to it, though, I was pretty impressed.  The recordings were of good quality, and the app even has the ability to change the play speed so you can avoid being put to sleep by a particularly laborious narrator.  And when you look at the cost (that $15/month membership allowed you to download 3 books a month), it works out to be way cheaper than buying audio books in other media.  I’m still not buying anymore books from them, though—cheap bastard, remember?

4) Aldiko – I was all set to recommend the Adobe Reader app to all you fine people in the blogosphere until I heard about Aldiko.  As far as I’m concerned, Adobe can go take a flying leap.  Aldiko does everything that the Adobe reader does and more.  For instance, one of my main frustrations with the reader app was that it didn’t save my place in a document when I closed the app.  I’m currently reading a pdf copy of  M.C.V. Egan’s The Bridge of Deaths, and it was pissing me off having to either scroll down to my place or searching for the chapter I read last.  Not so with Aldiko.  It holds your place for you (a novel concept, right?), and even reads .EPUB files as well.  Like everything else on the list so far, Aldiko has a ton of ebook titles for sale as well as numerous freebies.  And unlike the Kindle app, it doesn’t hose up the formatting of pdfs.  In all, it’s a great addition to your reading repertoire.

5) Google Reader – There are lots of RSS readers out there, and most of them have approximately the same features.  The reason why I singled out Google’s version is because 1) I use it, and 2) I can easily integrate it with the list of blogs I’m following under my blogger account (Google being the owner of Blogger.com and all) and keep tabs on all the competition—err, I mean my much admired counterparts.  Yeah, that’s it.  I can also star items that I’d like to go back and read or those on which I want to comment back at the blog.  I found this app to be much more useful than, say, the Blogger app, which was really only allows you to make blog posts.  And honestly, who wants to make a full blog post using the hunt-and-peck method on a tiny digital keyboard with gorilla fingers the size of bananas?  Not I, thank you very much.

There are also a few others that merit at least a passing mention.  Barcode Scanner, by ZXing Team allows you to scan a barcode and look up product information, sales listings, etc.  You can use it on just about anything, but I’ve found it especially useful for books.  Not sure if you want to pay $18 for a book in the store?  Use your phone’s camera to scan the bar code on it and see if you can find it listed somewhere online for cheaper.  For those of you who frequent goodreads.com, there’s a Goodreads app that offers most of the functionality of the website in an easy to use format.  Thingamabrarians will also find the Librarything Barcode Scanner helpful.  Similar the barcode scanner mentioned above, you use the Android camera to scan the book's barcode and it automatically uploads the book information to your Librarything library--way handier than the Dewey decimal system ever thought about being.  Finally, there’s Wattpad.  It’s a kind of come-one-come-all e-publishing service where any user can publish their content for the consumption of the masses.  The possibilities are endless… which probably means that the possibilities are mostly crap, but I’m including it here for completion’s sake.

If you have found any other apps to be helpful or enriching or just plain fun, please let me know.  I’m always on the lookout for new and fun ways to get my read on, and I bet there are other folks out there in the same boat.  And if you want to dispute any of the apps that made it onto my list, well you can do that too.  The more the merrier, I always say.

14 comments:

  1. I really like my nook app on my Android.
    More constructive than playing Angry Birds in boring meetings, LOL

    http://www.ManOfLaBook.com

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    1. Agreed! Though, a little mindless unconstructive fun is called for sometimes. :)

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  2. Welcome to the 21st Century!!! I love my smart phone, too! When I first got my phone I asked everyone I saw with a smart phone which apps they had. Some just looked at me like I was a crazy stalker chick, but others were happy to show off. I have lots that I have tried, but a few that I still use.
    1. Grocery IQ
    This one is great for shopping lists. You can scan in your favorite items to your favorites list so you have that specific brand on your list. So instead of just shampoo, you can have Suave Strawberry shampoo. You can share lists with others, so if your wife wants to send you shopping, she can just send your her list! Great large stores, two people, and speed shopping. I do speed shopping a lot. I go into one of these massive stores and I send my daughters down one side and I do the other. They have a copy of my list and check off stuff as they get it. I do the same. We cut our shopping time in half!

    2. Words with Friends
    Scrabble for the 21st Century. I don't play many games but this one is one I play everyday. You play it like regular scrabble. When I play my turn, the person I am playing with gets a message that it is now their turn. The gameboard is easy to use. You are not tied to the app. You play your turn and send it off, when it is your turn again, the games can beep you. You can have multiple games going at once.

    3. CLZ Books
    I use a program on my desktop called Book Collector from Collectorz.com. In that program, I keep track of all the AudioBooks, eBooks, Paper backed, and Hardcover books I have. I also track if I have read the book and my review of the book. CLZ Books is the app for my phone that syncs to my desktop program. If you are anything like me and read a LOT of books, sometimes you just can't remember all the details. This program is a time safer deluxe! Even though I haven't read all the books in my collection, I can at least keep from buying them twice. It has a companion program CLZ Barry that is a scanner program. So if you go to a year sale and buy a bunch of books you can scan them all into your book collector program. I like this program so much I also have the Movie Collector and Comic Collector versions, too.

    I am not affiliated with any of the above mentioned programs. Some are free or have free versions. I usually use the paid app if I really like the program, so these are the paid versions.

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    1. Wow, those all sound like deally cool apps. I already have Words With Friends already, but I haven't played it yet. I might also have to try that Collectorz app, though Librarything is my current book catalogue. It might be hard to get all those 700+ books transfered over. ;)

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    2. Collectorz will scan your drive too! I think I exported my list from Calibre into an excel doc then transferred it into Collectorz. So that took car of all my eBooks. My Audiobooks I either scanned the barcode or manually entered. All my paperbacks I scanned the barcodes for the ones currently in my room and I will slowly but surely get all the others scanned in too. Like you, I visited lots of used book stores, book swaps, and yard sales and I have many, many books around someplace. Just ask my husband!

      I like knowing what format a book is in (AudioBook, eBook, paperback, or hardcover)so I know where to look for it when I want to read it. Also, I like adding my review to the Plots & Notes page. Today I remember what I wrote for a review, but tomorrow ....

      Words with Friends ... I will look you up. I promise to take it easy on you for a day or two. LoL

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    3. LOL, I guess that means I need to create an WwF account, huh?

      Thanks for the tips. I'll have to look into this thing. Sounds nifty.

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  3. I didn't know there was a Kindle App for Android. Thanks for the information. Now I have it. Of all the Apps listed, the only one I use is Aldiko (and Angry Birds). I love that it allows me to put black background and white text. Though since I got an e-reader I use my smartphone for more useless things, like playing.

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    1. You're welcome! The kindle app can also do the black background as well as a sepia tone one.

      And I'm with you on the Angry Birds. It's way too adictive.

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  4. I have an iPhone and I love having books on my phone. My boyfriend is incredibly social so we spend a good deal of time out (we spend a good deal of time in, too, watching TiVo'd Jeopardy and reading together). It's not that I'm not social, but sometimes the environments become a little over-stimulating. That's when I pull out my phone and start reading on it. It works out perfectly!

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    1. I love the ability to whip out my phone and do some reading wherever I am. Comes in real handy when the wife drags me along somewhere shopping.

      Power to the readers!

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  5. Congrats on the new phone. I am safely entrenched in the 20th century and eying the 19th.. My goal is to do away with carrying a phone altogether. But for practical purposes, I can't.

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    1. I'm actually on the same page. I get yelled at by my wife constantly because I leave my phone at the house when I go out a lot of the time. There is a lot of freedom to be had not being at everyone's beck and call 24/7.

      Then again, being able to do all this crap on the go is pretty damn cool too.

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