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
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.