Google unveiled its long-awaited eBook store this morning. What makes it different from, say, the Amazon eBook store? Well, sheer selection of titles for one: Google’s eBooks has debuted with over 3 million pieces of literature to choose from – including a vast library of free and public domain materials, many of which you won’t find anywhere else (trust me). It would appear Google’s massive digitalization efforts have paid off.
Perhaps more exciting is that Google has simultaneously made available its Books application on a range of devices – Android included, of course. But, if you’re stuck with a piece of iOS hardware, there’s no need to fret. In fact, the Books app is available for Android, iOS, Kindle, Nook, and Sony devices.
Considering you’re reading this on Android Police, we can take a guess at which platform you’re most concerned with. I’ve taken the Books app for a spin, and while it’s no Gingerbread announcement, I’m thoroughly excited that eBooks has been released with Android devices so clearly in mind. Books for Android is no half-baked scheme.
Upon installing Books, the app will ask which Google account you wish to sync with, along with a couple of permissions requests. Books syncs to your phone just as Gmail, Calendar, and Contacts do, and like them, sync may be toggled on or off. At this point, only one account at a time is supported, though you can easily flip between two different accounts.
Any books you purchase or add to your account on the web interface will automatically sync to your phone (and any other devices with the Books app), and Google automatically adds three of their most popular public domain titles by default. Unlike Amazon’s Kindle app, Books syncs extremely quickly. The sync also remembers what page you last left off on, from whichever device you were last reading on, for all of your books. Awesome.
Unfortunately, as Android has yet to support in-app purchases, any eBooks you don’t get on your PC must be acquired through the mobile version of Google eBooks website. The site itself isn’t bad at all – it’s just like most of the Google mobile pages – but it just never feels as smooth to have a website replace what should really be an in-app function.
Additionally, your first purchase will also be quite annoying if you make it on your phone – you’ll have to enter your account password, accept two disclaimers, and be signed up for Google Checkout. It’s a little work that you will only have to do once (so long as you have your browser set to keep cache and password data), but really Google? I think at least the disclaimers and account information could have been integrated into the app itself.
My gripes about Books end there.
The app is snappy, easy on the eyes, and makes reading on your phone a joy. By default, your books will have black text on a white background. As you may know, this is a massive waste of battery. Luckily, Google installed a very friendly and customizable settings menu (note: it’s only accessible while you’re inside a book) which allows you to adjust your reading experience in a way that is much less power-hungry. On the left is the default view, on the right are my adjusted settings. You can also see that if you hover near the bottom of the screen, a scroll bar will appear to allow you to quickly navigate your reading material.
What sort of view settings can you choose from? Text size, text font (I prefer sans serif myself), line spacing, justification, “theme” (black on white or white on black), and a special screen brightness override option that will automatically adjust your screen to the selected level when you start reading.
Books has a surprising number of other features as well: configurable storage location (SD vs. internal), selective forced download (to ensure offline reading), table of contents navigation menus, the ability to view an original scan versus a transcription, book management (you can delete books from your account from here), and three sort order options. The lack of a bookmark function may be annoying for those who like to self-annotate, but for most of us, Google’s sync remembering our last page number is probably sufficient.
Mysteriously absent is an in-text search function, a bit of an oddity for an app coming from the kings of query. I imagine we’ll inevitably see this in a later version, though.
While I’ve yet to do any determinative battery drain tests, I imagine a black background at 10% brightness isn’t exactly drinking down the juice.
The big question is, compared to Kindle for Android, how does Books stack up? Books has a few definite advantages: Google account sync and cloud storage, more view options, a larger book selection, a smoother and snappier (I would say) UI, and much more configurable storage options. I’m not saying Kindle for Android is bad – it’s really pretty good – but Books just seems better, and in some important ways