Smartphone e-Reader App Reviews: Google Books by Google

by | May 25, 2011

In the first review in this series I looked at Stanza, the versatile (but doomed?) e-book reader app for iOs devices: iPod Touch, iPhone and iPad. Today I’ll look at the Google Books App recently launched by Google to support their new Google eBookstore. Google says they have over 3,000,000 books available, and it could be true.

But to read those books you need a reader. Google offers their reader app in versions for iOs, Android, for the web and for Nook and Sony Reader devices.

Google Books is a much more typical app than Stanza. This is a stripped-down app with a minimum of functions and linked, with varying degrees of success to Google’s online eBookstore.

  • The Reading Screen—This is your basic, unadorned e-Book reading screen. You can control very little about the appearance of the screen, but it does an adequate job of showing your text. Locator numbers appear at the bottom of the screen to gauge your progress. Google Books offers only a reader. There is no annotation available in the app, no bookmarks, no highlighting.

    Google books reading screen

    Click to enlarge

  • Control screen—A tap brings up the control screen, with icons that lead to all the controls in the app. There won’t be much of a learning curve here, there is little for you to do other than read.
    Google control screen

    Click to enlarge

    Icons lead to the Contents, Type controls, Search and Book Info. Here’s what the Type controls look like:

    Google type controls

    Click to enlarge

    The only thing you can’t see here is the option to invert the screen to white on black instead of black on white. This is the smallest feature set I’ve seen on any e-book reader app. You have a choice of the seven fonts that are standard on the iPhone: Georgia, Baskerville, Cochin, Palatino, Times New Roman, Helvetica and Verdana. Sound familiar?

  • Store screen—You’ll notice a large button in the control screen above inviting you to view the book in the Google eBookstore. This exits the app and puts you into a mobile version of the website in Safari, the iOs browser. Unfortunately, once you’re there there’s no easy way to get back.
    Google store screen

    Click to enlarge

    While in the bookstore view you can leave comments and read comments from others. For instance, the book you see in these samples is ReWork by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, and there were over 1,000 user comments appended to the book listing.

  • Library screen—Like all the Google screens, this is a classic of simplicity. This is both Google’s strength and often its weakness, but here, in a simple listing, it works well. A soft drop shadow lends a bit of dimension to the little e-book covers. Although a handy progress bar shows how far you’ve gotten in your books, there’s no way to sort this list
    Google book list

    Click to enlarge

  • More App Notes—There are some other things about this app that are interesting. Here’s a look at a frozen-in-time page turn animation. You can choose to turn this effect on or off, by the way.

    Notice the back of the page, which does not have another page on it, just the reverse of the page you are turning. This is not uncommon in e-books, but it can tend to ruin the careful illusion these apps aim to create: that you are reading a “real” book.

    Google page turn

    Click to enlarge

    I was also interested to see how the reader handled the illustrations and large chapter openings from the book. Very well, as it turns out. They are set to take up a full page, and come across well considering the small screen. Here’s a sample:

    Google chapter

    Click to enlarge

    However, in other places the app can baffle you. For instance, there’s a menu choice to “Manage your books.” But when you select it, you are presented with a text message instructing you to go to the website and click something over there. This is a text message, mind you, there’s no link on the page. I guess you’re supposed to . . . write it down?

I took a look at the reviews in iTunes for the app. It wasn’t a pretty picture. Reviews with titles like “Painful,” “Noooooo,” and “DONT GET GOOGLE BOOKS” leapt out at me. There are over 250 1-star reviews for the app. I don’t think that’s quite fair. Users reported skipping pages in scanned books and that your personal Google books collection isn’t available in the app.

The Google Books app gives you access to the Google eBookstore and its millions of volumes, and it lets you read them. That’s about it. For what it is, it seems to work, although I didn’t go through the purchase cycle to actually buy a book. The feature Google has highlighted is the synchronization across different apps running on different platforms. This should allow you to stop reading on your phone, for example, and pick up at the same spot on your desktop PC.

Next up: Apple’s iBooks, Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook, and Kobo, not necessarily in that order.

Have you published to Google eBookstore? I’m curious about your experience, so leave a comment.

tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. Arlene Miller

    Interesting article and of particular interest to me this week. I had that deal they offered us at BAIPA to put our books on iPhone with Apple getting a third, the company (Indianic) getting a third, and us getting a third. They then said they were expanding to iPad and I had them put the app on iPad. I then got an e-mail from an unhappy customer who said it couldn’t be read on iPad even with enlarging. He bought the Kindle book and wanted a refund for the app on iPad. He couldn’t get anywhere with Apple, so I did send him the refund for customer relations sake. Since I didn’t want this to happen again, I took the app off Ipad and Iphone and am going to just put it on myself, that is when I figure out how! Guess the moral of the story is don’t put anything out you cannot see ahead of time — and keep most of the control yourself!

    • Joel Friedlander

      Excellent advice, Arlene, thanks for that. There are so many variables in how a print book will translate to e-book formats it’s wise to not lost complete control of the process. I’ve heard this same story from other authors who then went and got their own conversions done and who were much happier as a result. Good luck with the project.



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