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Google Play Books review

Chris Finnamore
7 Oct 2012
Our Rating 

A good start for Google, but the competition from Amazon, Apple and Kobo offer a more cohesive package

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It wasn't until March this year that Google combined all its disparate digital outlets into the new Google Play store. Previously, the Android Market and Google Music had been standalone services, as had Google eBooks. The free Play Books reader lets you read content bought or sourced from the store. It's a free download for Android phones and iOS devices including the iPhone and iPad, while a browser-based version should work with almost any browser and operating system. You'll need a Google account to use it.

Google Play Books Home

Google Books is functional rather than pretty

On the iPad, opening Play Books takes you first to your library, which displays any titles you've previously bought or sampled on a simple grey tray – there's no attempt to emulate the slick bookshelf look of iBooks. Titles can be sorted by date, title and author, sliding around obligingly when shifting between each. Once you've finished reading a publication or you've lost the will to go further, you can tidy it into an archive, leaving the main view for the most relevant titles. Book graphics are displayed above written titles.

Those using Play Books across more than one device will find that their reading progress is automatically saved and synchronised, along with any notes or bookmarks they make. The default reading view is a fullscreen white-on-black with a progress slider and page count at the foot of the display. Tapping the document body brings up a range of options that includes navigation by chapter, bookmarks or notes, a text search feature and book information.

The display options include day and night themes, a choice of several fonts, line spacing and text sizes, but it's possible to abandon flowable text and view a book's original page layout – the iPad's large screen makes this viable, but it's less practical on a smartphone. Long-pressing the document brings up a text selection tool that offers four colours of highlighting and the ability to enter notes, perform translations or a dictionary lookup, or search online or within the document text.

Google Play Books iPad reading view

You can highlight text to look up online

While the Android app's functionality is similar, its presentation and operation is a little different. The default carousel view displays books with their title and author, and on our Galaxy S’s screen there was room only for two titles, or four when viewing in landscape orientation. There's also a list view, but, with no sorting options, this isn’t ideal either. We found night mode most restful on the eyes and, on phones with an OLED screen, it ought to prolong battery life too.

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