Google's desire to get people spending in its Play Store is illustrated not only by the quality of the bargain Nexus 7 tablet, but also the consumer-friendly nature of its media apps, including Google Play Movies & TV, and this app: Google Play Books. The challenge here for Google is to persuade Android smartphone- and in particular Android tablet-toting bookworms that they can eschew Amazon's Kindle apps and hardware in favour of Google's own e-reader app, and buy books from the Play Store, rather than Amazon.
It succeeds to a point: the Play Books app offers much the same experience as Amazon's Kindle app. But for those who use Kindle ereader devices and Android phones, there's no benefit to having multiple apps that can't talk to each other. See also: Best Android Apps.
Play Books comes pre-installed on the Nexus 7, on which we tested it. While we appreciate that, and the free Nexus 7 guidebook, we could have lived without the free Jeffrey Archer book (and you can't delete books from your account, of which more later). All new users of Google Play Books also get the more palatable Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Pride and Prejudice, and Great Expectations.
Open up the Play Books app and you will see these books, and any others you have purchased, displayed as book cover tiles. Books that are available for offline reading are marked by a blue dot. To remove a book from your library, Jeffrey Archer or otherwise, press and hold down on the book cover in your library and select 'Remove from this device' or 'Remove from Library'.
Adding books to Google Play Books
You will, of course, wish to add more books to your library. Doing so is simple: simply hit the shop icon at the top of the app. Then you can browse the selection of books on Google Play. You can search by title or author as well, Google being something of an expert on search. There are a lot of books in the Google Play Store now.
There are so many it is impossible to say how it compares with Amazon's vast repository of books, but licensing doesn't seem to be quite the issue it is for movies and TV episodes. And there is no reason why you wouldn't have both the Amazon Kindle app *and* Google Play Books on any Android devices you use for reading. The cost of books is broadly the same: around £7 for a new release.
Google Play Books: reading experience
That last sentence is true because Google Play Books offers a pretty good reading experience. To start of resume reading a book, you simply tap on the cover from inside the Play Books app. As with both the Kindle app and Kindle devices, should you wish to read the next page you tap the right side of the screen, or swipe from right to left. If you're reading a particularly tricky chapter and wish to turn back (and goodness knows Dr Seuss can be tough), you simple tap the left side or swipe the other way. It really is very intuitive.
Hit the middle of the screen and you can see the title of the book and the menu bar at the top of the screen, and at the bottom a slider that you can use to see where you are in the book. Unlike the Kindle app which offers your position in the book, Play Books deals in page number. Move around the slider to jump to a different part of the book.
In the menu bar at the top of the page are the search icon, an icon that when hit presents a drop down list of chapters and bookmarks, the Display Options, and a final settings drop-down that offers such options as 'About this book', 'Share', and 'Add bookmark', and so on. Here you can set books to be available to read offline, for instance. A critical option when by default Play Books is intended as a cloud service.
Google says: "Books that you read are automatically added to your library and downloaded to your device. If your device runs low on space, the local copies of books that you have not read recently may be removed to free up space." It works well, but before setting off on a long plane or train journey, it is worth checking that your chosen book is downloaded.
Display Options is crucial here. You can change the font size and line height to suit even the tiredest eyes. There are a selection of fonts from which to choose, and you can even change the alignment of text to right or centre, should you desire. Critically you can adjust the brightness here. Google Play Books also offers themes, although only two: day and night. Day is typical, black text on a white background.
The night theme reverses this, with white text on a black background making for easier reading in the dark (and for less spousal light pollution). These are all great options, although we miss the ability to choose sepia that the Kindle app offers: on a backlit screen softening the light is important. Amazon's app makes you use the device's own brightness settings to change the screen, however.
Google Play Books looks amazing on the Nexus 7, as you might expect, but it's also great on older tablets such as the original Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1.
We tried it on our Motorola Motoluxe smartphone and the experience was pretty good - as good as you could expect from a device with a 4in display.
Like the Kindle app, your books are synched across any Android devices upon which you have Google Play Books installed. So stop reading on a certain page on one device and you can seamlessly pick it up on another. In our tests this worked really well across Nexus 7, Galaxy Tab 10.1 and Motorola Motoluxe. And even though Amazon works in a similarly slick way, this is still impressive stuff.