Google Books for Android is a mobile app, currently available only in the US, that allows you to purchase and read new e-books or browse a multitude of free, expired-copyright classics.
E-book readers such as the Amazon Kindle and Barnes & Noble Nook have become popular thanks to the convenience of carrying an entire library's worth of books on one device. But if you haven't got room in your budget for a Kindle, fret not: your Android phone can serve as a capable and pocket-size e-reader in its own right. Google has joined the e-publishing fray with its Google Books service, and now the Google Books app for Android brings the vast Google Books catalogue to your phone.
The app hooks into your Google account, so your Google Books library will automatically sync as you add books to it. You can save the books to an SD Card to free up device memory. If you haven't got a Google Books library yet, the app will start you out with Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Great Expectations and Pride and Prejudice. These classics and millions of other books are available for free because of expired copyrights.
You can also purchase new e-books using Google Checkout, a shopping service associated with your Google account. For your first purchase you must enter your credit card number and other data; but since subsequent purchases reuse your stored information, the transactions are very easy to complete.
The app is pretty limited in features. Some out-of-print books exist only as scans, photographic representations of the original. These books can be difficult to read and navigate - but on the other hand, they probably offer the only feasible way to access certain rare or out-of-print titles. Other books may have a functional table of contents and easy-to-read type; it just depends on the book. The more famous works of literature seem to be better supported in navigation and font clarity.
You can add to your library by pressing the 'Get ebooks' button. Browse by category, or run a search by title, author or keyword. We were surprised by the poor quality of the search results, given Google's web-search expertise; we often had to do quite a bit of digging to find what we wanted, even when we supplied the author's name. Hint to Google: if we run a search on an author's name, it's a safe bet that we want to see books written by that person, not a bunch of random junk that may contain an incidental mention of the person's name.
Unlike Amazon's Kindle app (which has improved a lot since we first reviewed it), the Google Books app does not let you bookmark or annotate pages, nor can you select text and look up its definition. In fact, the Kindle app provides a superior interface.
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