If there's one thing that the latest trend on Facebook - sharing 10 books that stayed with you - proves it's that reading hasn't gone out of fashion even in the digital age. In fact, thanks to ebook readers and apps on mobile phones and tablets and even our PCs, it's easier than ever to have your book at hand at all times.
Most of these apps incorporate stores so that you can buy new books easily at any time and sync your progress in a book across devices so you can pick up and put down a book on any machine without losing your place. Features like night mode, to read in the dark without discomfort, annotations, adjustable fonts and formats, offline dictionaries, PDF support and so on have become industry-wide standards.
There are plenty of options to choose from today, some international and some homegrown, and we used them all before shortlisting 4 players: Kindle, Kobo, Flipkart and Rockstand. Since the apps are all free, you could just get them all, but scattering your library across different apps reduces the convenience so it's best to find one that you like, and stick with it. So which one should you choose? We help you decide. The first thing to consider is the platforms that these apps are available on, which is easy enough.
Since the overall feature-set is largely standardised, we've given a lot of importance to the UI and the books available. To determine the usefulness of the libraries available on each of the apps, we used Facebook's data on the 20 most popular books that were shared by its users, and also made another list with the top 10 books being sold by a popular books retailer in India. Here are the results.
As the most recognisable name in ebooks, Amazon's Kindle reader can be downloaded on just about any platform. Add to that the fact that it also makes what is perhaps the best ebook reader in the market and the Kindle app becomes a very compelling proposition.
The Kindle app is laid out in an intuitive manner, and makes it easy to find your books and read them. The first thing you see is the bookshelf, and you can move to a list view or sort the books. Page turns are smooth, and the view is extremely customisable. There are also some unique features, including the very helpful X-Ray. This feature is not available for all titles yet, but it lets you quickly find people and places in books. Book extras can show you things like characters and people, summary and note. All these extra features go a long way to providing the best reading experience available.
As you can see in the full table below, Kindle along with Kobo has the maximum number of available books from the top books that were shared on Facebook. Between the two, Kindle also provides better prices. For these reasons, Kindle is our top pick.
Pros: Best collection; Easy UI; Useful extra features
The Kobo ebook reader is probably the biggest real competitor to the Kindle these days. The Kobo app is also a very close competitor, with an equally appealing design.
Page turns are smooth and the app is beautifully designed. You can share annotations to Facebook with a touch, or show the author's notes where available. Similar to the X-Ray feature, Kobo has is called Beyond the Book - tap a button at the top of a page, and you see a screen with various links of topics related to the things mentioned in the book. If the book mentions a painter, Leonardo Da Vinci for instance, then the Beyond the Book section has a link to information about his works. The idea is that if you're reading a book and come across something new, then this section will help you to learn more without leaving the book.
The other thing that makes Kobo stand out - though some people might not like this feature - is the extensive gamification of reading. You get awards for building a library, re-reading books or reading classics. These awards pop up while you read, and can be a fun little incentive. Kobo actually tracks a lot of statistics about your reading, and is happy to share - in the app, you can see how many minutes you've been reading and how many pages, your total reading time, the number of awards you have, and even graphs showing when you are reading, and what.
The Kobo library is also pretty extensive, as the chart below shows. The downside is that it is somewhat more expensive than Amazon.
Pros: Gamification and stats; Excellent UI; Other useful features like Beyond the Book
Cons: More expensive than Kindle
The Flipkart app is quite competent, but falls short when compared directly to the international offerings. When you start the app, the first page you see is not your library, but rather the book store. The bookstore is wonderfully designed - you can see deals right away, and vertical scrolling takes you to categories while horizontal swipes show you the different books. But actually getting to the books you want to read takes two taps, and once you get there, the layout is utilitarian at best.
You can switch between the thumbnails and a list of books, and once you're reading, the functionality is very similar, with day/ night settings, scrolling and full control over the font and layout of the text. Amongst the four apps, we felt that the Flipkart app carries the least appeal in terms of the user interface. Although it offers the same basic functions as Kindle and Kobo, they are not as easy to find. Additionally, in Beyond the Book and X-Ray respectively, both Kobo and Kindle have functions that add value to the book you're reading - something Flipkart eBook lacks.
Despite all this, we still wouldn't write off the Flipkart app. For one thing, it makes it very easy to find deals on books. Also, while there were some gaps in the list of books, some books are significantly cheaper on Flipkart. The Facebook top 20 list gives the edge to Amazon, but the Landmark top 10 puts the two neck to neck. Newer Indian writers are sometimes easier to find on Flipkart, and cheaper too.
Pros: Good collection; Easy to find deals
Cons: Basic UI; No extra features
Compared to the other apps in this category, the Rockstand app seems the most basic. Like Flipkart ebooks, Rockstand also starts you off in the bookstore, and you have to navigate to your bookshelf. The actual reading experience also has the least customisation options available - you can change the font size, but not the font, and you can choose between day and night modes, with no sepia option - the other three readers all let you choose a sepia brown tint instead of just black and white, and many people find that colour easier to read on. Page turn animations are a little jerky too, and when you are reading, the spacing between lines and the margins is quite small (and cannot be changed) which can be annoying.
Also, if you look at either the top 20 Facebook books, or the top 10 Indian books right now, then you'll see that Rockstand falls far behind the competition in terms of its library.
So why would you want to get this app at all? There are a couple of reasons. For one, it started life as a magazine app, and if you want to find lots of Indian magazines, then Rockstand is actually a pretty good option. The prices and even the file sizes involved in downloading the magazines are clearly displayed, and there's a good selection available in various Indian languages.
Even the books have a large selection in various Indian languages, and if you want to buy and read content in Hindi, then Rockstand is a good choice. Other Indian books in English such as Mumbaistan, What Young India Wants, or Bindaas Zero, Bollywood Hero are all available through this app, and at far lower prices than Flipkart. Rockstand is not for everyone, but if you are reading these books, then this app is the best choice.
Pros: Large Indian collection; Indian language publications; low prices on many Indian books
Cons: Extremely basic interface; Very few international bestsellers
After spending time with all these apps across different platforms, we felt that Amazon's Kindle app was the best choice thanks to its availability across different platforms, and also its great library, particularly when you read a lot of international content. This is really highlighted by Facebook's list of books.
When you look at the list of bestsellers according to Landmark, the gap between Kindle and Flipkart eBooks is smaller, but we still preferred Amazon's app for its UI and added features. As you can see in the table below, when looking at the top ten bestsellers in India, Kobo doesn't deliver the best rates possible, so it isn't the top choice, even though we loved some of its extra gamification related features.