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A Pocket Full of Books
[ Issue 157 Page 15 ] Tuesday, October 24, 2017, 02:07:48 Kun-Woo Song Staff Reporter kwsong0725@kaist.ac.kr
Play Books                        VS                           Kindle

In Korea, people call autumn the season of reading. While the act of reading has not change much, what we read has changed drastically as technology has advanced. Although there will always be those who prefer a hard copy and the feel of the physical book itself over a digital copy, one just cannot simply overlook the strength of eBooks that their original forms do not have: portability. An average 300-page book is around 2.6 megabytes, and in times like these where one terabyte, which is a million megabytes, is the size of a fingernail, people can carry around libraries within their phones. So for this month’s App Comparison, I will be comparing and contrasting two book apps from two tech giants: Google’s Play Books and Amazon’s Kindle.

Following recent trends focusing on simplicity, the designs for the apps are basic. Both feature a front page with books that the user has already bought with an expandable side bar, which allows people to navigate to their account information, store, and settings. While both have a similar design, Amazon’s Kindle brings more to the game with a slicker design, more options, such as a newsstand and a document reader, and a more organized store. On the other hand, Google’s Play Books, which also has a very simple and straightforward design, seems a bit disappointing considering what Google can do. Kindle’s simplicity seems to come from trying to not overwhelm the user by overcomplicating the design, but Play Books’ simplicity looks like a work of laziness — many designs are just a rehash of those for Play Store with a different color scheme. Considering how much more impressive the mobile YouTube app is in comparison to its web counterpart, Play Books’ design should not look this sloppy.

Although it falls behind in terms of design, Play Books appeals better to international users compared to Kindle. Amazon only sells its Kindle device on its English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese Amazon stores, severely limiting the amount of books from outside those language regions and books that are written in those languages. For instance, the only Korean books that are available are the most famous ones or the ones that are translated to the languages Kindle devices are available on. As a Korean, this is one huge flaw that I cannot overlook. Since the reason for downloading these apps is to read books, what is the point if the books aren’t available in the first place? On the other hand, Play Books supports a wider range of languages depending on which country the user’s Google Account is linked to.

In terms of other features, both have a surprising amount of customizability. Users can change the font style, size, and color, the margin, the line spacing, and the page color. I found this last feature the most useful as reading a book on a screen strains my eyes, and changing the color of the page into a less irritating one made the reading experience much easier. Also, both apps can be connected to the user’s Google Account or Amazon account, which allows syncing books with whatever device the user owns. However, Google’s lazy design holds the app back again with its lack of features. The only extra content that Kindle does not have is the blue light flux feature, which adjusts the amount of blue light depending on the time of the day. It’s interesting and worthwhile content, but it’s not good enough to stand up against the bundle of features Kindle provides. On Kindle, there is a dictionary ready for use when an unknown word pops up. There is also a feature called “Word Runner”, which aims to enhance the reader’s focus and reading speed by showing readers only a single word instead of the whole page and changing the word at a flexible time interval. However, the feature I was most surprised by on Kindle was an estimate of how long it will take for me to finish a chapter using the data of my previous reading speed. Despite its lack of books, Kindle was able to provide me the environment to read more and better.

Overall, both apps are worthwhile to use; neither of them are so horrible that books are unreadable or the app is unusable. However, in terms of the design and user-friendliness of the apps, Kindle achieves more than Play Books. While I would like to just use Kindle to read books on my phone, the only noteworthy problem — the number of available international books — forces me to use Play Books more as a Korean. If Amazon does attempt to expand its operations more globally, Kindle may become a better choice for international users. But for the time being, as my main priority is reading books instead of how well-designed or structured the app is, I expect to see Play Books more frequently on my phone’s tabs of running apps.

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