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Google Play Books for Android review: Google gives its e-book reader a lot more power

Looking for a solid e-reader app for your Android device? The newest version of Google Play Books is an awesome option. The thing is, it's still missing one key feature.

Jaymar Cabebe
Jaymar Cabebe Former Associate Editor

Jaymar Cabebe covers mobile apps and Windows software for CNET. While he may be a former host of the Android Atlas Weekly podcast, he doesn't hate iOS or Mac. Jaymar has worked in online media since 2007.

3 min read

The newest version of Google Play Books brings some much-needed functionality to a previously weak e-reader app. While the app isn't perfect yet, it's a heck of a lot closer than it was before its latest update.

Google Play Books (Android)

Google Play Books for Android

The Good

<b>Google Play Books</b> now comes with integrated Google Translate, Wikipedia, Maps, and other resources.

The Bad

You can only use Play Books to read books bought through Google Play.

The Bottom Line

Google Play Books can handle all of your basic e-reading needs and then some. Just don't expect it to be capable of importing books from third-party sources.

While Google Play Books' interface is unquestionably clean and easy to navigate, I do think it could use a bit more visual style. As it is now, the app feels sterile, with the book carousel sitting on top of a flat, dark gray backdrop. Alternatively, you can display your books in a list, but that's even less attractive.

The flat gray background here is a little stale, if you ask us. Screenshot by Jaymar Cabebe/CNET

The flow of Google Play Books is simple and intuitive. Once you purchase and download a book on Google Play, it automatically shows up in your Books app, on all of the devices that are connected to your Google account. To flip through a book, you can either use the scrubber bar at the bottom of the screen or the interactive table of contents via the button at the top. One thing I love about the in-book experience is the 3D page-turning animation. It's not ground-breaking, but it adds a bit of polish to an otherwise standard experience.

While you're reading, the app offers quite a few options as far as visual styling goes. There are three themes to choose from: Day (black text on white background), Night (white text on black background), and Sepia. And of course, there are options to change zoom level, font size, typeface, text alignment, and line height. Additionally, you can choose to see either a clean, "Flowing text" version of the book, or the original scanned pages, which are certainly fun, though not as easy to read. Tablets can display pages side by side, while phones (even in horizontal mode) are stuck with a single page per screen.

Google Play Books offers a handful of ways to customize your reading experience. Screenshot by Jaymar Cabebe/CNET

When it comes to features, Google Play Books sits somewhere near the front of the e-reader pack, though that wasn't always the case. With the newest update to the app, users finally get integrated translation, maps, dictionary, and highlighting. To see the tools in action, simply tap and hold on a block of text from the page and wait for the options to appear. Depending on what your target text is, Google will show you a quick description or definition, links to Wikipedia, a translation (powered by Google Translate), or even a map of a location. For me, these tools have been indispensable, especially when I find myself reading works with a lot of non-English text. The highlighter is also useful, as it comes with four different color options and can be enabled by tapping a button on the top of the screen. Curiously, though, I haven't found a way to un-highlight text, which is infuriating. Also, for school-related reading, it would be a huge help to be able to name bookmarks.

Tap and hold a word to see definitions, Wikipedia links, even maps. Screenshot by Jaymar Cabebe/CNET

By far, my biggest gripe about Google Play Books is that it doesn't import or sideload books. With so many sources of DRM-free e-books on the Web, not to mention my own personal collection of downloaded PDF e-books, it's a shame Google's e-reader app doesn't offer the feature. And I know there are swathes of users out there who feel the same way.

Google Play Books (Android)

Google Play Books for Android

Score Breakdown

Setup 10Features 8Interface 8Performance 10
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