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Scribd (Android) review: A no-fuss e-book service with a growing catalog

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Editors' note, May 8, 2015: This review has been updated to include new books, audiobooks and comics added to Scribd's catalog.

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8.6

Scribd (Android)

The Good

The Scribd app has a pleasing design that's easy enough for anyone to use.

The Bad

While sizable, the app's book catalog is missing many current and classic top titles.

The Bottom Line

Cheaper than buying individual books, Scribd offers most of the books you want to read for a low monthly cost.

All the e-books you can read for a flat $9 monthly fee; that's the promise of Scribd. What started as a simple document-sharing service has grown into a place to read documents and e-books from both individuals and publishers. Scribd has apps for iOS, Android, and the Kindle Fire.

The app competes with Oyster , a similar e-book subscription service, and Amazon Kindle Unlimited, which also gives you unlimited access to select Kindle books for a monthly fee. However, the Scribd app gets an edge with a pleasing design that's even easier to use than the company's website, not to mention a no-fuss reading experience. It also has 45,000 audiobooks and more than 10,000 comics from Marvel, Archie and other publishers. Unfortunately, though Scribd has a library of more than 500,000 e-books, the selection is missing most of the top-selling books from the last decade.

Build your e-book library with Scribd (pictures)

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Setup and design

The Scribd app also lets you browse and read free documents that have been uploaded to the service, which span court documents, how-to manuals and research studies. However, I'll be focusing on the app's book subscription service in this review.

First, to access any part of the app, you need to sign up for a free Scribd account, which you can do with Facebook or your email. Then, to read books, you'll need to sign up for a monthly subscription. You get a free 30-day trial, but you'll still need to enter your payment information to get started. Once you're signed up, you can start reading any of the available e-books.

The app has a simple, clean design that's easy to navigate. The homepage is a bit bland, but it shows your most recently read items, followed by recommendations based on your reading history. However, the Browse page, where you can browse books by genre, such as Humor, Science Fiction and Romance, is colorful and engaging.

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Scribd has a simple, yet colorful design.

Screenshot by Sarah Mitroff/CNET

Each genre is organized into subgenres and themed groups. For instance, in the Fantasy genre, Historical, Epic and Paranormal are subgenres, while the groups include "Ladies Hunting Demons" and "Here Be Dragons." There are also book collections, which are curated by Scribd's staff and users. Anyone can create a new collection, which can either be public or private.

You swipe through the genre and subgenre pages to find books, and you tap on individual covers to learn more about that title. Each book has a dedicated information page, which shows the title, book cover, author, synopsis, reviews from other Scribd users and related titles. On that page, you can either add the book to your library to read later, or you can start reading it immediately by tapping the open-book icon in the middle of the cover. You can also add the book to your collections and download it to your device for offline reading.

The Scribd app also has a social feed, which shows your Scribd activity as well as your friends'. If you signed up with Facebook, you'll see activity here from your Facebook friends who also use Scribd.

Reading

Once you've found a book you want to start reading, you can open it up to get started. If you've ever read an e-book on your phone or tablet, the experience will feel familiar. You swipe or tap the edges of the screen to move forward or backward, and you can tap the middle of screen to bring up the menu.

While reading, you can highlight passages and add notes to your reading. Another handy feature allows you to zoom in on images by tapping them. You can also adjust the text size and style, select serif or sans-serif, and pick from day, night, or sepia mode. Whatever text size you choose will follow you from book to book, which can be a nuisance if you want large text for one title and smaller text for another.

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You can adjust the text size and background color while reading.

Screenshot by Sarah Mitroff/CNET

Most books are laid out in the same way you'd see in their paper versions, and the app does a really nice job of adjusting the text layout in landscape mode. Formatting and photos don't get lost in cookbooks and other lifestyle books, like they can in other e-book reading apps I've used.

Book selection

Scribd promises its digital shelves have more than 1 million titles, including 500,000 books from over 900 publishers, 45,000 audiobooks and 10,000 comics. However, the selection is a mixed bag, since many new releases and contemporary bestsellers are missing. The available titles are very similar to what you can get with competitor Oyster. There's Walter Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs, as well as titles from Ernest Hemingway and Mark Twain. Contemporary books include "Perks of Being a Wallflower" and Stephen King's "Under the Dome."

Also like Oyster, Scribd doesn't have literary classics such as "To Kill a Mockingbird" and "The Catcher in the Rye." Popular new releases, including the "Hunger Games" series and "Gone Girl," are absent as well.

While Scribd's selection is lacking in places, you can request to have new books you want to read added and the team will try its best to make that book available.

Final thoughts

For $9 per month, Scribd gives you all the e-books you can read. The app is simply designed and doesn't get in the way when all you want to do is read. Access to free documents on Scribd is also a plus. Overall, Scribd is a well-designed app that delivers.

The only downside of Scribd is that the book selection is a bit behind Oyster, which costs just one dollar more per month. However, Scribd's app is slightly easier to navigate and use than Oyster's. When choosing between the two, you'll need to decide which matters more; design or book selection.

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8.6

Scribd (Android)

Score Breakdown

Setup 8Features 8Interface 9.5Performance 9.5