OverDrive app for iOS: Free e-book downloads

Finally, a way to check out and read free e-books from public libraries, right on your iPhone--no iTunes required. But be prepared: setup's a hassle.

Rick Broida Senior Editor
Rick Broida is the author of numerous books and thousands of reviews, features and blog posts. He writes CNET's popular Cheapskate blog and co-hosts Protocol 1: A Travelers Podcast (about the TV show Travelers). He lives in Michigan, where he previously owned two escape rooms (chronicled in the ebook "I Was a Middle-Aged Zombie").
Rick Broida
2 min read
Once you get it configured, OverDrive Media Console makes it easy to download free e-books directly from your public library.
Once you get it configured, OverDrive Media Console makes it easy to download free e-books directly from your public library. OverDrive, Inc.

Back in November I told you about Bluefire Reader, an iOS app with support for the ePub e-book format used by many public libraries.

In other words, you can use it to check out books free of charge--but you had to do a lot of desktop hoop-jumping to make it happen.

Enter OverDrive Media Console, an app that cuts out the middleman (i.e., your PC). With OverDrive, you can download library e-books (and audiobooks!) directly to your iOS device. I just grabbed "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil," and I have "The Help" on hold.

That's the good news. The bad news is that getting the app set up is a major pain, and as e-book readers go, it's mediocre at best. Plus, the selection isn't what I'd call extensive, at least from my library.

To download books, you must first "Add a Website" (meaning choose your library). This bumps you out of OMC and into Safari, where you'll search for your library. Once you've found it, you can browse for books, choosing one to download or hold.

You'll need to supply your library card number, and possibly a PIN as well (which may require a visit to your actual library or its own Web site).

With that done and a book queued for downloading, OMC asks you for your Adobe ID (assuming you have one--if not, it's off to Adobe.com you go). Sign in, then go back to Safari and tap Download again. Bleh.

Thankfully, most of these steps are one-time hassles. Once OMC is all set up, it's a pretty simple matter to browse and download books.

But don't expect a lot of bells and whistles when it comes to actual reading. The app lets you adjust brightness, add bookmarks, and change font size, but that's about it. My real problem is with the layout: text is formatted into an unnecessarily narrow column, with no way to expand or even to hide the onscreen controls. It's not a universal app, so iPad users will have to suffice with a zoomed view. And it doesn't even support landscape orientation.

Consequently, although OverDrive Media Console makes e-book acquisition much easier than Bluefire Reader, you may want to stick with the latter for the moment.