Going Digital: Books

This is part of a mini-series of posts about 'Going Digital'. If you missed it you might want to read the introduction.

Books and Me

In theory, I love books. I'd love to be the kind of person that finishes a decent book once a week. In reality I'm great at starting reading books, and awful at finishing them. And I just don't get novels.

That means I'm probably not the best person to be talking about book readers.

But lately I have been reading books on web design and development.

eBooks have always made a lot of sense to me. I think the Kindle is a genius piece of technology. Why carry heavy books around with you when you can take one, small, electronic device? But, due to the fact that I'm a rubbish reader, I've never owned one, and so I've never really been an eBook reader.

When I bought an iPad, that all changed. I suddenly had a device that was great for reading long-form content on. It was time to Go Digital!

Reader Apps

To go digital with books and an iPad, you need a reader. And, like with music, when I first started looking, there wasn't an app that did what I wanted. My needs were:

  • runs on iOS – both iPhone and iPad optimised
  • synchronises both my library and reading position across devices
  • allows me to upload my own books (I've got some pretty big book files with lots of images)

Here's the main options I looked at:

  • iBooks
  • Kindle
  • Readmill
  • and…recently added…Google Play Books


It's awful. I hate it. It feels slow and clumsy. It syncs reading position but not books. At least, not always. It confused me. And your options for uploading your own books are severely limited (I think it's just the iTunes book store or uploading from an iOS device). Don't bother.


Kindle is a nice reader, if a little simple. You have the ability to upload up to 5GB of personal documents by email, or using an uploader app, and it's syncs your reading position.

Kindle also has the advantage that it can read Kindle books bought from Amazon's really rather large library. Something that, to my knowledge, you can't do with other reader apps.


I'd not heard of Readmill until I came across a button on a website I was downloading an eBook from. And I love it.

Readmill is an eBook Reader that incorporates the concept of 'Social Reading'. This means that other people can see what you're reading and the 'highlights' you've made from each book. It tracks how long you've been reading and can track your location and tell you where you've been reading, so you can observe your own reading habits.

The app is simple, but effective and beautiful. The typography is perfect. Visually it's my favourite reader app.

You can upload books to Readmill from a web browser and it syncs them, and your reading position and highlights, to your devices.

The downside: it's iOS only and it accepts a very limited set of book formats.

Google Play

As with other things, Google were late to the party here. Their iOS app is acceptable, but not amazing. It does all the syncing you'd expect, and you can upload up to 1000 of your own books/files to Google Play from the website, as long as they're smaller than 50MB each.

Apps verdict

As an iOS user I've adopted a combination of Readmill (for books I can download in the right format) and Kindle (for things bought from Amazon).

I'm not sure what I'd do if I had an Android device. Maybe I'd go Kindle all the way? Or maybe Google Play works better on Android?

Of course, if I had a Kindle, I'd use the Kindle app on other devices for sure.

So did you 'Go Digital'?

I still have a lot of paper books. And I've not bought any books for a long time. And, actually, those that I have have, for various odd reasons, been from Amazon in Kindle format.

And in terms of my web design and development reading, I'm semi-digital. I have bought some digital-only books, but in other cases I've wanted the hard copy too. Why? I think it's just because the experience of flicking through pages of a book can't actually be replicated fully on a digital device.

I'd say eBooks were on test. Maybe I will eventually fully convert and buy new books as eBooks only. But I'm not there yet.

What I do love is Readmill's social reading idea. It adds something to eBooks that you don't get with paper. And as someone who struggles to read I think it would be really great to share my reading within a community. I might encourage me to read more!

Do you read eBooks? What devices and apps do you use? What are your frustrations and what works? Do you just buy eBooks or do you still buy paper copies too? I'd be interested to hear your experiences.