I’ve been looking for the perfect audiobook solution since moving to the Lumia line of smartphones.
Audiobooks are a great way to relax at the end of a hard day; they make train and bus journeys a pleasure; and can often make light work of heavy old tomes that you’ve always wanted to read, but never found the time.
But I am a fussy user. The ideal audiobook app for me has a pretty lengthy list of requirements. Let’s start with what I think are the absolute basics.
My audiobook app wishlist
Easy controls: I don’t want to have to use menus or tap through screens to achieve the basics. The best-in-class apps will integrate with the music player to offer transport controls on your lock screen, and respond to the buttons on my Monster headset.
More controls: As well as starting and stopping, I want to be able to move back and forwards a chapter. But perhaps most important is the ability to just nudge the track back a few (programmable) seconds: invaluable for those occasions when you get distracted.
Bookshelf: A nice interface with book covers and simple organisation features goes a long way to making me want to use an app.
Live Tiles: Give me one-tap access to my current favourite read. Bonus points if the Live Tile shows progress, extra information and the proper cover.
Cloud integration: Audiobooks can often weigh in at a few hundred megabytes. I’d prefer to leave the ones I’m not reading on Skydrive or other online service, rather than clog up the storage on my phone.
Multiple books: I tend to read a few books at once, according to my mood – something serious, something light-hearted; fiction and non-fiction. Please make it easy to switch between them, without losing my place.
Snooze timer: I like having these, but I have to admit that I am nearly always annoyed when they go off – just as a chapter is reaching its climax. YMMV, but for me it’s a nice-to-have, not a necessity.
So, with those things in mind, let’s look at some of the apps available.
There are lots of different options to consider in the Windows Phone Store. Let’s start with the most convenient and polished.
The Rolls Royce of audiobook apps?
Audible has existed as an audiobook service for a long time. Though more recent, the Windows Phone app has been available for over a year now, and has steadily become more feature-packed and solid with each release.
Usability is excellent and the interface is extremely attractive. Looking back at my wishlist of features, it packs in the lot, plus the novelty of voice commands, and also offers a quick entry to its shop for new audiobook purchases, as well. As with many recent app releases, it’s even been gamified, offering achievements and badges for doing lots of listening.
Another extra plus, the snooze timer can be set to turn off at the end of a chapter, rather than simply after a predetermined period of time. Much better.
If there’s a downside to Audible, it’s that it is a subscription service, costing £7.99 a month (though there are different introductory offers). That may seem like a lot, but it gets you a free book every month. Since commercial audiobooks read by the author or professional actors typically cost £20 or more, if you’re a fan of the format, it works out pretty well.
There are cheaper options, though. If the Rolls Royce of audiobook apps is a bit too rich for your pockets, then there are plenty of Vauxhall Astras to choose from.
Most of these revolve around the free audiobook library from Librivox. This is a library of public domain audiobooks, read by volunteers. If you love the classics and don’t mind an occasionally wooden performance (most of the volunteers are excellent, though, it should be noted), then Librivox is a treasure-house of free entertainment.
Libby (free) is a pleasantly designed, free app devoted to the service. It allows you to pick books from the Librivox library, or choose one at random and listen to them with many of the niceties described at the beginning of this article. It does have a downside, though – it can only stream the audiobooks, not store them offline.
It should be noted, though, that you can actually download the audio files direct from the Librivox website and play them using your normal music player app after synching the files from your computer. This will give you the benefit of offline use for free.
There are much better free and paid options, though, which is what we’ll cover in the second part of this article.
image credit: jeff_golden