Android eBook apps

Lots of smartphones and tablet computers use Android, including devices like the Kindle Fire, Kobo Arc and Nook HDs. Android is designed by Google. It has an app store called the Play Store, from which you can get lots of eBook apps.

Android accessibility

The two most recent versions of Android are 4.2 (Jelly Bean) and 4.4 (KitKat), and they include:

  • A screen reader called TalkBack, which can be turned on by someone who cannot see the screen during the initial setup or later. TalkBack supports some Bluetooth Braille displays.
  • A magnifier gesture which has to be turned on in Settings.

There are two main problems with Android accessibility:

  • Skins. Some manufacturers choose to put a "skin" on top of Android. A skin is designed to improve the way Android works, or to give it the branded look a manufacturer prefers. Skins can interfere with the accessibility features built into Android.
  • Fragmentation. Google update Android regularly, but manufacturers are under no obligation to use the latest version, or make updates available for a specific device.

Play Books

Play Books is a free eBook app from Google, and it is available through the Play Store.

For low vision users, Play Books has the usual options for colour (day, night or sepia), typeface and font size. It also allows changes to justification and line spacing, and there is a "Read aloud" option in the menu at the top right of the screen. To pause and restart the speech, tap the screen.

Play Books also works with TalkBack, the Android screen reader. You can use this to download and open a book, after which it automatically starts reading with the Read aloud feature. Tap twice with two fingers to pause and restart Read aloud.

When reading with Read aloud, the sentence being read is highlighted. There is no option to read by line, word or character.

Play Books on iOS

There is a version of Play Books available for the iPad, iPhone and iPod touch. It has many of the same features as the Android version, and works with Apple's built in VoiceOver screen reader.

Watch our video of Play Books for low vision readers

Watch our video of Play Books for blind readers

Nexus range

The Nexus range is intended to show off the benefits of Android. It uses the latest version of the operating system with no skin. Using a Nexus device usually gives you the best accessibility, although some Samsung devices have an invert colour option which is not available in pure Android.

The Nexus range currently consists of the Nexus 5 phone, Nexus 7 tablet and Nexus 10 tablet. The number refers to the size of the screen in inches.

Play Books is already installed on Nexus devices. You can also go to the Play Store and download a large number of eBook apps. Most of these don't support the protected books sold by the main eBook companies like Google or Amazon, but there are many that have good screen colour options. One example of the latter is Aldiko, which allows you to specify a point size between 4 and 40, and choose foreground and background colours from a palette of over 80 colours.

Watch our video of Nexus 10 for low vision users

Watch our video of Nexus 10 for speech users

Nook

The Nook app reads very well with TalkBack. The first time you open it while TalkBack is running, you are offered an overview of gestures that might be useful. It also allows you to change granularity so that you can read by character, word, line or page.

For low vision users, the Nook for Android app has the usual options. Many of these are hidden until Publisher Defaults are turned off, but you can then change font size, typeface, screen colours, margin, line spacing and justification.

Kindle

The Kindle app for Android has the usual display options except that the font shape cannot be changed.

An update in December 2013 introduced TalkBack access for the first time for Kindle books.

Hudl (from Tesco)

The Hudl is a tablet computer based on Android 4.2. Apart from its initial setup, for which TalkBack cannot be used, it has very little customisation other than an icon for going to the Tesco website. It already contains Play Books and access to the Play Store.

Tesco aim to release their own eBook app, blinkbox books, in 2014. When that happens, RNIB will review the device in more detail.

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