eBook app reviews
eBook apps are programmes that runs on a computer, tablet or smartphone, and are designed to allow you to read eBooks.
They vary in the features that may impact on how easy you find them to use. We give an overview of the most popular apps on the UK market, and list some things you may want to bear in mind when thinking which one to get.
Reading with text-to-speech (TTS)
There are a number of apps for smart phones, tablets and computers that include synthetic speech or - more likely - can use the text-to-speech built into the device. Below are some of the more popular options.
Kindle for PC with accessibility
This free app is for Windows computers only. You need a Windows' screen reader to select and open a book, but when you open a book the built-in voice takes over for reading it.
For more information, visit the Kindle eBook apps page.
iBooks is available on the iPhone, iPad, iPod touch and Mac computers running Mavericks. The first three are touch screen devices. All four have a built-in screen reader called VoiceOver.
VoiceOver on a touch screen device will allow you to buy books from the iBookstore, browse the books on your device, and open and read them. You can read a book from start to finish with a single gesture, or read by line, word or even letter if you want to check the spelling of a word. Facilities like dictionary definition, search, highlight and annotation are also accessible.
iBooks on OS X Mavericks has a number of items that are unlabelled by VoiceOver, but otherwise it is similar to the touch screen variety.
For more information, visit the iBooks page
Kindle and Nook apps
The Kindle and Nook apps for iOS devices like the iPhone, iPad and iPod touch, and Android smartphones and tablet computers, work well with the screen readers built into these devices, VoiceOver and TalkBack.
The Nook apps contain an accessibility tutorial when it is used with a screen reader, while the Kindle app gives hints while you are using it.
One limitation of iOS eBook apps other than iBooks is that you cannot buy books from within the app - you must use a browser or another device to purchase books.
Kindle Fire is a tablet computer designed not just for reading, but for listening to audio and watching video.
The latest Kindle Fires have improved accessibility over previous versions. They are accessible "out of the box" to a blind reader, and have a magnification facility that can be easily turned on or off. The Kindle Fire HDX has a higher resolution screen than the Kindle Fire HD, and may therefore look clearer.
For more information, visit our Kindle devices page
Reading with magnification
For readers who have particular preferences for the size, shape or colour of text, there are lots of choices of eBook apps.
Even before you think about the options within an eBook app, you may want to consider the device you plan to use the app on. Computer screens can be extremely large, but the larger they are, the less portable they are. Tablet computers often now come in 7" and 10" variants, and smart phones have screens from 4" upwards. A new label of "phablet" is being applied to those devices that are phones, but with tablet-sized screens.
All eBook apps allow you to change the font size within a book, but not for the process of getting books onto the device, or browsing the books on it. All computers, and newer tablets and smartphones will include magnification which you can use for everything except reading; when you open a book, you can increase the font size and turn magnification off.
All the devices on which you can run an eBook app have bright colour screens that allow you to at least choose between three themes, commonly referred to as
- day - black text on white,
- night - white text on black, and
- sepia - black or dark brown text on off-white.
The Nook iOS app is unusual in that it allows you to choose your own colours for text and background. See our Nook apps page for more information.
These bright screens don't need an external light source - indeed, they may suffer from glare when one is present.
Reading with Braille
There are a number of eBook apps that allow a Braille display to be used. In most cases, a Bluetooth device - one that connects wirelessly - is required.
Adobe Digital Editions is an exception in that - on a Windows computer - it works with a number of screen readers and any Braille display that works with these screen readers can be used. See the Adobe Digital Editions page for more information.
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