Review of Top Free 30 Apps under Books Category – iPhone App Review Project

Below are my reviews for 30 Top Free app under Books Category from iPhone App Store的Books, ranking snapshot taken on 3/21/2015. (How my review project got started)

Before the Review

I kinda organized the apps under Books into a few categories, so that it’s easier to compare similar apps. Format below is App Name (Rank No.):
Books Top 30 -1 Books Top 30 -2


Kindle (#1), Wattpad (#2), NOOK (#3), Scribd (#7), eBook Search (#12), Google Play Books (#14), Free Books (#15), Manga Rock (#18), Manga Storm (#19), Ebook Reader (#23), Oyster(#25), DC Comics (#26)



Audible (#4), Audio Books (#9), Audiobooks (#22)



The Holy Bible (#5), La Biblia (#10), Superbook (#11), NKJV Bible (#20), Bible Reina Valera (#29)



OverDrive (#6), Hoopla Digital (#28)



Goodreads (#8)



Disney Storytime (#13), Learn Spanish Free (#17), Storybook Rhymes Volume 1 (#21), WeirdButTrue (#24), Storybook Rhymes Volume 2 (#27), Tips & Tricks – iPhone Secrets (#30)



Barnes & Noble (#16)


A comparison across TOP FREE, TOP PAID and TOP GROSSING:

Apps from TOP FREE 30 that also makes its way to TOP PAID 30: NKJV Bible
Apps from TOP FREE 30 that also makes its way to TOP GROSSING 30: successfully convert users to pay for the app or content:
  • Rank in Top Free: 5, Rank in Top Grossing: 13 — The Holy Bible – KJV
  • Rank in Top Free: 7, Rank in Top Grossing:1 —  Scribd
  • Rank in Top Free: 10, Rank in Top Grossing:11 — La Biblia
  • Rank in Top Free: 13, Rank in Top Grossing:19 — Disney Storytime
  • Rank in Top Free: 25, Rank in Top Grossing:18 — Oyster
  • Rank in Top Free: 26, Rank in Top Grossing:3 — DC Comics

Overall Take-aways:

  • Highest-ranked apps from Books are very well done. Although some of them do not have distinctive design, they excel in terms of functionality and smooth user experience. I noticed a decrease in both design and functionality quality starting around No. 20. This doesn’t mean, though, apps that ranked after No.30 have poor experience, it may be because they’ve got too few downloads to make to the top at the time of my snapshot.
  • Reading apps share a great amount of similar functionality. Same with audio book apps. Major differences: 1. book catalog focus; 2. whether reading/listening experience is optimized; 3. whether they support user communities (interactions with each other, online/offline events).
  • A few education- and e-Commerce-focused apps stay in Books category to get high ranks.
  • There are 5 apps to study Bible (2 of them are Spanish): religion is an important part of life.

Review Details

Reviews are organized based on my rough categorization above. I also include user reviews of each app at the time I did the app rank screenshots (3/21/2015).



#1. Kindle – Read Books, eBooks, Magazines, Newspapers & Textbook…

4.5 stars
People love Amazon. I don’t know whether there are more Kindle users than Apple iBook users, since iBook is not downloadable from App Store.
  • Must use Amazon login.
  • Access cloud or library in local disk. Can categorize books into groups – this is convenient, I can finish a book and put them into a “Done” group. I have the 1st-gen Kindle Fire, and would love to be able to group my books.
  • Reading: support all the basic tools – highlight, copy, add notes, look up in dictionary after select text. It’s cool to use free dictionary from Google, look up words in Wikipedia and Google Translate. Also easy to jump to different pages, add bookmarks.
  • Upload books: Kindle supports easy uploading via email/browser plugins. I noticed character displaying issues when I send certain Chinese articles, it doesn’t happen every time though.
Design: simple and clear, easy to understand and use. No eye-catching design, which is fine, because smooth reading experience is the most important. I noticed 2 minor inconvenience:
  • No search in the book list. If you want to search for a book, you need to open the menu and find it there. There’s also some UI glitches for the menu (maybe a iPhone 6 Plus adaptation thingy)
  • Need to click on the “Library” on top left. The wording “Library” is not easy to recognize as “Home” or simply a back button.
  • Kindle has a limited number of free books. Most books are priced. In 2014, Amazon launched Kindle Unlimited — unlimited books/audiobooks with $9.99/mo. But not all books are available for this program.

#2. Wattpad – Free Books and eBook Reader – Read Fiction…

5 stars
Mostly novels. Book catalog is smaller than Kindle. Wattpad is more like a reading community where users interacts with each other, rather than a book reading tool.
  • Access without login, or login with Facebook/Email. Need login if want to vote for a book, add to library, follow someone.
  • Switch languages: book recommendations change based on language preference.
  • Browser, filter books: very easy to use. Every book has synopsis, keywords (love this), number of chapters and similar books. It also shows number of views, votes and comments. You can add comments to a book (this func is similar to
  • Reading: love turning those pages, feeling smooth as butter. There’s a static page in between chapters, displaying number of views and votes. Prompt “Add to Library?” as you read further.
Design: Neat and light design style, I feel “reading is a relaxation” as I was using it.
Charges/Cross-sell/Upsell: N/A

#3. NOOK

4.5 stars
Built by Barnes & Noble. Both NOOK and Kindle have physical readers as well as apps like this, to get a larger user base.
  • Access with or without login. I think most users who downloaded this app should have signed up already. It’s still helpful to browse without committing to set up a profile.
  • Types of books: books, magazines, newspapers. Upload documents. I heard that Kindle can read magazines, but haven’t tried it yet, although I’ve been with it for years. NOOK recommends a magazine on the default homepage, it’s easier to know about the reading variety.
  • Reading: overall smooth – app provides Article View for magazine reading. Support basic reading tools like highlighting, adding notes, looking up words/phrases etc.
Design: can improve design details, so that it becomes more efficient and consistent across pages:
  • Read a book: the reading tools menu (e.g. change font size) dispears everytime after a tap, if want to change to other options, need to open the menu again.
  • Read a magazine: reading tools menu becomes a popup and looks very different from the book reading tools. Menu blocks most of the Article View content. Love the magazine table of contents — it displays title and featured image.
Charges/Cross-sell/Upsell: most books are priced.

#7. Scribd – Read Unlimited Books, Audiobooks, Documents, Magazines…

4.5 stars
Similar functionality to Kindle and other book reading tools. Have a huge book catalog and monthly membership fee.
  • Discover books: very thoughtful in book recommendation, such as providing Editor’s Choice.
  • Reading: support all the basic tools. I’m not sure whether the buttons in the reading screen make sense — it separates table of contents/add to collection/remove from library and View Bookmarks/Share/Related Books into two buttons. I think there’s a better way to re-organize them.
  • Social: can follow someone or get followers.
Design: it pays lots of attention to design details, even the default font — very neat and comfortable reading experience. As a user, I can feel their care for the readers from my heart.
Charges/Cross-sell/Upsell: one month free trial, after that $8.99/mo.

#12. eBook Search – Free Books for iBooks, Kindle, Nook, and more!

4.5 stars
  • Need to open the book using other apps, since this app only supports “Search” or “Read”
  • Have a big catalog. Search is enabled under sub-categories.
  • Add to Favorites, download iBooks, PDF, EPUB etc. I tried downloading a few, and some of them reached dead ends with errors.
Design: easy to use but design looks average. The Ads look a bit annoying because it’s kinda of flashy.
Charges/Cross-sell/Upsell: read free books or buy books.

#14. Google Play Books

3 stars
  • Must login to use. Support multiple logins.
  • Read recommended books or upload documents.
  • Search has some issues, surprisingly. Display “No Results” even it gives me other
  • Support all the basic tools for reading.
  • Loading a book is very slow.
Design: I was a bit disappointed as I had high expectations for Google Play Books. Lots to improve, for example, the reading tools menu covers almost the entire interfaces, which is unnecessary at all.
Charges/Cross-sell/Upsell: only found free book samples, not sure where to buy books.

#15. Free Books – 23,469 Classics To Go – The Ultimate Ebooks and Audiobooks

4.5 stars
  • Not too different from other reading tools
  • Reading: not a great experience. It uses Times New Roman as default font, my eyes didn’t like it. Word spacing is a bit weird, feeling crowded. The app crashed a few times when I tried to open table of contents.
  • Page loading is slow.
  • Users can email a book details page to a friend. After this action, there’s a message reminding users to download the book. I think it’s nice, but need to think about whether this scenario is valid.
  • Nothing special about the design. It’s an interesting idea to visualize book categories like books on a book shelf.
  • Ads popped up a few times as I went to a book details page, and disappears after a specified time, a bit annoying.
  • Click “download” to show two options: 1 download, 2 send via email. It’s a bit confusing. I think the send via email can be separated from this “download” button.
Charges/Cross-sell/Upsell: $3.99 to remove Ads

#18. Manga Rock – Best Manga Reader

4.5 stars
Nice app for comics/anime fans.
  • Select language, source. Have a big manga catalog, so happy for manga fans!
  • Easy to filter, sort manga books. Loading very fast.
  • Instant search for manga titles, authors
  • Save as your favorite, download or upload to cloud (need login)
  • Reading: great image quality, have Ads but they do not affect reading
Design: Nice design style — give me a feel that this is the tool for reading comics, smooth reading experience
Charges/Cross-sell/Upsell: $4.99 to read unlimited comics, and remove Ads from reading interface

#19. Manga Storm – The Ultimate Manga Reader

3.5 stars
Functionality/Use: It asked me to input a web URL to read. I had not idea how it works and totally lost interest of using it
Design: I’m not sure if there’s anything wrong with this app. But it has a very poor interface and seems to have no relationship with reading manga. Not able to search or know what manga to read.
Charges/Cross-sell/Upsell: click a button to purchase, but I didn’t know what the purchase is for.

#23. Ebook Reader

4 stars
Another ebook reader. Reading experience is okay, but doesn’t have much difference from other tools.
Functionality/Use: Only have a few books by default. Need login if want to read more.
Design: very common design style, nothing special. Its icons is big and scary, but a bit confusing — I got to know what it was for after click. So many icons in the bottom menu that a user needs to scroll to see them all. Better to simplify them.
Charges/Cross-sell/Upsell: need to login if want to read more, may have extra charge then.

#25. Oyster – Read Unlimited Books

4 stars
  • Login to use. Not too different from Scribd.
  • Every page and content is designed with care, even a category page.
  • Reading: my eyes love the default font. I’m sure they spent quite some time to find it. Support all the basic reading tools like highlighting text, adding notes.
Design: delicate design, very distinctive design style, even icons. Love the vertical scrolling. Not many apps do so. Display an estimate reading time for each book — I love details like this.
Charges/Cross-sell/Upsell: enjoy everything for free for 2 days — I feel this is so short as I’m getting used to 30-day free trials from most products/services today. Pay monthly or yearly, $13.00+/mo.

#26. DC Comics

3.5 stars
Reader for classic American comics.
  • Reading: great image quality. I love the comics reading tutorial, led by Superman. Superman tells you how to use this app, very interesting.
  • I opened a free comic book, seems it’s full of ads for books that you need to pay to read, which means as if you don’t pay, you can pretty much read nothing.
Design: Overall great, still have room to improve, for example: users have to turn page by page, or open thumbnail view to jump to other pages. It would be great to have a capability to quickly scroll to other pages.
Charges/Cross-sell/Upsell: pay to read comics.


#4. Audiobooks from Audible

4 stars
Owned by Amazon. I’ve been an Audible user for more than 3 years. In 2014, this was my primary way of “reading” books.
  • Need to login. New user can “try App” just to explore and download some samples. Nice.
  • Listening to books: support basic controls, such as play controls, adjusting speed, selecting chapters, add bookmarks, setting sleep timer, changing background color, “Button Free” mode (sliding finger to control listening)
  • Have Badge, Listening Levels. It may want to use this to make users listen more, but I personally don’t think this would have much impact, because I don’t care about the accomplishments. If there’s a community to interact with other users, or share them with my friends, it will be more useful.
Design: Lots of thoughtful details:
  • When a user deletes a book, Audible tells her/his the bookmarks and listening progress have been saved, s/he can continue from other devices. Love.
  • As a user downloads a book, if the book is ready to play, there will be a “Ready to Play” message. Now the user can tap on the book to start listening. Love.
  • If a book has been listened in other devices, a reminder message will be displayed, asking the user whether to continue from there. Love.
  • Things to improve. The “Button Free” mode is a bit weird. It’s not supported by default, you have to go to the menu > Button Free to enable and use it right there. I think this is a nice-to-have feature. It may be more important for video apps, because users look at the app as they watch videos – while users would not always look at the app as they listen. Their phone screen may also be locked when they listen, so “Button Free” is not a primary feature.
Charges/Cross-sell/Upsell: Audible has different levels of membership, monthly fee or annual fee. I have a monthly membership, $14.95/mo.

#9. Audio Books by Audiobooks

4.5 stars
  • Search, browse books, view book details
  • Support all the basic tools for reading: adjust speed, sleep timer, share, etc. Support “Button Free” mode (slide finger to go forward 30 secs, or backwards 30 secs)
  • “Now Playing” books is pinned at the bottom as you browse to other pages. Nice.
Design: nothing special about it’s design. App is easy to use and have a simple structure.
Charges/Cross-sell/Upsell: lots of free audio books. There may be audio books with charge but I didn’t find any.

#22. Audiobooks

4 stars
A big audio book catalog. Not too much difference from other audio book apps. Better look, and easy to use.
Functionality/Use: Search and browse audio books in categories, but do not support features like similar books. Auto add books that users’ve listened to into library, nice and easy.
Design: Clear and simple design, but nothing too special.
Charges/Cross-sell/Upsell: can listen to free audio books, or pay to listen to books with higher audio quality.


#5. The Holy Bible – King James Version

4.5 stars
  • Interesting navigation to jump to different chapters. It allows you to search keywords/abbreviation of chapter and verse number. I find this search is unique, seems it can’t be generalized to other apps.
  • Reading: support all the basic tools, highlight text, add notes, share, etc.
Design: Nothing special. It’s functionality-focused.
Charges/Cross-sell/Upsell: Free app. There are extra content for purchase, mostly $10+. I’m curious whether there are lots of people who make purchase — this app is one of the top apps after all.

#10. La Biblia Reina Valera (de estudio en Espanol)

4.5 stars
Bible in Spanish. I’ve no idea about Spanish, so I just tried different parts of the app and focused on the general functionality/design.
  • Use with or without login. Users land on Bible content reading by default.
  • Reading: support all the basic tools for reading. Navigation not as easy as app “The Holy Bible – King James Version”
Design: nothing special about design, fairly easy to use.
Charges/Cross-sell/Upsell: can purchase audio books and other related books.

#11. Superbook Kid’s Bible, Videos and Games

4.5 stars
A great gamified app to teach kids about Bible.
Functionality/Use: support all the basic tools for reading. It’s nice to add media related to certain paragraphs. It basically tells the Bible in a story format, with a combination of videos, games, Q&As. I feel this is not only helpful for kids to learn Bible, it can also be a great tool for adults.
Design: nothing special about the design itself, but I appreciate the great ideas of storytelling Bible: every figure, location has a profile image. I really feel the fun of using this app.
Charges/Cross-sell/Upsell: free. Users can login to join a DVD club. There may be charges for that.

#20. NKJV Bible for iPhone

4.5 stars
  • Use with or without login. Nice and rich content, including Bible, Atlas, Media (artwork etc). Great to expand knowledge and learn Bible from different angles.
  • For Atlas, it displays old towns in today’s Google Maps; Every piece of artwork has description; photos have clickable marks – some of the marks are not responding to clicks though.
  • Reading: support all the basic tools such as highlighting text, as well as jump to related maps and media files.
  • Every time users go to a new topics (e.g. from Bible to Atlas) it opens a new page. This is interesting. I think this can be optimized by re-organizing the app structure and menu, so that this feature may not even needed.
  • Can check overall Bible learning progress.
Design: my first impression is that I don’t like this design — rough design, confusing icons. I think it has great functionality, and will be even better if they pay more attention to design.
Charges/Cross-sell/Upsell: can buy other related books, mostly $10+

#29. Bible Reina Valera

4 stars
Another app to learn Bible (Spanish).
Functionality/Use: easy to use, dive into reading right after users open the app. Nice navigation design, can go to previous and next chapter easily.
Design: nothing special. It’s functionality-focused.
Charges/Cross-sell/Upsell: pay to remove Ads. Not clear on the price.


#6. OverDrive – Library eBooks and Audiobooks

4 stars
Built by Adobe. It’s an aggregator that connects local libraries around the world. If a user has membership for a library that works with this app, s/he can borrow a book using this app. Need library card/membership to login.
  • Need to login to use. Parents need to help kids under 13 years old need to set up accounts.
  • Add a Library. This is a physical library. You can select from libraries where you have membership, and borrow books from that library. Users can access that library website from OverDrive browser.
  • Reading: I didn’t have a library membership, therefore, I tried its functionality in general, and found that I can read a book sample. I clicked it, and Safari opened. Select words to enable dictionary. I thought the reading tool was built for mobile browser, but I was also curious about the reading experience in the app.
Design: nothing special, it doesn’t really have a distinctive design style. I noticed there were a couple things that made me confused, but they didn’t have negative impact for my reading experience:
  • Certain term sounds old in this app. If you want to log out, you need to “Deauthorize”. It actually makes sense in this app, because you authorize this app to access your libraries, but somehow I feel this term was very old and not intuitive.
  • When I read a book sample and tapped on the screen, there was a round button displayed in the middle of the screen. I was not very comfortable with its position. It was actually table of contents. I feel it can do better.
Charges/Cross-sell/Upsell: free app, but need to use with a library membership. May have other charges, depending up the library membership.

#28. Hoopla Digital

2.5 stars
Another app for digital libraries. Users can borrow movies, audio books, music and TV shows, etc.
Functionality/Use: users can browser without login. If want to borrow, need to have register with a library card. I’m not sure whether users can only borrow content that’s available from libraries that s/he has membership with.
Design: neat interface, prettier than OverDrive. I’m not sure if it actually works well, since it has such a low review score.
Charges/Cross-sell/Upsell: Not sure, may know after login. (Need a library card to register)



#8. Goodreads – Book Recommendations and Reviews…

4.5 stars
Great app overall, very popular among book lovers.
  • Browser or search for books.
  • Scan bar code to find books. I find this very interesting. It may be useful for those who like to write a review right after finish a book. I tend to look for book reviews before I purchase a book, so I wouldn’t have a bar code.
  • Users can connect Goodreads account with Amazon. I notice Goodreads uses this to recommend books to me, but I’m not sure if they use it to do something else.
  • Social:
    • Reading Challenge: interesting. Users can set number of books to read for this year, view friends’ challenges, track his/her reading progress and show off on Facebook and Twitter. I love this functionality: it strengthens connections among users, and make users stick to this app.
    • Can join user group and offline events. I love the events idea, seems it’s similar to, with a focus on books.
Design: overall very easy to use. Its theme color is light brown, very elegant. In terms of design details, it’s not as good as Scribd or Oyster — it uses Arial as the default font, sometimes word spacing is too small; discovering books simply list books under category text titles, rather than recommending most popular books.
Charges/Cross-sell/Upsell: didn’t notice any upgrade or features that users can pay to use. I’m curious how this company makes a living.



#13. Disney Storytime

3.5 stars
Disney is making money in every way: movie, parks, storybooks… and apps.
  • A reminder message shows up upon entering the app — remind you that this app has in-store purchase. Like it. It asks you to be cautious, although you may spend a lot in the app.
  • Users can set up your own book shelf, change avatar.
  • Have three books by default. Each book has the music, sound effects, reading voice that fits its style. You can record your own voice as well.
  • Parents are in charge of setup and purchase.
Design: excellent design, typicall Disney style. Every bit of detail is so “Disney” — fun and friendly interface, great music. A children’s voice guides users to go over each functionality. Very little learning curve.
Charges/Cross-sell/Upsell: three free books by default. All other book need to be purchased.

#17. Learn Spanish Free: Phrases & Vocabulary Words for Travel, Study…

4.5 stars
Nice app to learn Spanish, may be better in Education category, but can get higher ranks in Books, why not!?
  • This app teaches you most commonly use oral Spanish, rather than pronunciation basics. I think it’s really useful for travelers to Spanish-speaking countries.
  • Auto play audio for each sentence in the list, auto translate your searches.
  • Can play sentence in a slow mode. So thoughtful!
  • I tried to download a dictionary, it redirected me to App Store while displaying a “loading” sign. It took several minutes and still can’t finish loading, I had to quit the app.
  • Very cute and relaxed design. I love the big bird and the animated styles, making learning language so fun.
  • Cute design details – have “…” on the tree trunk to attract users to click — bam! it’s asking for reviews. :)
Charges/Cross-sell/Upsell: $4.99 to unlock all the lessons

#21. Storybook Rhymes Volume 1

3 stars
App for young kids to learn speaking. Nicely done, but too little content, only two very short songs in this app. There’s another app called Storybook Volume 2. If want to go over the entire series, parents need to download them all. Feeling exhausted.
  • Every songs have two modes: Read & Sing和Read & Play. There’s little difference between them, first mode the song was sung by a female voice; second mode the song was read.
  • Kids can follow the female voice to sing. The app would wait for kids to turn pages. If it thinks the waiting is too long, it would say, “turn the page”, “let’s read together”, ” hi there”. I love this friendly reminder.
Design: very cute design, lovely animation, voice, sound effects. It would be great to display lyrics at the last page of every story, so that the kids can read it out.
Charges/Cross-sell/Upsell: free app. Have promotion for its own app, but cannot tap on it, view only — doesn’t make sense.

#27. Storybook Rhymes Volume 2

4 stars
Similar to Volume 1. Very little content.

#24. WeirdButTrue

3.5 stars
Built for kids by National Geographic, educating kids about some weird but true facts.
  • For every fact, you can click on buttons like “That’s Weird”, “Like”. Click “That’s Weird” will bring up different animal shouting “That’s weird!”; click “Like” button, the button itself will start bounce in the screen. How weird!
  • Only adults can share via Facebook, Twitter and Email.
  • Werid-o-meter is interesting, but what’s next? There’s none. What a waste for this interesting concept…
Design: I think this app has interesting content but overall the design falls. It has to be gamified and re-designed to better educate, inspire kids, and get their attention. Maybe something like a Q&A game with friends.
Charges/Cross-sell/Upsell: parent can purchase two additional packs.

#30. Tips & Tricks – iPhone Secrets (Free App Edition)

4 stars
Functionality/Use: seems it fits better in categories than Books, but it wouldn’t get such a high rank in other categories. This app is straightforward: tips & tricks for using an iPhone. Have text, image, videos. Feels like a great how-to book. I don’t know how it can make users come back often, or it’s just a one-off experience.
Design: lots of content on the interface, a bit easy to lose focus. Reading is easy.
Charges/Cross-sell/Upsell: pay to remove Ads, or purchase other related apps.



#16. Barnes & Noble

4.5 stars
Barnes & Noble’s shopping app. May fit better in Lifestyles categories, but it would be get such a high rank there. I thought Barnes & Noble only sells book, but apparently it sells movies, TV shows, toys, gift, music, etc.
  • Similar to other e-Commerce apps, such as Amazon
  • Scan bar code, book cover
  • Find local book store events, such as storytelling events, book signing events. I love this — it connects readers with book authors and other readers.
Design: nothing special about the design, icons and buttons are big and clear. Designs can be improved, not as good as Amazon app. For example, in product details page, all the info are collapsed by default, users have to click to view them, while Amazon gives synopsis of each info section, such as provide a few lines of product description, first few reviews.
Charges/Cross-sell/Upsell: Pay to buy those products it sells.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *