It’s amusing to know that, even with the rise of e-books, tablets, and Amazon’s Kindle services and devices, recent studies show that Americans are reading less than in previous years. The media probably blames millennials, as they always do, but what are you going to do? I figure people can’t stop scrolling through their Facebook timelines in search of memes.
Books are easier to get and read than ever, thanks to improved channels of distribution and the ubiquity of connected devices. For those who want to read but are on a budget, there are several free alternatives in the Play Store ready for your reading pleasure. One of these options is Oodles, which offers quality e-books and audiobooks for the always-welcome price of zero. Nada!
When you first open the app, it asks you to create an account. Fortunately, for those of us who don’t like to create accounts, especially when the only account creation methods are Google and Facebook, there’s a “Sign-in later” option. It makes you wonder why the app asks you to create an account so early in the first place, especially if it isn’t required at all for the app to work properly. After this, you’re ready to use the app.
The main screen of Oodles shows two carousel-style sections: one for free e-books and another one for free audiobooks. Clicking on either will yield a grid (or list, it depends on the screen) with the available options. You’ll also have the option to swipe between different views, such as Categories, Top Books, and Top Authors. Think of the way the Play Store is organized and you’ll get an idea of what you will find here. Everything looks neat and works quickly enough.
When you choose a specific book, you’ll be directed to the book’s detail page. This will show the cover at the top, along with detailed information about the book and the option to download it. There’s also suggestions at the bottom, based on the book you chose. Since the available books here are probably not well-known, this is a crucial option and it’s nice that the developer decided to add it.
You can also browse your library of e-books and audiobooks, all neatly organized and with a percentage bar that shows you your current progress on that specific book. You can also import books you already own but are stored in your SD card or internal memory.
There’s a lot to say about this part of the app, so much that it merits a section of its own. When you finally download your books and are ready to consume them, you are treated with the reading screen.
I have mixed feelings regarding this specific activity, since some things work so well but, on the other hand, it looks outdated and out of place in a world where Android apps have gotten much more beautiful than they were just a couple of years ago.
The screen has a top and a bottom bar, each one with different controls and options. The problem is that these icons look like they were brought in a time machine right from the days of Gingerbread.
Some buttons even have a gradient color, something that is frowned upon in today’s design. Actually making things worse is the fact that not all of them are gradients. There’s no consistency between design languages here.
Anyways, regarding the functionality of the buttons themselves, they all work more or less like you would expect. At the top, you’ll find a list button which will let you browse the chapters of your book and jump to any of them directly. There’s also a button to save bookmarks (actual bookmarks, you know, not the browser-related ones).
Next to it you’ll find a search function that works rather well. There’s also an overflow menu for getting to the app’s settings (I will come back to this later), book information, and increase/decrease font size (even though there’s a dedicated button for that at the bottom).
At the bottom you’ll find more useful stuff, such as brightness control, toggle between day and night modes (awesome), rotation lock, and the aforementioned font size changer. There’s also a slider to move between pages, and a button to return to the page you were reading before acting on this slider.
The book part is invisibly divided in three columns. Hitting the center part will toggle the top and bottom bars, leaving more screen state for reading your book. Touching the right side will take you to the next page, while the left region will take you to the previous page. Swiping will also move you through the pages. These gestures and tap recognitions work swiftly enough, although swiping too fast generates a wonky animation.
Just as a Lannister always pays his debts, I am fulfilling my promise of coming back to the settings section. The options available here are actually richer than the options for the app itself. There’s options for changing appearance, margins, page turning, dictionary, colors, text, etc. Possibly every aspect that can be configured has some kind of entry. That’s really cool, but what’s with the design? If the icons weren’t Gingerbread enough, this settings app looks completely out of date.
The whole reading screen looks (and probably is) a library written by other developer and integrated to this app. There’s nothing wrong with that, but at least some additional work could have been made in order to avoid such an inconsistent experience.
You can download your audiobooks in different parts (as opposed to a single big file) to make it lighter for your internet connection. The player for audiobooks works exactly as expected, with the book cover front and center, and then your regular buttons to play, pause, rewind, and similar events that you expect. There’s very little to say about it other than it works and audio quality is decent enough for an audiobook.
Being a free app by an independent developer, ads are expected. These come in two different flavors: a banner at the bottom of the screen, and a full-screen ad when you leave the reader screen.
I never hide my hate for full-screen ads, and I won’t start today. It’s really unfortunate that user experience has to be interrupted in such an abrupt manner in order to get the revenue to pay the bills. That’s the way the current market is, however, and there’s nothing in the near future that will change this. At least I haven’t seen a full-screen video ad yet.
Touching the gear button at the top of the main screen will take you to the app’s settings screen. Even though it seems full, it’s probably the settings screen with the least amount of options I’ve ever seen.
You can change your language, although it’s limited to English and another language that I can’t understand (sorry for the ignorance).
A kind of cool feature comes in the form of reminders. You can ask the app to remind you at a specific time that you need to stop being lazy and read those books you downloaded. These can be configured for any time of the day, any day of the week.
There’s also the option to remove ads (thankfully) and share the app with your friends. Other than that, there’s no noteworthy aspects to analyze further.
Oodles does a good job in categorizing and providing a nice one-stop place to download e-books and audiobooks. The problems start to show up when you’re reading the books themselves, with a really outdated library to handle the situation.
If you can ignore the fact that the reading interface looks like the apps you used on your Samsung Galaxy S2 back in 2011, then you can use Oodles to satisfy your reading needs.