After Years of Reading Books on My Phone, Here Are Some Apps and Tips on How to Get Started

Your smartphone can be distracting, and its screen is not ideal. But even so, it has many virtues.

Reading books on my phone
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I don’t read as much as I’d like to, but it’s not due to a lack of options. Not just because of the catalog, mind you: My to-read list grows at the same rate as my series, movie, and game lists. I’m talking about the options for reading at the device level.

Popular discourse favors reading books on paper—the original, purest, and most cherished form—but also reading e-books on Amazon’s Kindle or Rakuten’s Kobo.

This second option has gained more popularity due to the many virtues of these devices. E-ink screens are easy on the eyes, backlighting allows you to use them at night (and not disturb your partner), and water and dust resistance means you can take them to the pool and the beach. They also have fantastic battery life and options like the ability to highlight text and place digital bookmarks.

However, people continue to read e-books on their mobile phones or tablets. Some criticize these devices, and certainly, neither is ideal for readers.

Phone screens, often too bright, are not the best for long reading sessions. Then there's the other major drawback of mobile phones: There are too many distractions.

While reading, maybe you'll get the urge to scroll through different social media platforms. Or text, watch a YouTube video, texting, etc. It’s not that we can’t focus on something, it’s that we don’t want to.

For this reason, books or e-readers are also highly valued for reading: They don't invite distractions, so it's possible to “get in the zone” with them. That is, to reach the maximum level of concentration where we fully immerse ourselves in a books' pages, whether paper or digital, and lose track of time as we turn them. Of course, the fact that the book engages us also has something to do with it.

Reading on Your Smartphone Can Be a Great Experience

I know all these pros and cons very well, as I am sure you do too, and yet one thing is clear to meeading a book on a mobile phone is just fantastic. Or on a tablet, which is the same thing.

Kobo e-reader

I don’t always use it because my Kobo Libra H2O is my favorite reading device. The physical buttons for turning pages while holding it in one hand are a great invention, and being able to adjust the backlight by sliding your finger up and down the left side of the screen is another useful life hack. However, the e-reader has one problem: I don’t always take it with me.

This is the advantage of reading on a phone: I almost always have it with me. The fact that it's your companion is a fundamental advantage when it comes to using it for all sorts of things, and reading is undoubtedly one of them. But over the years, several applications and services have emerged that make reading on mobile phones and tablets a great option.

My Kindle Library

The best known is undoubtedly the Kindle mobile app (seen above), which does have a drawback: It doesn't allow you to buy books directly from app. Something inexplicable forces you to buy them in a browser on Windows, MacOS, or Linux, which will automatically add the book to your Kindle library. Apparently, if you install the Kindle app on Samsung devices from Samsung’s Galaxy Store and not from Google’s Play Store, it lets you buy books directly from the app, but I haven’t verified this personally.

Aside from this odd flaw, the Kindle app, like many of its alternatives, makes it very easy to enjoy reading. The customization options—such as background and font color, font type, brightness, etc.—compliment the functions that facilitate and enrich the reading experience, such as markers and Word Wise when reading in English to explain concepts.

The ability to synchronize everything we do on the phone with what we do on a Kindle e-reader is an advantage. The Kobo app offers the same benefits and I use it more frequently because I have a physical reader from the same brand.

I also take advantage of other apps like Moon+ Reader, my favorite for reading DRM-free books on mobile because of its fantastic options.

Moon+Reader App

One of the first that comes to mind is the ability to customize the page-turning gesture. I usually hold the phone with my left hand when I read on it, so I've configured it to turn the page forward when I tap the left side of the screen.

So, with a simple tap of my thumb in the lower left corner, I can move forward in the book, which frees me from the page-turning gesture. While the page-turning function is very enjoyable and similar to turning pages in a paper book, it could be tedious.

The second option, which I use a little less, is called “Automatic scrolling.” This function acts as a “teleprompter” and scrolls the lines up on the screen at a speed you set.

It’s a reading mode that has its advantages—such as the constant flow of the lines at the speed you choose without touching anything else—and disadvantages. One con is that this flow doesn't let you “rest” or take the time to reflect on the sentences that require more attention or invite a little pause.

Mobile phones also have another advantage: digital libraries. Some of them let you borrow books for 20 days. This lending model replicates the concept of a library but on your cell phone. You may not find the most recent books or the bestsellers, but the offer is incredible and can also mean savings for voracious readers.

For those types of readers, there are subscription services like Kindle Unlimited. I haven’t used it because I don’t have enough time to read, but it’s another great option to take advantage of on smartphones, tablets, and, of course, Kindle devices (or computers, which is another alternative, though probably used anecdotally).

In my case, reading on mobile has other interesting advantages. The first, as I  mentioned earlier, is that I always have my phone with me, so I can use it to read anytime, anywhere. I can even use it at night, before going to bed, although I always use my Kobo e-book reader. The only time I don’t use the Kobo is when I’m traveling.

Reading settings on a mobile

Finally, another advantage of phones is that you can adjust the book's font size. I have presbyopia, which is getting worse—not fun when you go out to dinner and the menu uses an Arial front in a size 12—and the advantage of phones and tablets is that you can adjust the font size to what’s most comfortable for you, so you don’t have to wear glasses. This option is also configurable on e-book readers, which is a small but noticeable disadvantage (at least for me) of paper books.

All this makes mobile reading a valuable option for me. It’s not the preferred one in my case, mind you: The Kobo e-reader still wins in usability, and I love reading a printed book, even if I don't do it as much anymore.

Is it that bad to read e-books on a mobile phone? Not for me. Photographer Chase Jarvis coined the phrase: “The best camera is the one that’s with you.” He even wrote a book with the same title. I thought of that quote when I was thinking about this question.

It may be as simple as that. The best way to read a book is the one you have with you. If it’s a paper book, an e-reader, a phone, or a tablet, it doesn’t matter. The important thing is that you’re reading.

Related | Best e-Readers: Which Model to Buy

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