Google Books vs Amazon Kindle

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E-Book lovers now have yet another shop from which to build up their digital library. Google has finally made its Google Books service available to UK users. What started out as a book scanning and search system is now a fully fledged online store as part of the Android Market Place. However, the dominant player in this field is Amazon’s Kindle platform. How do the two compare and does Google stand a chance of grabbing market share?

It has taken Google a long time to get the ball rolling with its Books service due to much legal wrangling over copyright. It invested big in scanning books and performing optical character recognition as part of its Google Books Library project.

While searching, users can now read excerpts from commercial books within their browser. In some cases the available sections are quite large, but you’ll never know which parts are and aren’t available until you look. When viewing a book at Google’s Book site, there are links to buy the book from online outlets, plus buying in electronic form direct from Google, if possible.

Amazon recently released a Google Chrome specific Kindle application. However, Google wins the advantage here because its Books website is not browser specific.

Just as with the Kindle, your place in each book is saved and synchronised across all devices. Google Books has applications available for Apple iOS devices and Android. In fact, the Books application has been in Android devices all year, but has been useless to UK users until now.

Within the mobile application, you can manage your library, selecting whether to stream books or store them for offline reading; and Android users can select which storage drive to use. The reading interface has a drop-down information panel giving the author, publication date and length of the book; along with a Google Plus button. The latter is clearly favouring Google’s own social network, but in the case of Android books can be shared to any social network via the Share menu.

While the Kindle application allows you to set the colour scheme of the page, Google Books has no such option. This means you’re stuck with black on white. That is a serious shortcoming, as different colour schemes can help people with accessibility issues. Also, displaying grey on black is much more power efficient for devices with an AMOLED screen.

Thanks to the library scanning heritage of the Google Books service, you can view the original scanned pages of the book. This is as opposed to viewing reflowed digital text. In most cases the latter will be far more readable. However, viewing the original scanned pages in context could help with illustrations or non-standard notation. This is definitely something you won’t see on Kindle.

As for the shopping experience on offer, Amazon’s massive selling power starts to take effect. It’s hard to say definitively, but the impression is that Amazon has the most comprehensive collection of commercial titles. Meanwhile, Google might just be better for those looking for obscure academic texts. Time will tell whether Google can make deals with as many publishing houses as Amazon have.

Google have managed to match Amazon’s prices on popular and best selling titles. However, when one starts looking for lesser known titles and authors, Google’s prices are significantly higher.

Amazon sells e-books in its own proprietary AZW format. However, there has been little reason for customers to decry them for a format lock-in. Besides its own Kindle devices, it has made software clients available for Google Chrome, iOS, Android and even Windows Phone 7. However, faithful Symbian users are still waiting!

Meanwhile Google uses the open ePub format with Adobe’s eBook DRM. This means that any device compatible with Adobe’s Digital Editions software can load e-books purchased from Google.

For Android and iOS users, shopping with both book stores is the obvious choice. However, if you have a Nook or Sony e-reader device, then investing in Google’s book store rather than Amazon’s might be a wiser choice.

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