The Google Nexus family extends from Nexus 4 smartphone up through the Nexus 7 tablet and then the Nexus 10 with a 10-inch display. They're supported by the Google Play ecosystem of apps, music, books, magazines, movies and TV shows. This installment of the series looks primarily at eBooks on the Nexus 10.
Unlike the Barnes & Noble Nook HD, discussed in Part 4, which is a consumer tablet, the Google tablets are pure tablets. There are few restrictions on what apps can be deployed for Android, and while there are more than 700,000 Android apps, not all are full screen on the tablets. Google declines to break out how many are full screen tablet native and how many are basically smartphone apps that are viewed in their smaller size on the bigger tablet displays.
So that means that you're pretty much free to download and install other eBook readers, and Google doesn't exclude them from their ecosystem. For example, the Kindle, Kobo, Nook, Sony Reader and Google's own Play Books eBook readers are available. However, Apple does not make its own iBooks app available for Android. (But the Play Books app is available for iOS, so Google apparently feels comfortable competing on the merits.) You can dabble in any of those listed ecosystem you chose. Plus, like the iPad, the BlueFire and other eBook readers are also available.
Google says that there are over 4 million books available in Google Play, but they don't break out how many are free, public domain, self-published and how many are the fairly recent, major, popular best sellers in fiction and non-fiction. This seems to be a very competitive number that Barnes & Noble and Google don't want to talk about. Here's a short discussion, but it doesn't have numbers either.
One of the recent mystery novels
The Nexus tablets pure tablets, like the Apple iPad, and I wrote about my first impressions of the Nexus 10 out of the box recently, and the conclusion was that it's a fine product with certain conscious design decisions that will appeal to some but may geek out others.
Because it's hard to quantify the extent and quality of all these ecosystems with respect to books, one strategy is to buy a pure tablet, like the Nexus or the iPad, so that if the eBook you want isn't available in one, you can download one of the eBook readers of the other ecosystems, create and account, and buy it there.
The problem with that approach is that you'll fragment your eBook collection, and then the discussion of how you manage a collection comes up. This was discussed in Part 2 in "Managing a Digital Library."
Finally, if you do decide to stay on the pure tablet course, the Nexus and the iPad, the decision about which tablet to buy will be based on the price, specifications, richness of the app library, special features of interest such as side loading eBooks, and your feelings about each company. Also, it's reasonable to consider which company seems to be in the book sales business for the long haul. For example, Amazon is a company that has a long history of selling books, and so a tablet is a natural front end. Apple and Google, on the other hand, built those back end ecosystems in order to sell tablets.
The Nexus eBook Experience
Unlike the current state of the Nook HD and the Nook app for iOS, the two corresponding readers on the Google side are very similar in basic appearance. That is, the Play Books app in iOS looks almost identical to the Play Books app in Android on the Nexus, at least as far as initial presentation and features. One obvious difference is the settings because each OS has its own UI style. For example, here's Play Books on the iPad:
Play Books on iPad
And here's Play Books on the Nexus 10:
Play Books on Nexus tablet
The book, by the way, is Michael Brandman's Fool Me Twice, a continuation of Robert B. Parker's Jesse Stone series.
I noted that the "Sepia" background color, one of my favorites, is not available on the iOS version. Google says it just isn't doing it there.
I had some difficulty bringing up the tool bar, if that's what it should be called, at the top of each page on the Nexus. Sometimes the tool bar would drop down immediately, sometimes it wouldn't, and sometimes the page would turn unexpectedly. Bringing it up in iOS seemed more reliable.
Again, like the comparison I made to downloading apps in the First Impressions article, Google Play elects to present a generous full page on each book selection rather than Apple's smaller page which has tabs. The information is all the same, but it does make one wonder why one company makes you select tabs and another company tries to fit it all on a page. Each is different, not better.
On iOS, the page turn graphic is just like iBooks. But on the Nexus itself, there is an interesting, alternative 3D animation. I'll guess that because Apple has a patent on that page turn animation, the iOS version will eventually look like the Android version. Here's a screen shot.
Play Books (Nexus) page turn animation.
When you launch Play Books on the Nexus, by default, you'll see a grid with the covers of the books you bought -- a showcase effect. It's pretty, until you accumulate a lot of books, I surmise. The vertical ellipsis on the top right provides an option to view as a list, from oldest to newest, but I didn't see any mechanism to sort books into collections like Apple's iBooks. I checked with Google, and there isn't.
The showcase looks nice, but isn't very flexible.
I asked Google how recommendations are created. My representative said that it's based on previously purchased books and books that are popular in your country. But there's no explicit mechanism to express preferences as Barnes and Noble does. My subjective impression here is that Barnes and Noble goes the extra mile to help you find the kinds of books you love while Apple and Google settle for automated recommendations. But at least the recommendations are restricted to the shopping page, and you'll never see them outside the context of Google Play on your Nexus tablet.
Accessing the File System
Google suplies File Transfer app for OS X (10.5 or later) that allows you to see part of the Nexus file system and transfer files to and from your Mac. Unlike the Barnes & Noble app, the Nexus file system isn't mounted as a volume on the desktop. Instead, the app itself displays the files.
Nexus files are shown on the Mac inside the app window.
You might think this is a perfect opportunity to side load your own unprotected eBooks into Play Books, but Google doesn't allow that currently and has nothing to announce. This has to be considered somewhat of a disadvantage compared to other devices, like the iPad or Nook. But you can always use, for example, the Bluefire reader with Dropbox or other eBook readers. I should note that Bluefire 1.4 installed in Android 4.2 had some technical issues displaying content, and if I sort them out, I'll update this article.
The size, 10-inches, and the resolution (2560 x 1600) make the Nexus 10 better suited to reading magazines compared to the popular 7-inch tablets. For example, here's a page from the January, 2013 issue of Car and Driver. You can't change the font size, but you can zoom in. The larger the display, the easier that is.
A 9 or 10 inch display is better for magazines.
I found this magazine a lot easier to read than similar content on the 7-inch Barnes & Noble Nook HD. My advice is that if you want to extend beyond just books, whose font size can easily be made very large, seriously consider a Nook HD+ with a full 9-inch display, an Apple iPad 4 with a 9.7-inch display or the Nexus 10 with a 10-inch display.
There is a View Text mode that makes reading magazines a lot easier. It reformats the magazine and puts the photos in-line. This makes it especially easy to read magazines, but I'm still checking if this is supported on all magazine titles.
Amazon doesn't divulge the number of magazine offerings. The way I evaluate the scope of a magazine offerings is to look for esoteric scientific publications. When the offerings get down to Sky and Telescope and Scientific American, then I know the magazine stand is complete. Google isn't there yet, and there are only 28 titles in the Science and Technology category. (But I did find the more general, popular Astronomy magazine.)
Google told me that they recently struck a deal with Time Magazine, but that title isn't yet available. There are currently just 11 titles in News and Politics. I'd say that if your tastes are broad, you'll be okay. However, Amazon cites "thousands of magazines," so if you're looking for something special, that's probably a better source.
Google Play is Google's content ecosystem. On the Nexus, you access that with the Play Store app. The splash screen is a busy screen and offers the apps, music, books, magazine and Movies & TV categories all in one place.
Google Play shopping
For those more familiar with Apple's iOS, Apple partitions these categories. iBooks is for eBook purchases in the iBookstore. iTunes is for purchasing and managing music, movies and TV shows. Newsstand is for purchasing and managing newspapers and magazines. I think that that reflects the evolution of Apple's ecosystem offerings more than any conscious design. In any case, I found the Play Store rather busy in its presentation. Others might simply call it a rich visual presentation.
On the Nexus, individual apps manage the content categories. I looked at Play Books above. Below is a partial screen shot of the others. All these apps have tasteful, attractive presentations. But only time will tell how good they are at managing large collections.
For newspapers, Google offers the Currents app, "an app that allows you to discover, share and read your favorite news outlets, blogs and online magazines (what we together refer to as 'editions') on your smartphone or tablet—even when you’re offline." Here's more on Google Currents.
Partial screen shot showing the core "Play" apps.
One of the nice things about the Nexus 10 is that, for its size, it feels light. It's easy to hold, and, I think is a very nice size for reading books, magazines and newspapers. (Of course, the size and resolution also make it ideal for movies and TV shows.)
That said, the issue for many people is the ability to hold the tablet in one hand, especially in an armchair or bed. You can't do that with the Nexus 10, but you could with its smaller sibling, the Nexus 7 (or the iPad mini or Nook HD). So the decision boils down to whether you want a general purpose but small tablet used very conveniently for eBooks or whether you want a full size tablet that can display eBooks, but also magazines and movies in a larger, more pleasing format.
For reference only, here's a brief physical comparison. One should not select between these devices on specification alone. It's intended simply to give you a visual feel for the two devices.
iPad 3 (left), Nexus 10 (right).
|Nexus 10||iPad 4|
|10.4 x 7 x 0.35||9.5 x 7.3 x 0.37|
|Resolution||2560 x 1600||2048 x 1536|
|Display||10-inch PLS||9.7-inch IPS|
Articles in This Series
November 28: "Everything About eBooks & eReaders, Pt 1: Introduction"
November 29: "Everything About eBooks & eReaders, Pt 2: eBook Types"
December 4: "Everything About eBooks & eReaders, Pt 3: Apple's iPad"
December 12: "Everything About eBooks & eReaders, Pt 4: B&N Nook HD"
December 18: "Everything About eBooks & eReaders, Pt 5: Google Nexus 10"