Audiobooks have never been more popular, and this can be seen in the number of player apps currently available on Google Play. In fact, the choice is so great that you would be forgiven for installing a substandard app.
So we’ve come to your rescue. It’s time to make sure you’re using one of the best audiobook players on your phone or tablet. We’ve whittled it down to a choice of three: Audible, Librivox, and Akimbo Player. Read on to find out which one we think is best.
Audiobooks: Take Them Anywhere!
For the uninitiated, audiobooks are recordings of a (usually) well-known actor reading a popular book. An example might be Nigel Planer reading “The Colour of Magic” by Terry Pratchett. Rather than pick up a book and do the reading yourself, the audiobook reads the story to you (although sometimes it might be a non-fiction title, perhaps an autobiography or instructional book).
In those times when you cannot easily read, an audiobook is ideal. You might want to enjoy a story while on a long drive, or to help you to sleep at night. Your job may be such that listening to an audiobook can bring some much-needed entertainment to an otherwise dull shift, or you might have a disability that makes audiobooks a far better option than printed copies.
For all of these situations, a smartphone app can help.
The industry leader is Audible. While not completely perfect, the now Amazon-owned service offers the most popular audiobook app (also available on Windows Phone, Windows 8, and iOS). As such, we can use it as a baseline for the other two apps in this comparison to be measured against.
Available free and integrated with your Amazon account, Audible features a nice selection of control options, such as variable speed, a process meter to reveal how far through the current chapter you are, and the ability to easily skip back 30 seconds and set bookmarks. Sharing options are also present, as well as a button free playback mode and a sleep mode.
The polish of the player component of Audible is matched by the style of the rest of the app where you can purchase and download audiobooks from Audible’s library. Credits are required to buy audiobooks, and unlike the rest of Amazon’s ecosystem, these are not cheap. You buy various subscriptions, starting from one credit (which equals one book) per month. The vast majority of titles are of a very good quality, however, read or performed by names as famous as Brian Cox, Stephen Fry, Alan Cumming, Jim Dale, Jeremy Irons, David Suchet, and so forth — and the purchase is secure and efficient.
So, with the baseline established, how do Librivox and Akimbo Player measure up?
Although the main user interface is a little busy, offering multiple sections to display the latest books, recent items in your library, genres, recommendations, etc., this portion of the app is configurable, so these can be added, removed and changed as needed.
Using the search tool to find material to listen to is simple, and once an audiobook is settled upon, you can listen to it chapter-by-chapter, with rewind and skip buttons and a progress bar accompanying the obligatory bookmark button and favourite and sharing options. The Description screen gives you the opportunity to rate and review the book in question, and the overall presentation of the app is of a good quality.
You may be distracted by the adverts on this free app, but these can be removed by upgrading to the premium version for $1.99 (£0.99 in the UK).
The problem is with the content. Librivox’s unique selling point is its content, largely audiobooks. Although there is the impression that premium books can be purchased, they’re tricky to find unless you know what you’re looking for.
Now, you may be thinking, “Yay! Free audiobooks!” But as great as free is, it comes with some problems.
Firstly, the quality of content may not be up to the standard you expect in terms of subject matter, research, and prose. Second, the audiobook is going to be something that is out of copyright or written especially for giving away. Third, and perhaps most important, is the production. Audiobooks work best when read or narrated by a good voice artist experienced with this sort of project. Sadly there are no Jeremy Irons or Brian Coxes in the Librivox library. Here, many of the voice artists are sadly substandard (although it would seem anyone can volunteer), and the production value is equally poor.
Another option for free audiobooks is a service called BookShouldbeFree, which we looked at previously. It suffers from many of the same quality issues as Librivox’s library, but some options stand out.
While the other aspects of Librivox’s app and service are comparable to Audible and the free nature of the library gives it a boost, the poor quality of the audiobooks lets it down.
Unlike Audible and Librivox, Akimbo Player dispenses with the online library for you to purchase and download your books and instead focuses on providing a solid audiobook player.
As a result, the player has been designed to play M4A, M4B (this includes iPod chaptered books), MP4, MP3, and ogg vorbis files. Those of you with long experience of music playing apps (essentially what this is) will perhaps not be surprised to learn of problems with the app’s ability to display the appropriate album art.
Direct syncing of files from the cloud isn’t possible with Akimbo Player, but the app can be configured to display content from virtually any directory on your phone.
Note that if your phone has no menu button, Akimbo Player cannot be prompted to open an audiobook file. Unfortunately, there’s no way to force a menu button to appear on your navbar without rooting your device and installing either an Xposed module or a custom ROM (OmniROM for the HTC One M7 activates a disabled button, enabling you to turn the logo into a hardware menu button). So if you’re using an unrooted device with a software navbar (like the Nexus 5 or Sony Xperia Z2), you may run into issues with this app.
Beyond this, however, Akimbo Player is a solid app that offers good skipping options (back and forth 10 seconds or 1 minute, all of which can be reconfigured in the settings screen). You’ll also find a vast selection of options for managing the library, volume and player controls. If you’ve got your own audiobooks and don’t want the restriction of shopping through Amazon or Librivox, Akimbo is for you.
Which Is Your Favourite?
Even if I wasn’t already using Audible, I feel that it would be my number one audiobook choice simply because of the quality of the titles available. However, there are some that are not available through Amazon’s service, so Librivox should be your next option before falling back on Akimbo Player if you find that all you need is a player for your existing (perhaps ripped from CD) audiobooks.
Which would you choose? Are you a fully paid-up member of the Audible fan club, or is there an audiobook player we have somehow overlooked? Use the comments box below to set us straight.