Editor’s Note: This post has been updated to reflect our selections for 2016.
Books — the kind made of paper — aren’t gone, but in a world increasingly saturated with screens, it’s important to understand what your options are when it comes to diving into a good book or article by way of tablet or smartphone. We’ve found that these apps and services make it easier and more convenient to read from anywhere; they help you build a library that’s intuitive, easy, cleanly organized and totally weightless.
Amazon Kindle Unlimited
Because the thought of paying for each book you read sounds entirely unappealing, there is Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited. For $9.99 per month, you’ll gain access to over 700,000 books (a quickly growing number) and thousands of audiobooks. From classics to heralded best sellers, you’ll run out of mental energy before you run out of words to ingest. For those who already spend a lot of time in Amazon’s ecosystem, it’s a natural extension, and it’s available on pretty much every digital device, from iPhones to iPads, Android devices and any modern web browser. The only major rub is that existing Amazon Prime owners don’t get free or discounted access, but for 700,000 books at your fingertips, you can work past that.
Designed to hook into pretty much any online article service, this invaluable app ingests stories from anywhere on the web and reformats them to look good on a mobile display. Which is to say those pop-ups, colors and whiz-bang site graphics are stripped away, leaving you with words and words alone. Perhaps the biggest perk of Pocket is its offline mode, which enables you to download your stored articles locally to your device so that you can read while on a plane or in a distant village far from the worries of life. The app will automatically accept stories that are sent by email, copied into the app, or favorited on Twitter (by way of a useful IFTTT trigger). Oh, and did we mention it’s free?
Once you’re acclimated with Pocket, Short should be your next download. This free app accepts articles that are stored in Pocket, Instapaper, Readability and more, and then automatically sorts them by estimated reading time. You can filter by times (as short as 5 or 10 minutes), enabling you to know what you’re diving into before you tackle that introductory paragraph. An eye-pleasing night mode, a reading progress meter and share functionality make it a must-have for avid readers.
Those looking for an ideal way to digest the news need look no further than Flipboard. This free app allows users to subscribe to genres, channels or individual authors. In the Technology channel, for instance, you’ll find the day’s top tech news stories wound up in a flippable book format, with each article formatted to look the same despite being published from a range of sources. If the internet just seems too noisy, Flipboard adds serenity to keeping up with the beats that matter most to you.
Available for Android, iOS and Windows smartphones, Audible is an app that allows users not to read their favorite books, but listen to them. Subscriptions (which costs $15 a month) grant access to over 180,000 audiobooks on Amazon. So whether you know what book you want to listen to, or you want the app to help you discover something new, you’ll most likely find a book here to entertain yourself on your commute.
If you’re in a time crunch, NYT Now should be your go-to news app. It delivers the same content you’ll find on the NYTimes app, but in an easily digestible format for mobile. Readers receive summaries of articles and quick bullet points so that they understand what they’re reading quickly. And it’s not just stories from The New York Times; editors also handpick stories from the web that they found interesting, making this a one-stop news app.
Additional Contribution by Tucker Bowe.