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Like the idea of all-you-can-eat reading? These are the apps you need
Digital upended everything in media. Increasingly, all-you-can-eat subscription models replace owned collections. Instead of a stack of records or CDs, you have Apple Music and Spotify. Movies and TV? Netflix, Apple TV+, Prime Video, Disney+, and countless others.
The same’s true for reading. You might already have dabbled with apps linked to your public library, for borrowing virtual books. They can be a good, free option, but tend to have limited availability. No such problems exist in the subscription services we feature here, which enable you to gorge on the written word until your eyes beg for mercy.
($9.99/£7.99 per month; 30-day trial)
Best for an all-round reading experience
With Amazon’s broader reputation, you might not want to throw more cash into the company’s maw, but Kindle Unlimited does represent a great way to feast your eyes on a wealth of written material. Sign up, head to the app, and you can quickly get at many thousands of books. These initially sit in your library alongside existing purchases, but you can filter your list to Kindle Unlimited content if you wish.
The main reading interface is great, with plenty of flexibility in terms of fonts and layouts, and it makes good use of space on iPhone and iPad alike. There are options to display reading progress and highlights, although it’s a pity page animations can’t be entirely removed.
The books selection is solid, but some big publishers are absent. So you might dig deep into independent/self-published fare but not find everything you’d like from the best-seller charts. Magazines and comics are included too, but are best considered a bonus, because the experience of reading either content type is inferior to dedicated options mentioned elsewhere in this round-up. Still, if you’re keen on all types of reading matter, there’s no escaping the fact Kindle Unlimited offers excellent value.
($9.99/£9.99 per month; 30-day trial)
Best for books from major publishers
It’s a bold company that battles Amazon on its own turf, but Scribd differentiates itself in meaningful ways. The most overt is the service having deals with big publishing houses. This showcases that numbers aren’t everything: Kindle Unlimited has more books, but Scribd likely has more that you actually want to read.
Speaking of reading, the interface for doing so is faster and less fussy than Kindle’s, and the way you fold the corner of the page to keep your place is a nice touch. Again, being able to remove distracting page turn animations would be good.
Like Amazon, Scribd attempts to widen its reader base, with comics, newspapers and magazines – along with academic papers and sheet music. It’s unclear how useful the last of those two will be to the typical user, while the sliding page transitions irritate when reading comics. Newspapers and magazines are oddly presented only as individual stripped-back articles – fine for an iPhone, but sub-optimal for iPad. For books, though, Scribd is the real deal – especially if you’re wedded to quality books from major publishers.
($9.99/£7.99 per month; one-month trial)
Best for magazines from around the world
Kindle Unlimited includes magazines, but Readly is dedicated to them – and it shows. You don’t have to hunt around in a browser for titles to read – they’re right there in the app. Interestingly, the selection is worldwide, and you can filter it by country, along with defining individual publications as favorites for easier access.
The reading experience is fluid and flexible. On the relative screen acres of an iPad, you can opt for a single-page view in portrait and double-page spreads in landscape. On iPhone, you can pinch-zoom to read text or, in supported titles, tap a button to place text and images in a phone-optimized view.
Some publications even let you fill in crosswords. This aspect of Readly won’t make dedicated crossword apps sweat, but it neatly stores in-progress puzzles in a tab. Another houses bookmarked pages, complete with thumbnails and optional descriptions. As an added bonus, you can leaf through a selection of European newspapers. (Alas, there are none from the US.) In all, Readly is great value if you enjoy magazines and want access to a variety of titles.
Comixology Unlimited ($5.99 per month; 30-day trial)
Best for comics beyond spandex superheroes
The giant of digital comics, Comixology offers a quality reading experience on iPad and iPhone alike, with an optional panel-by-panel view for the smaller screen. The main Comixology service operates like a digital store, with you buying individual comics or collections; but Comixology Unlimited provides limitless access to any item on Comixology that has an ‘unlimited’ strap.
Comixology betters the broadly similar Marvel Unlimited in terms of variety. It has deals with a wide range of publishers, meaning you can move beyond spandex-clad superheroes and explore the best modern comics have to offer, such as Ed Brubaker’s crime tales, the ‘what if’ sci-fi of Skyward, and comic classics like Sandman.
There are downsides. Access tends to be for a few volumes in a series rather than complete runs. And the service being US-only means if you live elsewhere you’ll need to create a US Amazon account with a US address and hope you have a payment card it will accept. But once everything’s set up, the 25,000+ titles in the library should keep anyone who’s interested in comics occupied for months.