iOS client downloads and plays public domain titles
Every morning on my way to work I fire up Instacast on my iPhone and continue listening to one of the many podcasts I'm subscribed to. The conversations, jokes and the absence of music are the perfect way to wake up in the middle of hordes of zombie-like office workers commuting this early in the day.
For the last week I've been trying something different on my way home. Audiobooks aren't new to me but I haven't bought many in the last years. I recall listening one of Harry Potter's books even before watching any of the movies, giving me the freedom to imagine how that magical universe would look like. This was probably from a free trial with Audible, but I never got much into it. Maybe now I have some time available, I could catch up with some classic novels I had to read at school.
Audiobooks HQ by Inkstone Mobile is a player that allows you to access a vast library directly on your iPhone. There are different ways you can access the extensive collection of Librivox — over 5,000 public domain titles read by volunteers — but none is as convenient as this.
If you already use Instacast, this is like Instacast for Audiobooks. Without any type or sync or account subscription, simply browse the full catalogue directly from the device and download it (over Wi-Fi please!) Unfortunately, there's not type of streaming, so you'll need to wait for a big file to download — 370MB for Sherlock Holmes for instance — before it starts playing. In my experience this can be a bummer as you might not like the voice of the reader and there's not obvious way to stop the download. Then, of course, you'll be able to play your audiobook without any network connection, making it very useful for commuting and other trips.
HQ stands for high quality
The player itself includes all the features you would expect. There are buttons to skip 30 seconds back and forward, change the reading speed without altering the pitch and the option to set a sleep timer if you're listening to the audiobook at night. Now I recall my iPod didn't have this feature and once I woke up at 4:00AM with the book still playing and no idea where I left.
Something not very well advertised is that the name of the app Audiobooks HQ stands for high quality and not headquarters. Although it does make sense to think of HQ as the central place for all your audiobooks, the acronym refers to the high bitrate files available. It turns out some of the audiobooks out there compromise quality to make them much lighter to download and take less space on your hard drive. Tapping on the cog icon on the top right corner of the screen, you can access a settings menu and toggle high and normal quality.
Playback with style
One of the aspects that caught my eye was the presentation level. I won't compare with others, I'll just say music apps tend to stay on the background so the appearance isn't that important. Audiobooks HQ uses a similar theme to the one seen in iOS 6's own Music app. Light grey colours predominate, in the case of Audiobooks, with a warmer hint of beige. Main menus have deep red and graphite black gradients, much in the fashion of Google's YouTube apps.
The controls are big and chunky, with big bezels that adds depth. More interestingly the small art cover doubles as a mini menu where you can set the speed with a slider, select the tracks (chapters), arrange your bookmarks (notes you write) and set the automatic sleeper to shut the app up to one hour ahead.
Although Audiobooks could have gotten away with a basic, more utilitarian look, seeing all the pieces put together this nicely does matter. It's when you see the light diamond patterns in the background that you know the developer wanted to make more than just an app that works.
And speaking about working, Audiobooks HQ uses the native music controls on the lock screen and multitasking bar scrolling to the far left. With third party apps it's always wise to launch the app frequently, as these controls can start playing a podcast or music from different apps that were used more recently.
Overall, Audiobooks HQ is a great client to download and play audiobooks directly on your iPhone without the need of a computer. Although the free books are read by amateurs, I found some of great standard such as The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes read by a lady with noticeable British accent. Inkstone has prepared some default lists there for you to dive in directly without browsing the huge catalogue. What are you waiting for?