Reading More Without Living Less

Utilizing a Smartphone for More Efficient Reading

October 11, 2012

When I first got my smart phone (an iPhone 4), I was coming from a simple flip phone with no bells or whistles — not even a texting plan. It was a bit of a jump, but a smooth transition, nonetheless.  So if you are reading this and don’t have a smartphone, I understand where you’re at, and hope this post doesn’t discourage you or make you feel like you can’t read as much.

That being said, using my smartphone has helped me in my reading, and helped me squeeze in a bit more than I would have otherwise (thanks to the small size and portability, specifically). For one, it combines two formats together in one very portable device. I’ll explain what apps and features I use, making my smartphone one of my most-used reading tools.


When it comes to reading, this is by far the most used app on my phone. Audible has many features that make it a superior app for listening to books, though once you’ve used their two free trial credits (one credit usually equals one book), it does require either purchasing books or buying a monthly membership. (It’s also possible to lend and borrow audiobooks among friends.)

I enjoy this app, because it’s easy to download audiobooks directly through my phone once I’ve purchased them/redeemed credits, and the files are all stored easily with well-divided transitions between chapters. The app also allows you to take and save notes, something that is important to me in remembering what I read; in Audible, it stores each note at the specific spot where you’ve bookmarked.

A favorite feature for me is being able to listen at varying narration speeds. (With all books, I generally begin at double speed, and then if I find it is hard to concentrate and listen, I reduce to single speed. With some fiction books, I’m able to listen at triple speed. (I promise, it’s not just empty words whizzing by. I’m actually listening and comprehending.))

The app also has a sleep mode: you can set Audible to pause after 15 minutes, and more 15-minute time increments up to 60 minutes. It’s also possible to set it to pause at the end of the chapter or book parts.

With the iPhone, you can also use the Audible app while using other apps that do not require a microphone or audio. (For instance, if I’m driving and need to use my maps app as a GPS, I can continue listening to my audiobook.)

(I’ll share a little more about Audible when I post more comprehensively about using audiobooks.)



Besides being a basic e-reader, the Kindle app has a lot of features I appreciate. It is quite easy to highlight text and take notes. These notes are then synced with your Amazon account and may be accessed from that account at a later time from other devices. If desired, you can even share highlighted portions and notes on Facebook or Twitter. You can hover over a word, and a dictionary defition will be shown — a timesaving option if you’re reading a book that you know will have unfamiliar words.

I prefer to have fewer devices, so I don’t plan to buy an e-Reader or Kindle since the Kindle app on my phone has served me well. The main disadvantage is that it has the small screen, so it is slower reading (at least for me).

If you have an Amazon Prime account and have an actual Kindle reader, there are a good number of books that can be borrowed for free.  This is one feature that I hope will be added to the Kindle app use in the future. (There are still quite frequently Kindle books available for free to anyone.)

There is also an app for Nook, but after having it on my phone for sometime without use, I deleted it.


Since I listen to a lot of audiobooks on my phone and read books via my Kindle app, it’s helpful to have the Goodreads app readily available for tracking my reading progress, especially if my reading is being done away from home. With the app, it’s easy update what page I’m on or add new books to my to-read list as I encounter book suggestions in my other reading.

It also has a scan feature, which is great if you find a book in a bookstore or elsewhere that you want to add to your to-read lists. Just scan the barcode, and Goodreads will find the book and you can then put it on the shelf of your choice.

As a social networking tool, I can also use it to check updates for what books my friends are adding and reading.


I do not use this as frequently as I do the Audible app, but I do use it occasionally to listen to audiobooks obtained from various sites or downloaded through iTunes. I’ve found that the chapters sometimes become unsorted and this problem is not present with Audible. I use this mostly for audiobooks that I’ve gotten for free through various sites.

This app also allows for varying narration speeds, though it only has 1/2 speed, normal, and double speed. There is not a note-taking feature, but I simply use the notepad feature if I need to take notes, though this does not have the benefit of bookmarking the spot in the audiobook to easily go back to later.

YouVersion Bible

Of the Bible reading apps I’ve surveyed, this is by far my favorite and, in my opinion, has the most extensive features and options, plus it’s free. You can select Bible reading plans, take notes, compare and share notes, and select from over 294 versions in 144 languages. You can sign up to have a daily alert or reminder app about your Bible reading plan. Several versions even have the option of listening to an audio version of the Bible. The HCSB, KJV, ESV, NIV, and NLT are several notable translations that offer this feature. Some versions also allow download for use if Internet is not accessible.

We keep all three of our young children with us during church services, and with an infant in arms, this makes it very helpful to read and reference my Bible during reading and preaching times. Some people might say I’m technically not bringing a Bible to church, but technically I’m actually bringing nearly 300 different Bibles, and it’s far more practical for me at this stage. (Thankfully I attend a church where digital versions of Scripture are not only accepted, but also prevalent.)

When I Might Be Reading/Listening with My Phone:

In bed while helping a baby or child get to sleep, both at naptimes and bedtime, while driving, while exercising, while doing housework, while outside on a walk, while traveling, while waiting for appointments, while resting, while shopping (if no children are with me/while I’m not interacting with cashiers), while using the restroom, and likely lots of other opportune times that I’m forgetting.

These are the main apps I use for reading on my phone. I also occasionally utilize my e-mail, internet browser, and camera in taking notes and recording and remembering my reading. 

Do you use a smartphone for reading? What apps do you use? Are there apps besides these that you’ve found helpful?




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  • Chelo October 11, 2012 at 8:01 am

    I use all of these apps that you’ve listed 🙂 (even down to using notepad app when I want to take notes from itunes/music app books. One thing is that I use my iPod touch.

    I am curious to know how to borrow Audible books; if it is possible to lend/borrow between iPhone and iPod. If so…I’d sure like to borrow some of your books. Haha! (seriously) 😀

    • Keren October 12, 2012 at 10:31 pm

      I just sent you an e-mail. 🙂 Send me a FB message if for some reason you don’t get it.

  • Sheila @ The Deliberate Reader October 11, 2012 at 1:39 pm

    You’ve listed all of my favorite apps (no smartphone, but the iPod touch is almost as good.)

    The only one I don’t use is Audible, but between you & a couple other friends of mine who are touting it, I may need to give it a try.

    I will admit that I don’t use the Kindle app all that often anymore – I got a Kindle earlier this year and do prefer it, despite it being something else to have with me.

    • Keren October 12, 2012 at 10:29 pm

      Yes, the recent iPod touches are pretty much everything but the phone.

      Definitely recommend trying it out! They do have a free trial here. (I usually buy/make the transaction on my computer, and then log in and download on my phone.)

  • Tsh @ Simple Mom October 11, 2012 at 3:18 pm

    Hey there! Couldn’t find a way to contact you, so just wanted to let you know here that I featured your series on Babble. Thanks for sharing your wisdom!

    • Keren October 12, 2012 at 10:24 pm

      Thanks so much, Tsh! I enjoyed going through the others, too!

  • Johanna Hanson October 14, 2012 at 8:37 pm

    I don’t have a smart phone, but I have a kindle fire. I’ve finally jumped on the audible bandwagon and finding it so user friendly. I’d previously not liked audio books because I lost my place, etc. This is so much more.

    And congrats on Tsh featuring you. 🙂

    • Keren October 18, 2012 at 9:48 pm

      Hooray. You’ll have to report how it goes. Though, I imagine putting a Kindle Fire in your pocket while you go about your chores might be a little challenging if you want to move around a lot. 😉 The user-friendliness of Audible is huge for me in being a time-saver, too.


  • Using E-Readers - The Deliberate Reader March 19, 2013 at 7:04 am

    […] If you have a smartphone (or an iPod touch), and are interested in reading more by using it, Keren Threlfall had a great post about that, including a list of apps she uses for efficient reading. […]