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I love audiobooks because they’re such a great life hack. You can read, learn, consume knowledge, without actually reading anything at all. You can also do it anywhere: walking the dog, washing the dishes, working out, or when you’re commuting to work.
When many of us think about audiobooks, the first thing that springs to mind is Audible. It’s a great service but at around $15 a book, it can be a bit expensive. Instead try downloading DRM-free and out-of-copyright audiobooks, then transfer them to the apps listed below and you’re good to go.
Why an Audiobook App?
Your first instinct might be to just play an audiobook using the default Music app or something like VLC. It’s just an MP3 file, how bad can it be right? Pretty bad. Audiobooks are usually hours long and are sometimes split into 30-minute tracks. If you play them using a Music app, it will play just fine, but the app won’t bookmark your progress. Every time you come back to resume an audiobook, you’ll need to scrub manually.
Dedicated audiobook apps solve this problem and add some extra useful features. You can explore audiobooks based on chapters, set a sleep timer, add bookmarks and take notes. The best apps make it really easy to import an audiobook from a PC, Mac, Dropbox or the internet in general.
Fantastic Audiobooks and Where to Find Them
There are a lot of places to find DRM-free and public domain audiobooks that don’t cost a thing. LibriVox is the best source for out-of-copyright books. OpenCulture has a big list of freely available audiobooks. We’ve highlighted more sources in our article here.
Of course, as we’re talking about free audiobooks, you’ll have to do make do with the classics and the not the very latest releases or bestsellers. Books you’ll find online, for free, won’t have the level of storyline and polish you’re used to with mainstream books. But then again, you’re here trying to find the best way to listen to DRM-free books, so we’ll assume you’ve already assembled a good collection.
1. iBooks (Free)
It took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out if iBooks supported DRM-free audiobooks. DRM-free EPUBs worked just fine so audiobooks would too right? A Google search confirmed my suspicions. It’s possible if you use iTunes to sync them.
Here’s how it works:
- Drag the audiobook files into iTunes, in the Library section.
- Select these files, right-click and select Get Info.
- Go to the Options tab and change the Media kind to Audiobook.
- Connect your iPhone to your Mac or PC, go to the sync view and from the sidebar, select Audiobooks.
- Check Sync Audiobooks, sync your iPhone and they’ll make it to your iPhone.
- Now on your iPhone, open the iBooks app. Change to the Audiobooks view by tapping the drop-down at the top of the screen, and there they are.
From now, it’s smooth sailing. Tap on an audiobook to start playback. You can tap on the 1x button to speed it up or tap on the list icon in the top-right to see all chapters. Swipe left/right and hold on the audiobook art to skip in increments of 15 seconds. There’s sleep timer feature as well.
And thanks to the 3D Touch action in the app icon, you can resume your most recently played audiobook from the Home screen with one tap.
2. Bound ($3.99)
Bound is a big step up from iBooks. It retains the simple UI but adds features like bookmarks and easy wireless sync. Currently, Bound syncs with Dropbox and Google Drive and plays all major file formats including M4B. You can also use its Web Uploader to wirelessly sync audiobook files from your PC. After connecting your Dropbox account, you can explore folders and select audiobook files to download.
Once files are downloaded or copied over, Bound is intelligent enough to take care of the rest. The app will create the audiobook entries and will update them as you download more chapters.
The app itself is a minimal affair, taking design cues from the iBooks player and Overcast podcast app (which I’m a fan of). But it’s filled with useful features as well. You’ll find bookmarks, chapter markers, playback speed and sleep timer controls. I’ve been using the app for a couple of months now, without any major issues.
3. Bookmobile (Free, $3.99)
Bookmobile is the most versatile third party option for playing audiobooks. The app is free to start with and comes with a 60-day, five audiobooks trial. Bookmobile’s UI can be a bit confusing to start with, and it’s nowhere near as polished as iBooks.
Bookmobile has multiple ways of importing audiobooks. It supports the traditional iTunes File Sharing method. But it’s a long process. You have to add files to the app, sync your device, then import the selected files from within the app.
Alternatively, you can use Bookmobile’s Wi-Fi transfer feature. After both devices are on the same network, open the web browser on your PC and enter the link Bookmobile gives you. Add the audiobook files here and they’ll be copied to the app wirelessly.
Bookmobile also lets you import files from the Dropbox app using the Open in feature on the Share sheet. You can directly download an audiobook from sites like LibriVox using the built-in web browser as well.
The options for playing and organizing audiobooks are just as varied. You can play MP3 files and M4B files (along with audiobook metadata like chapters, artwork and more). The app will even let you play DRM content from iTunes and Audible.
The entire audiobook experience is editable in the app. You can change the title, reorder chapters, switch artworks, and more. Using the bookmark feature, you can tag parts of the audiobook and take notes as well.
As mentioned previously, the UI a bit weird. Playback buttons are at the top (not the most convenient place, especially on Plus models). Seek option is designed as a wheel (a nice little throwback to the iPod) which is split into 4 buttons. You tap the middle button to switch between seconds and minutes. It is, as I said, weird. To change the volume or the speed, you need to go to the settings tab.
Other Kinds of Audiobook Apps
I would recommend you start with iBooks as it’s free and probably already on your iPhone. If you’re dead set on using a third party app for this, I would recommend you pay up and go for Bound, it’s a much nicer experience. But those are the not the only kind of audiobook apps out there. Here are some alternatives that still stay in the free audiobooks category.
Audiobooks: If you want to play free and out of copyright audiobooks and want to do it without any fuss, download the simply named Audiobooks app. Here you can browse a collection of free books, download them and start playing them without ever thinking about an iTunes sync (which is always a good thing).
LibriVox: LibriVox is a simple app for downloading and listening to public domain audiobooks from the LibriVox organization.
OverDrive: If you’re a member of a local library that allows you to check out digital audiobooks, you can use OverDrive to do so provided your library supports the service. It makes checking out eBooks and audiobooks much easier, it’s available worldwide, and it’s free.
Interested in more apps for iPhone? Take a look at our list of iPhone RSS readers for getting your content.
Image Credit: Monika Wisniewska via Shutterstock.com
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