Listen! This is Audible

If you love audiobooks then you’ll have probably come across Audible. Today, we’re looking at the recent addition of an iPad client to their range of listening possibilities. Since Audible is owned by such a large enterprise (it’s an Amazon company) then we should expect a well-presented app of the highest quality that caters for audiobook-loving people everywhere.

In many respects, this is what we get with Audible for the iPad. It includes bookmark synchronisation across e-books and audio streams and also contains a huge back-catalogue of audiobook titles. The app looks the part and for this review, we’ll take it on the road with some in-depth testing to see if it has substance beneath all that gloss, or if it’s simply all for show (after all, you shouldn’t judge an audiobook by its cover!). Read on to find out what we encountered.

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An Excellent Beginning

When you first load up Audible, you are greeted with what is definitely a slick and well-polished look and feel. The introduction screens are worth a browse but you can always tap Skip Intro and get started straight away.

A pop-up notice informs you that your previously purchased audiobooks from iTunes have been incorporated into Audible — automatically, too. To me, this is wonderful! I’ve got a place at last to listen to my audiobooks from without having to struggle with the built-in music player on the iPad — an application which I feel is not best suited to this bookish media delight.

Audiobooks transferred to the iPad are shown with a full colour icon.

Audiobooks transferred to the iPad are shown with a full colour icon.

If you don’t want to sign in straight away with an Amazon account (assuming you have one of course) then you can tap Try the app to get a feel of Audible. This allows you to dive straight in and start downloading one of the eight excerpts on offer (each one is around 6 to 20 minutes long). All of the titles that are yet to be downloaded have washed-out graphics that gradually flush with colour as your download completes.

The samples give a taste of the full-quality Audible experience and fade out gracefully at the end.

Listen To This

It feels a little odd to be reviewing an app that, in my experience, I don’t actually use as a foreground app. That is to say, its primary purpose is to access audiobooks for me to listen to, and I simply don’t stare at the screen whilst I’m listening to one. My occasional dip in to its functionality is either to select another book to listen to, tap to add a bookmark, or perhaps skip back a little if I’ve misheard something or my listening has been momentarily interrupted.

AudioBook covers are displayed centrally during playback, and narration speed can be adjusted.

AudioBook covers are displayed centrally during playback, and narration speed can be adjusted.

If you are able to quickly assimilate the material you are listening to, then you might like to increase the playback speed using the Narration Speed setting. I struggled to hear clearly or distinguish much of the dialogue on any setting above 1.5x, and at 3x my lovely novel became a garble of chipmunk-like nonsense. Have a play, though, as you may find it useful if the material you’re listening to is suited to it. Female narrators seemed to me to be less clear than male narrators on high-speed, especially if there are elements of another dialect, such as the Scots brogue in A Breath of Snow and Ashes.

Further Information

To complete the full branding experience, each audiobook starts with a narrator reminding us that “This is Audible” (I think this is referring to the company, not to the fact that you can hear anything at all). At the end of the audiobook, we are presented with delightful postscript: “Audible hopes you enjoyed this program”. Is this really necessary, I wonder? Mercifully, though, I am not urged by some advertising strapline to check out such-and-such a title, or to buy or search for the latest title I may never have heard of before.

Tapping on the information button shows the publishers summary detail.

Tapping on the information button shows the publishers’ summary detail.

If you do want to explore more about the title, then tapping on the Info button will give you a little bit more detail about the publisher’s summary and present you with the option to share your reading experience via email, Facebook and Twitter.

Sort It Out

With a few titles in your library, there is not much to sort through to select what you would like to listen to. If your collection expands, though, there are no detailed sorting options. This may be an issue for you if you have a collection or a series that you are listening to as the titles are not grouped in any way other than alphabetically, Free Excerpts or Unfinished.

Sorting options in main library don't cater for book series, but simple sorting and Unfinished books can be highlighted.

Sorting options in main library don’t cater for book series, but simple sorting and Unfinished books can be highlighted.

And to expand your collection, you’d expect to tap on More Books, right? Well, this is where this plot takes an unexpected turn.

A Messy Middle

The More Books tab is actually a placeholder that tells you that more books are available. Due to Apple’s restrictions on purchasing media directly from within apps, there is no direct book shop available within the app. Upon your initial install, this leaves you hanging — wondering if you’ve done something wrong during installation or whether you’ve used the wrong account. All is not lost, though. You simply have to go to the Audible site in order to buy new titles.

Purchasing via the web site is an essential part of using Audible.

Purchasing via the web site is an essential part of using Audible.

Once you’ve purchased on the main website, these titles then become available in the Audible Cloud and appear instantly within the iPad app. It is quite straightforward to do this, and as an incentive there are various free credits and discounted rates available for first-time subscribers that you can take advantage of straight away on a no-obligation basis.

Purchases from the web site are made available to download immediately.

Purchases from the web site are made available to download immediately.

Noteworthy News

There is an excellent news section that details changes and updates to the application, highlights for a video tutorial and details of the Editor’s picks and recommended titles. One minor frustration, though, is that you can’t tap on these titles to be taken through to Audible‘s website to buy them. This is most probably because of the same restrictions mentioned above, but it just leaves you so frustrated after switching back and forth to find things. Whilst this is not a direct fault of the app, the overall experience is worse off because of it.

News is displayed, but recommended books don't have a link-through.

News is displayed, but recommended books don’t have a link-through.

A Pointless End

And now we come to the rather strange ending, just like a great audiobook. I honestly do not understand the thinking behind the built-in badge system for Audible. I mean, just why would you want to know if you are a Binge Listener or a Procrastinator when it comes to your audiobook listening habits? This is playground stuff and does not sit well with what is trying to be a mature audiobook listening experience.

Listening stats and badges are displayed on the Me tab.

Listening stats and badges are displayed on the Me tab.

So, there’s a few final quibbles to note. Whilst Audible promises bookmark synchronisation with your Kindle e-books, a simple iPad-to-iPhone synchronisation of bookmarks and reading progress isn’t there, unfortunately. There is no in-app volume control, and though you can skip back 30 seconds, there is no option to skip forward. You can jump ahead to various chapter headings, but these do not relate directly to the audiobook chapters as the author intended, but are rather equal time segments placed at intervals within the book.

Audible is an improvement on the built-in music player but it could be so much more. Living with it for a little while, you will still get a lot of good use out of it, but it’s not the seamless experience I had hoped for.


Summary

Not enough time for all the books you want to enjoy? Download the app by Audible, an Amazon company, to listen to books on the go.

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