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Google Books: The App

There’s probably not a genealogy presentation I give that I don’t mention the website Google Books.  There’s a good reason for this. Never at any time in history have we had access to so many books at our fingertips. Genealogists rely on books for information ranging from family histories and periodicals to city directories and local histories. Researching our family history from the comfort of our home or on the go is a new concept and Google Books provides us that luxury with its digitized collection of books and periodicals.

So it makes sense that with that type of easy to access content there will be times you might not want to be sitting at a computer as you peruse a book that either names your ancestor or provides social history background on their lives. My experience with using the Google Books website on my cell phone is that it is not user friendly. I can’t seem to get the text large enough to see even with my reading glasses and I just find it downright frustrating. Yes, it could be just me but this is the reason that websites develop apps, so that the website can be more easily used on a mobile device.

Google play books homescreen

Now why would you want the Google Books app on your phone? It’s about more than the ability to search for books easily from anywhere. It’s the ability to view and read books you have saved and purchased from Google Play (yes, you can purchase books and download free eBooks from Google Books). The app includes tools for not only viewing your books on your mobile device but they increase the readability of those works via the brightness or tone. Plus it offers the ability to take notes, highlight, and bookmark passages so you can study the text you need for your research. Yes, the app provides access to books but it does much more. In fact the Google Play Help says: You can use Google Play Books to download, read, and listen to e-books and audiobooks on a computer, Android phone or tablet, iPhone, iPad, or e-Reader. You can use Google Play Books on more than one device. You can also listen to audiobooks on your Google Home and through Google Assistant.[1]

Google play books tools

The Google Play Books app is  like having an eReader on your cell phone. Apple's iTunes advertises that other features of the app include the ability to :

  • Read your books, comics, and textbooks even when you’re offline
  • Tap the page and watch your favorite comic book or manga come to life with Bubble Zoom
  • Take notes that sync with your Google Drive and share them with a group for easy collaboration.
  • Use the Night Light setting to automatically adjust the background color and brightness to make it easier for you to fall asleep[2]

Google play books tone


And you can do even more than that because Google Play Books allows you to upload PDFs and eBooks from other sources onto your Google Play Books app. So it does become your own personal mobile library.

To download the app, go to your mobile device’s app store and search for Google Play Books. I found the best way to learn all of the app’s features is to play around with it but you can also refer to Google Play Help.

Is the app as good as Google Books? Well, it’s different. It doesn’t have everything I like about Google Books because it is focused on providing you access to books you’ve purchased or saved. So for example, the My Library bookshelves aren’t there but to be fair they were also missing in earlier renditions of the app. Like most apps, Google Play Books doesn’t replace the website but it does help you have the content of Google Books available on your phone.


Gena Philibert-Ortega is an author, instructor, and researcher. She blogs at Gena's Genealogy and Food.Family.Ephemera. You can find her presentations on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website.

[1] “Get Google Play Books on your favorite device,” Google Play Help ( accessed 17 January 2019).

[2] “Google Play Books,” ITunes ( accessed 18 January 2019).


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