apps

Too busy to read? We tested two popular book-summary apps so you don’t have to

There’s no question that leaders need to hone their skills to stay sharp and give their businesses a competitive advantage. However, it can be hard to find time to read the latest books on leadership or marketing while you’re navigating the demanding schedule of a CEO. Two popular apps, Blinkist and Joosr, are out to solve that dilemma.

Both apps specialize in nonfiction books, specifically those relating to business and leadership topics. The following review breaks down each app’s key features and benefits.

Blinkist

Availability: Blinkist is available from both the iTunes and Google Play stores.

Cost: Upon downloading the app, you receive a three-day free trial, during which you can read an unlimited number of book summaries. After that, you pay $49.99 a year for the basic version of the app, which lets you read as many books as you like, but limits you to one audio book per day. The “Premium” version of the app, which costs $79.99 a year, gives you unlimited access to audio books. It also enables you to sync with Evernote and send books to your Kindle.

First steps: After you’ve finished installing the app, you are prompted to create an account. You are then invited to customize the app experience by selecting your interests from a list of categories. Once you have selected your interests, you are immediately directed to a list of books based on those interests, along with a selection of “New” and “Trending” books.

Your home screen will also display several curated lists of titles based on timely topics. For example, because this review was compiled just before St. Patrick’s Day, the top list featured books that meditate on the role luck plays in our lives.

Book selection: Blinkist’s selection features some 1,800 titles. Categories include health and happiness, networking, leadership, productivity, marketing, economics, psychology, time management, sales and presentations, startups, motivation, success, negotiations, popular science and creativity.

Reading experience:

  • Once you tap on a book, you are taken to a screen that gives you the option of reading the book summaries yourself or listening to a recording. A list of bullets makes suggestions for who can benefit most from reading the book (example: “anyone interested in how our minds work, how we solve problems, how we make judgments and what weaknesses our minds are predisposed to”). There is also a short blurb about the book’s author.
  • Tapping the “Listen” button takes you straight to the recording, and you are automatically taken from one chapter summary to the next as you listen.
  • Tapping the “Read” button takes you to an overall summary of the book, with some bulleted key takeaways.
  • Swipe right to get to subsequent chapter summaries. Summaries are well-written and concise, in colloquial language that’s easy to scan. The key lesson from each chapter is summarized in one sentence at the top of the screen. A progress bar at the bottom shows you how far you have left to go in the book.
  • The audio versions of each book summary are read slowly and clearly by a variety of actors. You shouldn’t have trouble following along if you’re distracted, so this app is especially good for listening while driving.

Joosr

Availability: Joosr is available from both the iTunes and Google Play stores.

Cost: Your free trial lasts 15 days and comes with five “credits,” which translates to five book summaries. After your free trial ends, you can choose from a variety of plans. The basic plan, for $4.17 a month (charged as $50 a year), gives you unlimited access to the app’s library. If you prefer to pay on a monthly basis, you can select a plan for $6.99. However, that plan is limited to 10 book summaries a month.

First steps: Once the app is installed, you are prompted to create an account. However, after the initial account is created, you are not automatically redirected to the catalog of books. Instead, the app notifies you that more information is coming your way via email. (This reviewer’s email took about 20 minutes to arrive.)

If you’re feeling impatient, a menu button in the top right-hand corner of your screen points you to a number of options, including “Books,” “Pricing” and “Blog.”

Once you are ready to get started, you can browse books by title or by category.

Book selection: The app has a selection of some 250 books. Categories include biography, business, career, economics, entrepreneurship, fitness, health, history, ideas, leadership, marketing, money, new releases, parenting, politics, psychology, relationships, science, self-help, society, time management and women in business.

Reading experience:

  • If you search for a book by title, nothing seems to happen after you hit the search button. It took this reviewer several tries to realize that the search results had in fact popped up, and it was necessary to scroll to get to them.
  • As soon as you call up a book from your search results, you are sent to a screen that displays the book’s categories. This is helpful because it gives you an immediate idea of whether the book is likely to cover the sort of ground you’re looking for. The page also contains a quick summary of the book’s contents, along with several bullets summarizing what the book is going to teach you.
  • Before you are able to start reading, you must add the book to “My Books.” Once you do this, you are redirected to a new screen, and a message informs you how many “credits” you have remaining to read additional books.
  • Once you tap on “Read now,” you are taken to a separate “Reader” interface. The menu buttons in this interface are much smaller, making it harder to navigate. What’s more, this reviewer found that the scrolling function within the Reader was counterintuitive, at least on an Android phone. Simple scrolling will not get you anywhere — to navigate through, you need to tap the right-hand side of the screen. (On an iPhone, it was possible to navigate book summaries by swiping left.)
  • The key takeaway from each chapter is summarized in bold at the top of each chapter.
  • The writing is at times convoluted (“Negotiations can feel overwhelming because your mind is trying to process the information gathered into potential difficulties or possible resolutions while you are still in the middle of a discussion.”). This reviewer also spotted a few typos.

Summary:

Joosr’s user interface takes some time to wrap your head around, especially on an Android phone. Blinkist’s interface is more intuitive, and the chapter summaries are easier to read. In addition, Blinkist’s selection of book titles is significantly larger than Joosr’s.

On balance, Blinkist is worth downloading and trying out if you’re generally too busy to read and want to fix that. We recommend that you skip Joosr, at least until future updates resolve some of the quirks in the app’s interface.