My dream of cloud-based reading came a step closer today when availability of the Safari To Go Android app was announced on Safari Books Online’s Official Blog. The Android app was noticeably absent on the July 18th launch date quoted in their July 2012 newsletter (the online version of which appears to have changed to “Later this month”!); Safari Books Online CEO, Andrew Savikas explained the delay in a comment on our earlier post, saying “we uncovered some nasty regression bugs and just couldn’t put it out without fixing them.” But the bugs appear to have been fixed, since the app is now available for download!
Safari to go for Android is pleasant to use on both phone and tablet form factors; in each case the amount of data being transmitted and displayed seems appropriate, resulting in a snappy, uncluttered UI. The reading experience on the phone is vastly improved as compared to the mobile version of the site; movement between pages is fluid, with no scrolling required, though a rather disruptive “Retrieving Content…” message pops up on a regular basis – seemingly between sections – which seems like it could be obviated with a logical pre-fetch given the linear nature of reading…i.e. chances are I’m going to be needing that page soon…especially if progress through previous pages was measured/considered? This message is eliminated with the download of a title into the Offline Bookbag, however. One aspect of the new mobile apps that I had not comprehended before was that the new Offline Bookbag allows three books (but not videos) to be stored per-device – meaning the long reads more appropriate for 7 or 10″ devices aren’t forced on your 4″ phone – that Bookbag can be reserved for selections that are more appropriate to the sporadic use associated with the smaller device. Being able to watch video on Android devices was one of the most anticipated features of the app – while the video I tried looked fine on my phone, it appeared rather low-fi on larger tablet screens. This is not really a problem for me since I use the video more like a podcast – more listening than watching, but I can certainly see it being a disappointment to some users, and I hope this will be improved in subsequent releases. Another cool little bonus feature is the ability to set the display sleep timeout from within the app (the default is 15 minutes) – so that you’re not forced to poke the screen every few minutes during a video to achieve a manual keepalive. While there are font size, color, and contrast options available, I would really like to see more extensive options in future – line spacing and margin options akin to those found on the Nook app would really allow me to perfect my power-reading setup on each device.
While the launch may have been held up for bug fixes, it appears that some still slipped through: I’ve experienced crashes on each device with only a small amount of use, and frustratingly, moving a book to the Offline Bookbag seemed to lose my place in the book yet again. I think that most users, however, will forgive a few small annoyances like this in the initial version, their attention to such things being minimized by the overwhelming excitement at finally having a native Android Safari app! ヘ(^_^ヘ) (ノ^_^)ノ