The Best eTextbook Apps on the Web

eBook reading apps have become very popular since the introduction of the tablet, and have transformed our devices into a personal library wherever you go. It started with the Kindle device, but since then, there’s hardly a mobile device that doesn’t come with an eBook reading app. For me, I have never seen the appeal of eBooks, and I prefer to have a physical book in my hands. However, there is a division of eBooks which have recently taken my interest — eTextbooks.

Being a student, textbooks are something which I need to carry at all times and use everyday for support in lectures and revision sessions. Carrying around tons of heavy books isn’t what I want to do. With access to the internet everywhere, eTextbooks allow me to quickly get on the web and view my specific books quick and easy.

In this article I’m going to look at the best three textbooks apps available on the web: Chegg, CourseSmart and NOOK Study. Read on to find out the possibilities with these three apps.


The first E-textbook app I’m going to look at is Chegg, an app from the people that made renting paper textbooks online popular. This is an app which you can access on a range of devices and is very capable. The app has a huge range of books available and most of them can be either rented or purchased. All are priced around the same as you would pay for the book on websites such as Amazon, so you aren’t paying any extra money. The website is easy to navigate around and everything can be quickly accessed.

Reading a book on Chegg.

Once you’ve loaded up your desired book (no installation required) you’ll be presented with a PDF-like display. Along the left hand side you can quickly change from page to page. Along the right side you have an option to give feedback, search the whole book, change zoom and even make cover notes at the side of the page. You can also highlight and leave little reminders for yourself throughout the whole book. Bookmarking is something which is easy too; being able to instantly favourite your pages for future use is obviously something you’d want in a book designed for study.

As you can see in the screenshot below, after highlighting a word, a pop up box appears giving me extra options. I can now quickly define words and make notes to enhance future knowledge. I love this quick and easy feature which makes the user experience effortless.

Additional options when highlighting a word.

Something which caught my eye is that Cheggs has a dedicated 24/7 support and help service, as well as forums which can give you quick access to answers from the people in the know. This can not only help you navigate the eTextbooks but also help you with your studies — receiving constructive help from other students is something which can be hard to find, and it helps an awful lot.

Chegg’s web app is an advanced and highly developed piece of software which gives students a wide range of eTextbooks for a reasonable price. It’d be my first recommendation if you’re looking into renting eTextbooks.


CourseSmart works similar, in the fact that there is no installation needed and everything is in the browser. However, on CourseSmart you rent your books for 360 days, double that of Chegg’s 180. For students, this is a much better time range as you’re going to have the book for that full academic year and won’t have to pay twice.

Opening up the textbook you’ll soon notice that the aesthetically pleasing and sleek interface of Chegg had has now gone. I’m not saying this interface is horrifically bad, but, it’s definitely not at the same standard in terms of aesthetics. Again, you can highlight and bookmark certain parts of your book — as you can see below, the options aren’t as inviting.

Adding notes and highlighting your text.

However, one thing which I feel that CourseSmart has excelled at is their table of contents. This is definitely far better than the Chegg’s version and it quickly allows you to move from page to page in a glance — expanding and navigating around this is really a breeze.

Table of contents on the left hand side.

All in all, CourseSmart is another great E-Textbook app offering a wide range of books and ways to buy, albeit at the cost of a clunkier interface. If you don’t mind a drop in aesthetics and prefer extra days on your rental and slightly improved navigation, then you’ll want to give it a try.

NOOK Study

The final eTextbook app I’ll be looking at today is NOOK. Unlike the first two, though, NOOK requires you to download a program for your Windows or Mac computer. However, this means that you couldn’t go straight to any computer and access your books. You would need to download this program first then starting studying — decreasing the overall accessibility of the app, especially for those of use who love web apps.

The dashboard design of NOOK Study.

After downloading the application you’re taken to the dashboard display which allows you to manage all your downloaded books. Here you can make folders and sort everything into an organised and easy to see format. Once you’ve downloaded and decided on your specific textbook you’ll notice that the quality of textbooks are superb. Everything just looks so clean and pleasing. You also have options to highlight or look up words on a variety of different web services.

Options after highlighting text.

One extra feature I found on NOOK which looked appealing was the dual view system. This allows readers to place two books side by side, comparing and contrasting the information in each. This basic function could prove beneficial for some readers who don’t want to keep switching from textbook to textbook.

NOOK Study despite the problems with accessibility is a great eTextbook reader. It gives you everything you need in a simple package and is accompanied by a delightful interface at the same time – albeit one that looses the cross-platform advantage we love about web apps.


Editor’s note: You might note that we didn’t include Kindle’s textbooks. While we would generally recommend Kindle for most eBook purchases, and their web app is great for reading, their book format doesn’t work good for most textbooks. It’s worth checking, but if you need the full, richly formatted textbook, these are all better options. That said, Kindle at least lets you buy the book, instead of renting them with these apps. Yet another tip: you can often print pages – sometimes up to the whole book – which is a way to make sure you keep the parts of the textbook you need. Try printing to PDF 😉

The market for eTextbooks is growing, and it’s exciting to see how much you can get just from your browser these days. It’s far from perfect; we’d love to see prices lower, at least, as well as options to actually buy the books if you want. But, if you’re looking to save on shipping costs, or just save your back from having to carry such a heavy backpack, there’s a ton of great options for eTextbooks today. That’s exciting.

Thanks for reading! Let us know below your opinions on eTextbooks.