The pros and cons of Google's eTextbook initiative

Anna Scantlin
Contributing Editor from Kansas City, MO
Published: July 25, 2013

Textbooks are a pain in the derriere for college students. Not only are they costly, but they're also fairly annoying to deal with altogether. Buying, selling, renting... there's a lot of trade and barter going around just to get a good education. If I had to rate the biggest complaint that college students make on their Facebook posts judging by just my friends, it's at the beginning of the semester and the end of the semester when they're "getting jipped" by buying and selling big, heavy textbooks that will probably only be used for just one semester.

Fortunately, technology is helping to pave the way to more easily deal with textbooks. Kind of. I guess it really depends on how you see the pros and cons.

Along with the announcement of the new Nexus 7, Google also announced that it would be selling and renting digital textbooks starting this August, using it as a way to help further the initiative to push education onto tablets and smartphones. Although my first thought was full of optimism and happiness, there's still a lot of pros and cons to consider when it comes to Google's eTextbooks as oppose to traditional textbooks, or even how it differs to already popular eTextbook platforms like the Kindle, Nook, or even iBooks.

Let's start with the positives of Google's eTextbooks. For one, and as previously mentioned, this announcement comes at the same time that the new Nexus 7 was announced. With the second-generation Nexus 7 becoming available on July 30, and the textbook series becoming available as of early August, it's perfect timing for back-to-school shopping. Since the new Nexus 7 is only going to cost $229 for the 16GB Wi-Fi only version, and Google claims that their textbooks will have an 80% discount from regular pricing, you may find that the combination of the two is a very good deal. Even if you don't plan on purchasing the textbook for keeps, you can also rent eTextbooks for 6 months, which is longer than a full semester. Google has said that they've teamed up with 5 major publishing houses: Pearson, Wiley, Macmillian Higher Education, McGraw-Hill and Cengage Learning. Although which textbooks and how many hasn't been specified, they have claimed they will have a "comprehensive selection" to choose from.

It's also nice that the Nexus 7 serves as a multipurpose tablet. You can use it for a lot more than just for eTextbooks as it is also a fully-functional stock Android tablet that will always have the first software updates straight from Google themselves. The new Nexus 7 also has a slew of features added, like a rear-facing 5-megapixel camera, a full 1920x1200 HD display, an improved Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro processor, and although it has a smaller battery from its predecessor (3950 mAh vs. 4235 mAh) it is still said to have 10 hours of battery life over the old Nexus 7 thanks to the new processor. If you asked me if I would rather purchase a textbook or a Nexus 7 for $229, I would hands down pick the Nexus 7.

But mostly because I would use it for more than just textbooks.

The Nexus 7 does have its downsides compared to the alternatives. You also have to consider that Apple has already started this same initiative with iBooks, and while it may not have made a huge success compared to e-readers, they still have a head start on Google. But how long will Apple's eTextbook industry compare with the more affordable Android devices that will now offer essentially the same thing? Only time will tell on this one, as the two are in direct competition with each other.

In comparison to the Kindle or Nook, standard e Ink readers, you're losing a lot in terms of battery life. The Nexus 7, or any Android tablet for that matter, may be able to last up to 10 hours (give or take a few) but 10 hours is terrible when compared to something that uses a ton less power, like these e-readers. Depending on just how cheap the eTextbooks are from Google Play, and if you don't even plan on using an Android tablet or smartphone for anything other than textbooks or basic web browsing, you may find that an e-reader is a much more suitable option.

When it comes to tablets and eReaders, however, you can't deny that their portability alone is tempting, at least for the sake of your back. It beats carrying around those ginormo textbooks, at least. Then again, you know what they say: "No pain, no gain!" Right?

Speaking of physical textbooks, let's talk about some of the postitives there. They may be the most expensive (and heaviest) option, but it also has one of the most important features of any textbook - it doesn't run on battery. Simply put, if you're bad at remembering to charge a device then having an e-reader or tablet for textbook matters probably isn't the wisest idea. Also, physical textbooks have the biggest availability at the moment, so you may find that Google Play doesn't have the textbook that you need, there is a physical copy sure to be floating around somewhere just tugging at your wallet. At least physical books still have that "book-y" smell that a lot of people seem to love.

So as we can see, it really does depend on what you need. Would you use a device that serves as more than just as a textbook? Does the Google Play eTextbook catalog have enough of your required textbooks to actually save any money by purchasing a tablet to use it on? Do you really just require something with extra long battery life, or better yet, no battery life at all? These are all important things to consider when choosing how to purchase your textbooks for the semester.

So readers, what are your thoughts on Google adding e-Textbooks to Google Play? Do you think this will be something that picks up, or do you think it's a bust? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

Images via iDownload Blog, Gottawals Books