Plugging along in our eBook review series we come next to Chegg.com. Chegg is one of the biggest online textbook retailers and boasts one of the largest rental libraries available. They are also one of the largest names in eBooks, and growing. To get up to speed on our eBook reviews, you can check out our past reviews of Kno, Inkling, and CourseSmart.
Lets get started with the purchasing process. Setting up my account took roughly 5 minutes start to finish, a new record so far. Chegg gives you the option to buy or rent physical textbooks, or to rent your eTextbook.
Just ordered the book on your first day of class and need it right away? Chegg has you covered with a free 7 day rental of the electronic version of your book while you wait for the physical version to show up. If you ask me this is a pretty smart feature for them to add. Chegg knows that students will wait until the last minute to order books and this save everyone by delivering the student a product while they wait for the physical book.
If you’ve rented an eTextbook, you have 14 days from the date of purchase to return it, which makes sense since there is no shipping period. This is the same 2 week return period offered by Kno and CourseSmart, although their rental periods vary. I have to admit it seems a bit odd to have to ‘return’ an electronic book, but with such long rental periods it may be even more odd to have need for the text after it’s been returned.
One big leg up for Chegg is that it’s platform is build on HTML 5. There are a lot of behind the scene things that make HTML5 better than HTML but the main advantage for Chegg is that you can read your eBooks from literally any device with a browser and an internet connection. No downloading apps or making sure you’re using Firefox and not Safari or Chrome since HTML 5 will display the same on any platform, which makes reading your books easy and convenient.
What Chegg doesn’t offer is offline viewing. In our modern world, this is becoming less of a set back as you can get an internet connection in more and more places, but the convenience of guaranteed access all the time is no small thing. Obviously this makes enforcing your rental time limit more difficult for Chegg, but other platforms like CourseSmart seem to do just fine with this capability. In the end though you must decide how often you’ll need access to your eBook when you don’t have an internet connection.
Chegg has many of the features we’ve come to expect from electronic books. Zoom is a handy tool and I particularly like the way they added it to the interface. Rather than a slider bar like the one standard on most programs, Chegg uses a visual button system like this.
When taking notes, Chegg uses the ever popular ‘sticky note’ visual. Your notes are attached to the page you’re viewing by placing a small yellow sticky note icon in the margin. Clicking this icon reopens the note. Bookmarking is done with one click to the bookmark button in your user interface. You can easily browse bookmarks through the ‘Go To’ button which pops up an overlay that displays all bookmarked pages as scrolling thumbnails. I like this visual way to browse your bookmarks, but it could get confusing if you bookmark heavily.
The Chegg Search bar is the most dynamic and well thought out search tool of all the eBooks so far. First, it ‘predicts’ or ‘suggests’ search terms based on what you have typed in so far, much the same way Google does. Also, instead of opening a new page or taking over your current page, the search results are displayed in a tall, narrow overlay bar that extends down from the search bar (see below). This is convenient if you are referencing the page you are on to find the right result to jump to.
Highlighting is easy as well and comes in yellow and purple colors. However Chegg knows that some people go to town on their books with a whole case of highlighters and pens, so they’ve also included the option to add green or blue dotted underlines to text. This is the first eBook I’ve tried that offers underlining in addition to highlighting, which I’m sure will really come in handy for organizationally minded students.
Another standard feature that Chegg offers is ‘Look Up’ which is basically a dictionary tool. You can select any single word from the text and look up a definition. Similar to the handy overlay for search results, your definition is returned as a small bubble that pops up next to the word, so no leaving your spot in the text.
One of the most in depth and potentially most useful features that Chegg offers is called ‘Ask a Question’ which allows you to query experts on something you don’t understand. Say you come to a passage about the Nitrogen cycle and don’t understand part of it. You can highlight the text in question and click ‘Ask a Question’ which will copy the text over into the pop up question field. Here you can type out your specific questions and submit it to Chegg and get a response from a real person who knows the subject. Chegg says questions are answered ‘usually within 2 hours’ which isn’t a bad turn around, but presumably would be longer during mid-terms and finals when question volume would be higher. Afterwards, your questions and the answers from Chegg are stored under ‘Questions and Answers’ in the upper right of your interface for reference later.
This kind of innovative feature is what makes eBooks so exciting. They are a dynamic platform that only needs to mimic the paper books they are displaying, but they are not bound by the same restrictions and this proves it. It also distinguishes Chegg from other eBook retailers by combining the book store with tutoring services. I think there is a lot of potential for Chegg to grow this part of its business by offering more in-depth tutoring as a subscription service for students looking for extra help.
I have been very impressed with the Chegg platform as a whole. Their selection is impressive, prices are on par with their competitors and the eReader interface is simple, intuitive and robust. Of all the services I’ve seen so far, Chegg seems to be the most conscious of the way students purchase and use their textbooks. Generous return policies, complimentary eBook rentals while you wait for shipped books and innovative interface features make Chegg a strong leader in the field.
With eBook services being so proprietary, it can be difficult to commit to one, but Chegg is one that I would not hesitate to jump on board with. I think if you’re looking to make the move to digital, Chegg is a strong contender to check out because they put a lot of importance on the user experience. It takes about ten minutes from the time you first hit their site to the time you’re reading your first book, and if you change your mind it’s easy to go back. Most of all though, I think Chegg is innovating the market with services like ‘Ask a Question’ and as their library and customer base grow, there’s no telling how how far they can go with their platform.