In the process of purchasing books, there are two very important distinctions between Inkling and Kno. First, Kno has a 15 day return guarantee on all of their titles, given that you don’t flip past a certain page number (for my chemistry text that was page 59). Inkling however does not allow returns without a documented problem with the book itself. So if you’re a student trying to decide between the electronic version and hard copy of a text, you have to commit to one or the other. However, in Inklings defense, you are able to buy individual chapters out of books, rather than all at once, which Kno does not allow. So if you know you’ll only need a chapter or two, you can usually pick them up for $3-$7 a piece, or you can take the first chapter out for a trial run before purchasing the whole book. Also, Inkling offers one free chapter from just about every book they sell, so you can get a feel for how beneficial the book will be before deciding to spend any money at all.
For this review I browsed free chapters from several books in several disciplines to get a feel for how the varying Inkling features are used. Just like the Chemistry book from Kno, I feel that the Inkling features were best presented in the science texts, hence most of the images you will see are from Biology, Ninth Edition by Kenneth A. Mason. So lets dive into what Inkling has to offer.
The Inkling home screen is just as simple and easy to use as you’d expect anything for the iPad to be. All your purchased books are displayed as large tiles that you can tap to launch the book. Want to get another book? Easy, just tap the giant ‘Add content’ tile, or click the ‘Inkling Store’ link at the bottom. Books can easily be downloaded within the app as a whole or by the chapter. One interesting feature accessed from the home screen is the ‘Community’ section. From here you can find and follow other Inkling users to see what they are reading and exchange notes. As an individual user this is a bit of a novelty, however if you are working with a group it will make sharing notes simpler than ever.
After selecting a book, navigation within it is very simple. Chapters are displayed as images and selecting one allows you to scroll through each section (Chapter 5.1, 5.2, 5.3 ect.) with details on what is contained within each sub section. This is an advantage over Kno, with which you must scroll from the start of a chapter to find a particular section. It also allows you to skip directly to video and other multimedia content contained within each section.
Once you’ve found your appropriate chapter and you’ve begun reading, the dynamic features of Inkling really begin to show. First lets start with the video content, because there is a lot of it. Nearly every section in my biology book had at least one video explaining a theory or process, such as the one below describing photosynthesis. Others are interviews with experts in the field, describing principles in their own words. There are also audio recordings of experts designed to enhance certain passages, and as an auditory learner, hearing someone explain a complex idea is much easier to digest than reading a block of text for me.
Also, any images, charts or diagrams in the text can be expanded with one tap for easier viewing. Similar to Kno, Inkling makes use of 3D Models like this one pictured below of a chlorophyll molecule. Slide shows also offer a concise way to view a series of related images, like following a caterpillar as it builds it’s cocoon. ‘Guided tours’ also enhance static images by giving pop up explanations at each point in a diagram, all at the tap of a finger.
When it comes to the plain text of the book, you have several standard options like highlighting, copy and search. You can also make use of Inkling’s ‘notebook’ feature which allows you to take post-it style notes connected to any amount of highlighted text. All these notes are stored directly on the page, as well as organized into you notebook for quick reference later. From the notebook you can also view notes other students you are connected have made on the same material. I was only able to view notes from Inkling controlled accounts, but this served to demonstrate the value of sharing notes (as long as other students have something intelligent to contribute).
Something I found very useful was the ‘define’ tool, which will look up a dictionary definition of any highlighted word. I’m sad to say that if you want to define a phrase, like ATP Synapse, you’re out of luck, but for individual words it works very well and doesn’t require you to leave the text since the definition displays as a pop-up bubble above the word.
Inkling is a strong leader in eReaders when it comes to features and navigation. I found the interface extremely intuitive and simple to navigate. As someone who made it a mission to never by a textbook unless I absolutely had to, purchasing only the chapters you need makes a lot of sense to me. As you might expect you don’t save any money if you buy the whole text one chapter at a time, but if you only want a few it’s a great bargain.
That said, I’m disappointed that Inkling is so strict about their return policy. Obviously if you have a serious issue with your text they are going to work with you, but what if you got the wrong version (like I did when purchasing from Kno) or you bought your eBook before the semester and then found little use for it? Personally I think having very strict guidelines for returns makes more sense than ruling them out all together.
Overall I think Inkling as a platform is a strong leader in eReaders for textbooks because it’s interface is so elegant and easy to use. However the catalog of available titles offered by Inkling is small and growing, with many titles listed as ‘coming soon.’ That said, if you’re one to commit to a platform, you may want to check first to make sure enough of your required titles are available before purchasing your first book.