Ebooks on a big flat-screen TV? Maybe at times, for variety’s sake. I enjoy a break from the usual tablet, phone, or dedicated ebook reader—especially if I’m reading an old book in the original format. The old typefaces are far more legible on a 55-inch 4K screen than a six-inch phone. Just my quirk. But maybe it’s yours, too. And perhaps you’d rather not mess with your TV mirroring your books off your tablet, phone, or other device.
For changing pages, clicking on a well-designed TV remote can be easier at times than the usual tap on your phone’s screen or a squeeze on the volume control. Consider, too, the potential godsend for paralyzed people. Not to mention the benefits for individuals with certain vision impairments. Or how about picture books on large screens for parents to read to young children? The same as paper books? Hardly, but better than no books at all, the norm in millions of U.S. households. With digital books, small-town and rural households can enjoy zillions of reading choices no matter where they live—including the free kind from libraries.
In the perfect world, 4K TVs, Chromecast- and Roku-style boxes, and their remotes would come with ebook-related capabilities built in. Maybe in the future, this should even be a government requirement as the prices of the hardware, app development, and other tech drop to next to nothing when scaled up. If we’re to get more broadband, shouldn’t people be encouraged to use it for more than just faster YouTube or Facebook? Nirvana isn’t here yet, but meanwhile, for the fun of it as well as to refine the books-on-TV concept, I’ve gotten ebooks going experimentally on my $50 Chromecast with Google TV, or CWGTV as I’ll abbreviate it. Unlike older Chromecasts, this one comes with a highly ergonomic remote control—yes, just perfect for digital page-flipping.
Thanks to software downloads and other tweaks, my CWGTV is now able to run at least older versions of these apps, among others:
- Kindle for Android, complete with the ability to use the CWGTV’s sophisticated voice recognition to dictate long notes. Remember, CWGTV is nothing more than a tiny computer with the Android operating system. While I can’t get the latest Kindle app running on CWGTV, it will work with some older versions, including one to which I’ll point you. Please note that CWGTV isn’t compatible with the standard Google Play Store. My link there for Kindle for Android is for informational purposes, not downloading. Same in regard to other apps. Download them directly to CWGTV.
- The latest version of OverDrive’s popular Libby program for library patrons.
- Google Play Books, including classics in their original print formats. As with the other programs, I can dictate notes, the same as with a tablet or phone. Google Play Books can even read aloud to me in an American or British voice.
- WattPad, a reading app popular globally, especially among young people, whose stories it features.
- Free versions of Aldiko, Moon+ Reader, and FBReader. They may not run as smoothly as the others, but will work to some extent.
- Opera and other Web browsers allowing you and your family to view books from Project Gutenberg, the Internet Archive, Feedbooks, and the Digital Public Library of America, and other sites with public domain titles and Creative Commons titles. The Library of Congress even has a section of classic children’s books, and other titles are online from the International Children’s Digital Library. Here’s a chance for parents to associate TV sets with reading, not just video.
I apparently could also get ebook apps and others running on the Kindle Fire TV Stick and other devices if I bothered. A related article exists for adventurous Fire Stick owners. Come on, Jeff Bezos. Time to optimize a variant of the Kindle app for the stick. And maybe arrange for the same app to show up in Fire TVs. While the idea of reading books on TVs is hardly new—see the late Chris Meadows’ thoughts, for example—it’s more timely now with the explosive growth of technologies such as 4K.
CWGTV hacks: A work in progress
Granted, my tinkering with CWGTV itself is a work in progress. I still don’t have Bluetooth keyboards working properly with my CWGTV for Web-based email. But a keyboard and a keyboard-touchpad combo are both fine for book searching. And an old HP Bluetooth mouse is very much on speaking terms with CWGTV. Please note that the Google dongle’s Bluetooth can be moody. I can’t guarantee that every Bluetooth device will work with CWGTV, but I will tell you which ones I’ve successfully tested beyond the just-mentioned HP model.
How to run unofficial apps on CWGTV
Ahead is how to get ebook apps and other unofficial ones going on CWGTV. I’ll precede everything with an important tip. To reduce eyestrain, consider turning down the brightness on your TV, and if possible maybe use heavy, bold-style fonts to increase visibility at the lower levels of light. Also think about using sepia or other nonwhite backgrounds. Or try the white-letters-on-dark-background mode that many apps offer.
Step #1: Install a Bluetooth mouse and maybe a keyboard—and consider other add-ons such as a USB hub
Yes, you can use a mouse and keyboard with CWGTV—or even buy a little $14 keyboard-touchpad combo to avoid any need for the rodent. The remote by itself isn’t enough. However handy the remote is for flipping through digital books, you’ll need a mouse or the equivalent when setting up apps such as the Kindle app and at times even when using them.
To get the mouse, keyboard, or a combo going, you should first click on your picture or other special identification in the upper right of CWGTV’s home screen. Then Settings > Remotes and Accessories.
This particular menu area combines the pairing of the remote control with pairing of Bluetooth devices even though they’re separate within it. Don’t mess with the actual remote control pairing. The remote already should be on speaking terms with CWGTV.
Instead, follow instructions for your Bluetooth mouse to get it in the pairing mode. Then do the same for the keyboard. You may need to try more than once.
Even if you don’t bother getting a keyboard working with CWGTV, the Google gadget’s remote will suffice for short entries, especially when used with voice recognition, which is somewhat more accurate than the equivalent on my iPad Pro.
The particular Bluetooth keyboard I owned didn’t work with CWTV’s Bluetooth. But I later was able to plug another keyboard into a USB hub that CWGTV approved of and even use a 256GB Flash Drive while I was at it. See YouTubes from Troypoint and Lon TV for tips on turbocharging CWGTV—while understanding that catches exist, such as not being able to run the all apps you want on the expanded storage to augment the dongle’s 4.4GB of free space for apps and their data.
But wait! I succeeded after all with a Bluetooth keyboard, not just the one plugged into a USB hub. Based on a user report, I ordered a $15 iPazzPort Mini Bluetooth Keyboard and got that working. The iPazzPort even includes a touchpad. Hubs and memory cards can add up, but if you want to be frugal, the $15 is the only cost needed beyond the $50 Chromecast itself. This manual should help you make sense of the iPazzPort. Meanwhile, here are Google’s tips for using CWGTV with Bluetooth devices.
Step #2: Get your CWGTV in the developer mode
Please note that there may be additional security risks in using the developer mode. Read the warnings in this article on using the mode on a Chromebook. Most likely, the same negatives apply. Hopefully, an attacker would not be able to get through to modify your system files. But that danger exists. Also, at least while you’re in the developer mode, your warranty may not apply. You also risk data loss.
Due to those hazards, I would limit experimentation to personal devices using personal accounts. But for many, the effort will be worth it.
And if you like what’s happening, ideally you’ll join me in speaking up on the need for Google to make ebook capabilities available conveniently on CWGTV from itself and other app developers—without fuss or risk.
Here are the commands to get your CWGTV in the developer’s mode:
Settings > System > Developer Options > Enable Developer Options
You may need to click your mouse or the remote control seven or so times before you can enable the Developer option.
Step #3: Allow installation of apps from sources other than the Google Play Store
Use these commands: Settings > Privacy > Security & Restrictions > Unknown Sources. Please note this might not be necessary right now but you might need to return to this screen when you install new apps. Again be aware of security issues.
Step #4: Think about making other tweaks later on as needed
Later on, you may also need to get CWGTV to allow apps to write to storage, once they’re installed and you’ve tested them. The command would be Settings > Apps > See all apps > Name of the app involved > App permissions > Storage (toggle it on).
Drilling down from main Storage menu, you can also see if you can transfer apps from internal memory to external memory such as a solid-state USB drive. This worked for the Kindle and Google ebook apps, among others.
Step #5: Choose the voice for Google Play books or other text-to-speech-capable apps
From the CWGTV’s home screen: Settings > System > Accessibility > Text to speech > Engine configuration. You can install files for specific voices that don’t come with CWGTV. And you can vary the speech rate or hear a preview. For some reason, the preview is not always reliable. I asked for a male British voice. Instead, Google Play for Books read to me in a female one. That was fine, but a bit of a surprise. On the other hand, within another application, the male British voice exactly matched the one in the preview.
The installed files are worth it. You may find the speech quality much higher than with the built-in voice.
Step #6: Via the Google store, install an app called Downloader
Downloader will let you both browse the Web and download apps from it. Here is some documentation. From CWGTV’s home screen, pick these options: Apps > Your Apps > Search for Apps (just under App Categories). Then search for and download the Downloader app and am add-on to allow downloading.
You’ll need to use Downloader or an equivalent rather than CWGTV’s Google store to get the ebook-related programs you need for sideloading. Why will the store offer Downloader but not most ebook software? One reason beyond possible commercial ones is that some apps, such as Moon+ Reader, may not work optimally on CWGTV. Luckily, however, the Kindle and Libby apps seem to run pretty smoothly, at least with a mouse in use. That said, don’t count on vendor support or assurances of any kind for software from unofficial sources. It’s case by case.
As for Google Books, you can enjoy the service by way of books.google.com, using either Downloader or another Web browser such as the Puffin TV Browser. Simply include Google Books on your favorites list. Or you can download the actual Google Play Books app, which will even read books aloud to you, while highlighting words in yellow or another color. Frustratingly, the Google store on GBWTV does not offer the Google Play for Books, but I’ll point you to a site that does.
Tip: Back to Downloader. If it hangs up, go back to the home screen of CWGTV, then try again. If that doesn’t work, unplug the GWTV and power up once more.
Step #7: Download an app called Sideload Launcher
Use the same procedure you did to download Downloader from CWGTV’s official Google store. Sideload Launcher will let you see icons for all the ebook apps you add such as the ones for Kindle and the Libby library app. Then you can launch them.
Tip: You might not be able to see the icon for Sideload Launcher itself unless you scroll all the way to the right within the Your Apps row and choose See All.
Step #8: Go to Softpedia to catch up with ebook apps.
Within Softpedia, you can search for CWGTV-capable versions of the Kindle app (18.104.22.168), the Libby one for the OverDrive library service (4.2.0), Google Play for Books (1.04), Aldiko (3.0.27), Moon+ Reader (4.5.2), FBReader (3.022), the Bookshelf add-on for FBReader (1.7.24), Opera (60.3.3004.55692) as well as WattPad (8.88.0). If you don’t see those particular versions, try earlier ones. Please note that to reach the older versions of the apps within Softpedia, you might need to click on the newer ones.
Lacking access to Google Play via CWGTV, alas, you won’t be able to run paid versions of apps there. Of course, you may be able to extract them from your phone. That’s an issue I won’t explore here.
Please note that Softpedia is not the only source of unofficial apps. I’m pointing you to it simply because Softpedia appears to be a safer bet than typical alternatives. Use even Softpedia at your own risk. However, Softpedia says it virus-scan its offerings and reproduces the original files
Google Play for Books tip: Text to speech probably won’t work with images of printed books. You’ll most likely have to be in the “flowing text” mode.
And a file management tip: Download the FX File Explorer file manager, which can be handy for, say, uninstalling apps. It’s even available in the CWGTV version of the Google Play store. You might also spend a few dollars for a licensing key for the deluxe version, which will let FX work with Dropbox and other cloud storage—meaning that you can bring in books you’ve download there, perhaps in a Calibre directory. Handy! When you call up a book, you’ll be asked whether you want to read it in FBReader or whatever other compatible app you’ve already installed.
Like OverDrive, Hoopla is a popular library service and app. An audiobook app is available in the official CWGTV Google Play store. Just search for “Hoopla.” The problem is that the official Hoopla app for CWGTV lacks ebook capabilities. Perhaps, as with Google Books, I could enjoy them by way of a Web browser. But so far I haven’t gotten the right one working for the Hoopla site, which is picky about the browser in use. Paging Hoopla. Care to include ebooks, not just audiobooks, in the app for CWGTV?
Speaking of audiobooks, you might also want to try out classics and other free and paid offerings at the LibriVox site. I successfully tested “The Time Machine,” the H. G. Wells short story, via the LibriVox Android app.
Finding library books to read
Certain U.S. public libraries grant guest privileges, maybe even to people from outside the country. I’m here in the States, but interestingly, the Houston Public Library asked me for my passport number along with $40 for a one-year subscription. Houston will accept alternative IDs at least for U.S. residents. Houston offers both OverDrive and Hoopla, among other content services. Go here to start the subscription process. I own cards for three public libraries here in the Washington D.C. area, but none of them offered Hoopla, the reason for my Houston subscription along with my desire to expand my potential reading choices.
Note: I’ll welcome corrections, suggestions, or other feedback via email or comments.