The information age. The good, the bad and the ugly. While we can access every bit of data at the tip of our fingers, do we really experience anything more deeply than that, or just it all just stay at surface level?
Here’s a thing that is a bit of a mystery to me. Podcasts immediately felt like a thing from the past the moment it started right around 2004, with iTunes catching on in 2005. Everyone seemed to have agreed that, yup, the days of cassette tapes are over and podcasts are more like digital cassettes. Until all of a sudden podcasts exploded a few years ago to everyone’s surprise, and now is completely cool again. It might be strange to say that I’m personally not a huge fan of them.
Lots of friends sent me audio speeches in the past, but that never really caught on either. Audio books? Nope. When I listen to anything audio-only it makes me want to see who these words are from, write down stuff I’m listening to or look up things they’re talking about. So it never continues to be an audio-only experience.
Oh and audio message on my phone? If you know me personally you’d have found out a long time ago that those disappear into a big black hole of ‘let’s pretend those were never sent.’
So now there’s not just audio books, and not just summaries of books, but there’s audio of the summary of books, and visual summaries, and one-page infographics and before you know it there’s going to be one-word summaries of summaries and I’d be the first one to subscribe to the paid version of that. Well, the free trial of course, which then I’d forget to cancel, so yeah.
And so it was when I first installed Blinkist on my phone. I know I must have had it for a while, but I don’t even remember when, or more importantly why I installed it in the first place. Probably some thought process along the lines of ‘fun little ad. Let me check it out.’
Until one of my friends and team members asked me if I had ever heard of Blinkist and listened to their latest Blink. So I tried it out and, to my own surprise, absolutely loved it. Summaries of books I’ve always wanted to read? And that’s free? Are you kidding me?
The thing is, I love reading now, but it wasn’t always like that. I used to describe myself als someone who likes to ‘have read things,’ which involves having to read them, but I’d prefer to skip that part and just move on to the ‘having read it’ part.
So Blinkist is a perfect cheat code. Or is it? That’s one of the questions I’d like to look at here. Soon enough I realised there’s more apps that are quite similar, but all slightly different too. Headway, Mentorist, Shortform, Lucid, StoryShots and quite a few more.
If you’re anything like me you might have already looked for some reviews online and it’s been hard to compare one to the other.
Because of the lack of a good review of the 5 apps that I considered worthy of my time and energy I’d love to share my personal experience around 5 key themes:
- General experience
- App usage
Below I’ll address each of these 5 areas for each of the 4 apps separately, then a few honourable mentions and finally I’ll try to come to some conclusions at the bottom.
I know, I know – some of you have already scrolled down to the bottom only to find that I’m no different than all the other reviews: there is no ‘one conclusion.’ That’s because it really is that hard to come to one conclusion and each of these apps has its strengths and weaknesses. But here’s an attempt at some clarity anyways. Have fun with it and let me know what you think in the comments.
- General experience
Gotta love a good slogan: ‘Don’t just read. Take action.’ Their communication is powerful and action-driven. I’d love to copy a bit more here: ‘All non-fiction is educational. But the true value of knowledge is found when you put it into practice. In the words of Dale Carnegie:
“Knowledge isn’t power until it is applied.”’–Dale Carnegie
Seems appropriate even for this review.
As you can see, Mentorist doesn’t just provide book summaries for the sake of a book summary. They’re committed to provide tools for growth. The app has audio recordings of their book summaries, you can follow along with the written text, and alongside the written text, each part has an ‘actions to take’ section as well. You can also jump to the actions if you want to come back to those later.
Every audio recording has a Jason-Bourne-movie-trailer type of intro jingle, which I personally don’t find extremely fitting with the idea of starting a book summary. I’d prefer something a bit more peaceful at the intro of an audio book. But that might just be me. The audio feels personal, with a real person reading out the book summary. However, it does feel a bit rushed and I don’t get the impression that the real voices seem to enjoy what they’re sharing with the world. I get the idea that it’s a summary and it needs to be short, but fast doesn’t have to be rushed.
The audio is all one recording without any sections and if you’d like to go back and forth between audio and visuals, it means you have to keep skipping back and forth in a bit of an awkward manner. The audio doesn’t include any clear sections, it’s more information based, and at times lots of bullet points, while I would prefer a story here and there to help make the information stick.
The app has a great feel to it, the visuals are clear, the sections are easy to read and find and the literal ‘call to action’ really does invite to look into.
Every part has a ‘quote from the author,’ or, ‘quote from the chapter,’ which is nice to read and easy to include if you’d like to use this for further reference. The visuals are a little clearer on what the different sections are, what it’s about and where it’s going, so to say.
- App Usage
The app is well-made, inviting to use and explore and feels young and current. I feel like there’s a lot more to the ‘action’ sections than I’ve been able to discover and it has a feel that it has a lot of room for gamification of learning, similar to apps like DuoLingo. The app is quite affordable and totally worth a shot.
Mentorist is really easy to use, has lots of great book summaries, that are all boiled down to their absolute essence and therefore often really short. It also does have its down sides. The audio feels a bit clumsy and the shortness of it makes it feel a little too rushed and too shallow at times. I’d recommend this app if you really do want to just know the core essence of a book and then combine it with action. What I do is grab a notebook and write some ideas about the ‘action’ so that I can actually follow up on that and not just think that it’s nice that it’s there. There’s still more for me to discover about the different features with regards to action and goal setting, so go check it out, even in the free app. If you’re looking for a place to find book summaries that will lead you to action, Mentorist might be your new best friend.
- General experience
Well, I started with a slogan for Mentorist, so I guess I’ll start of like that for Blinkist as well. Fair enough. “More knowledge in less time.’ Quite the statement. Besides a few different things they claim you will be when you choose to use Blinkist, the final comment is ‘Be your best self!’
Blinkist has written book summaries that you can listen to as audio recordings and they’re great to use at the same time: listen and read together. The different chapters are called ‘blinks’ and each blink has a clear purpose.
Blinkist promises to help people read more, create better habits and make positive changes in their lives. Awesome.
OK, when it comes to the audio, don’t skip to the bottom, I’ll tell you right now: Blinkist is the absolute winner. Nice little sound additions, a broad variety of very personal voices, who each take the time to guide you through their blinks with fun facts, enjoyable anecdotes and sometimes even an additional twist from the app creators. Even though there’s value in that, at times it feels like you’re not getting exactly what was written in the book that they claimed to have summarised.
For me the color green goes great with tech because it offsets the digital, ‘lifeless’ sense that sometimes tech can have, and adds a little ‘life,’ while representing growth as well. The fonts and colours work great together. I love that you can follow along between the audio and visuals very easily and both the audio as well as the visuals are divided into the same Blinks, which makes it easy to use together.
Where Mentorist adds a quote from the book in each section, on Blinkist it’s very hard to find anything directly from the books in the summaries and at times you might end up wondering how much is left from the original book, or if the book was just an inspiration for Blinkist’s own interpretation, using the title of the book to create a new approach to similar themes.
If you put the book summaries next to the actual book it can be hard to find the same progression and Blinkist uses a lot of freedom to move around certain parts in a different order or skipped parts that seemed to be pretty key to the main concepts of the books.
- App usage
The app definitely has the classic business look with a young feel, which works great for the audience it’s trying to address. The functions are all very intuitive and it’s easy to move between different areas inside the app, as well as moving back and forth between audio and visuals. It’s a bummer that the app is a bit pricey, but the monthly version may not be a bad idea to give it a go for a little longer than the trial version. Don’t forget to cancel before the month is over!
Blinkist was my first love among these apps and when it comes to an overall rating I think it will continue to be unless the others make some significant changes. Blinkist has lots of great books, they’re not rushed through the summaries, have voices that make you feel like you’re listening to a friend talk to you – it’s just a great app. Bit of a bummer they don’t do any quotes and most often don’t even use the same titles of chapters, so it can be hard to use while following along with the actual book if you’d want that.
What’s also great is that in the free version there’s a free book each day. It may not always be what you’d like to read or listen to, but if it is, the fact that it’s free on that day and that day only is actually a great incentive to prioritise listening to it on that day! With lively voices, personal involvement, a slight freedom in interpretation with regards to some of the concepts presented in the books, Blinkist really does provide great value for money.
- General experience
Headway has a decent app that’s pretty straight forward without much distraction from its obvious goal, which is to provide ‘your ultimate reading experience.’ Additionally, they claim that ’Headway is the app created by readers for readers to provide every person on Earth with an easy way to learn and get knowledge.’
Headway does a good job trying to stay close to the original books that it is summarising, but there’s a few buts.
Honest moment. Totally felt like I was being fooled, because at first I thought to myself, ‘huh, funny accent. No wait, it’s the intonation.’ Didn’t catch it until later. I was more occupied with the content, until it dawned upon me: robot voices.
*cue scary sci-fi music*
Considering how long it took me to catch it I guess their voice generation is on point, but once you hear it, there’s no way back. I had to put it down and stop listening to it. Real bummer because the book summaries are clear and useful.
Visually the app is not the number 1 out there, but they do do a great job at providing a great summary that stays close to the original outline of the book with here and there a quote straight from the book as well. If you’re going for just a written book summary app, Headway might be it.
- App usage
The app is simple to use, really straightforward, and no complications. Huge plus! Fun little bonus is that they did a great job emphasising their reading streak, and you’re reminded of it when you finish prematurely, so for goal-oriented achievement-freaks like myself that will keep you inside the app for a bit more reading if you can.
Headway feels like it’s a little more modest in its promises, so doesn’t over-promise and under-deliver, but rather the opposite. Just like Blinkist it has a recommended free read per day, which also does help to finish it as long as it’s available for free in the free version of the app. They often have deals of 50% or even 70% off, so if you don’t like their price today, just wait a few days and they’ll try to lure you in with a 70% discount. The 50% off is pretty standard most days, which at €49.99 per year is a great deal. Easy to read, close to the original, quotes from the book – if you’re looking for something that helps you stay as close to the original as possible while trying out a summary… give Headway a go.
- General experience
Personally I’m huge on visual learning so big fan right here. The ads proclaim to give you an experience similar to DuoLingo, but – even though I’m on an 1100+ day streak on DuoLingo – visually Lucid is a much more pleasant experience. Images that make sense with the content, smooth transitions from one image into the next, visuals that really do help you remember the stuff you’re learning: what a dream. Now that I’ve been discovering Blinkist and other apps where I combine reading and listening, I do miss the audio part here, so that’s the only downside for now. Onto the details.
Well, last time I checked there is no audio, so there’s not much to be said about that. Besides the fact that it’s not there, but I already said that.
Glorious. Spacious, relevant, great text-to-image proportions. No tons of distractions visually, just really clear and to the point. Love it.
- App usage
You may have seen the ads: “Like DuoLingo for Philosophy,” or, “Like DuoLingo for History,” or in your case, “Like DuoLingo for …” Insert whatever topic you’ve been scrolling on your social media recently (Zuck knows), because that’s the benefit of targeted ads. It really does feel a lot like DuoLingo, so they got that part right.
Don’t tell DuoLingo I said this, but I think Lucid might have done a better job at keeping it clean and tidy. It’s really straightforward in usage, and it doesn’t leave me feeling like I’m missing out on all the good parts, because they’re hidden behind the complications of the app. There are great ways to edit your goals, build up a streak and save certain reads for later. That might be the only thing that I struggled with. As someone who loves starting things, but not always finishing them, it’s very easy to start on a number of summaries at the same time, but then not to come back to finishing them. Would be nice if there’s an incentive for finishing a summary or even a few around a certain theme. This shouldn’t be too hard for them, considering the great use of gamification they’ve already got going for them.
I’m sure you’ve picked up on some excitement here. Really great app if you’d love to dig into some reading without having to buy and/ or read the whole book. I feel like it’s still giving you a really good idea of the content of the books it discusses, and it helps the content stick. It will probably be most useful if you can stil give it some undistracted attention, which is where it differs once again with DuoLingo. Don’t tell me that I’m the only one who often sneaks in my 10 XP for the day during a number 2 on the office bathroom (don’t forget to turn your sound off). Lucid required a lot more of my undistracted attention, but on the days that I can give it that I really did feel like I learned a bunch of stuff I wouldn’t have otherwise. Oh, and the quizzes – brilliant.
There are two more apps that deserve to be mentioned, but I won’t be spending too much time on the details. Both Shortform as well as StoryShots are in the same field as some of the apps previously discussed in this post and I would recommend looking into them for yourself.
As much as you could see my excitement about the visually pleasing elements of apps like Lucid and Blinkist, it needs to be said from the start that you really do have to dig your hands through some visual dirt in order to find the diamonds that StoryShots has to offer. Some might like it, but I’m not a fan of the app’s design and functionalities. Looks like that just wasn’t a priority I guess. They do have the original covers to most of the book summaries as far as I’ve seen, so that’s nice. Once you get a book summary there’s the general options to read, listen or watch. Each of these options give you the opportunity to do that in a variety of ways. This is where the app gets confusing with the repetitive use of emojis in the drop down list, all caps descriptions, excessive use of brackets, just way too much going on here.
It looks like most of the content they’re using is just recycling existing content, like linking to an already existing pdf summary of a book, or a video summary done by some random person, completely disconnected from StoryShots. It’s kinda hard to see what their vision is behind the app, as if someone thought, “oh Mentorist, that’s nice, I wonder if I can do that…” without wanting to put the time and effort into creating and managing its content.
All that to say, you can definitely ‘read, listen or watch’ some great book summaries, but it still does feel like you could have found the same content on your own if you just spent the time to search a little harder.
If Mentorist, Headway, Lucid and Blinkist all combined still are not enough to give you an idea of the content of a certain book you’re interested in, you might just want to read the actual book. If that’s still one step too far for you the only other option is Shortform. Don’t let the name deceive you, because it’s nowhere near short. In fact, I’ve never been able to finish even one of their ‘summaries,’ partly because it’s nearly impossible to find out how much longer they will keep going once you started one, and halfway through it left me wondering why I wouldn’t just read the book itself.
So, on the plus side, they are very thorough. If that’s what you’re going for in a book summary app this might be your thing, but for me it didn’t really make sense. They tried to be so thorough that rather than simplifying some of the content they ended up distilling some really fun books into a boring version of them. It was almost as if they squeezed out the fun stories and juicy details in order to be left with bullet points and chapter titles and paragraph numbers that made it really hard to plough through.
The app looks very professional and intuitive. It’s easy to tell they put a lot of time and energy into this and are probably appealing to a more professional audience who are serious about learning for their personal and professional development. It ended up leaving me feeling a bit sorry for the app developers. It’s obvious they have great intentions and put a lot of time and energy into creating the app, but I’d be surprised if it catches on if it doesn’t find a way to shred a little of the ‘too much.’ If anyone at Shortform gets to see this: ‘less is more’ worked great for your design. Hopefully you will find a way to have your copywriters catch on to that same philosophy.
This is my first time writing a proper review, but I feel ‘The Verdict’ is what it’s supposed to be called when you write an online review of anything somehow.
If you’ve been paying attention I think you know where my personal preference lies. I’ll try to break it down per section and then end with a conclusion.
- General experience
Shortform – sleek design, too much detail in content.
Storyshots – messy app, but if you keep digging there’s some really great stuff hidden in there.
Headway – proper summaries of great books. They almost tricked me into listening to a robot.
Lucid – can I just sit here and swipe through books and quizzes?
Blinkist – let’s go for a walk and listen to a new friend telling fun stories with deep life lessons.
Mentorist – woah wait, I need to write this down.
Blinkist is the absolute winner. It’s clear from the start how long the audio is going to be, the voices are easy to listen to, there’s good intonation, fun little anecdotes, and it never feels like you’re just listening to someone reading out bullet points off a list.
Have you heard me talk about Lucid? What else needs to be said? Both the app usage as well as the content is pleasing to the eye and really does help remember the content it presents.
- App Usage
Mentorist and Blinkist might be sharing the podium for first place here. Mentorist has a great way to push its users toward action and with that practices what it preaches. Blinkist focuses a bit more on delivering great content and keeps the app a bit more tidy and easier to use.
Let’s cut through the clutter.
Lucid is an absolutely amazing app that translates great books into visually pleasing digital learning. Once I make it to the end of my Italian course on DuoLingo I might actually opt for Lucid instead.
Mentorist helps translate knowledge into life-changing action. If you take the time to grab a journal, write down goals and revisit those as you apply them to your life it’s a powerful tool to not just read, but also ‘take action.’
Blinkist would be my overall winner. Agree or disagree, but here’s why… In my humble opinion Blinkist combines all the aspects of general experience, audio content, visual content and design, and the app usage into a great user experience. Although there’s some obvious creative liberty in the way it summarises and retells the content of its ever growing library, this makes it all the more fun to listen to, easy to read, engaging to apply, and contagious to share with others.
Behind Mentorist there’s a great team of innovative digital creatives whose desire to help others learn and take action is rooted in a deep desire to keep learning and growing themselves. I’ve had the privilege to help provide some feedback about the current app and future ideas for its development, as a part of their ambassador program.
Blinkist genuinely is the first app on my phone that I’m so excited about that I just had to find a way to partner with them in getting others to start using it as well. Here’s my gift to you for making it all the way through this review. That’s a lot of reading. Or scrolling… You deserve a gift regardless.
This is my attempt at a thorough analysis of a few great resources. Even though I spent much time testing and writing, the descriptions above are extremely personal and subjective. Do yourself a favour and try each of these apps out for yourself. I’d love to hear if you have tried any of them and what your thoughts are. Which one is your favourite? Am I missing any apps that should have been on this list? What points do you agree or disagree with? Let me know in the comments below.