I have discovered a new use for my phone. It allows me to listen to audio books while travelling to and from work on Public transport. Struggling to read a real book while trying to maintain your balance in an overcrowded rocking train carriage can be a challenge so audio books make an excellent alternative.
Of course listening to someone reading a book is quite different to reading it yourself. You cannot choose you own pace. It is not easy to flick back and forth at will. You cannot quickly glance back at a just read sentence to clarify its meaning. This means a good audio book needs to be punchy and plot driven. The narration adds a whole new dimension. Writer and reader both contribute to your enjoyment of the tale. When it all comes together, when you get a good tale read by an good narrator it can be an extremely satisfying experience as any child clammering for a bed time story will tell you.
I know there is a bunch of controversy going on at the moment about audio books on the kindle (authors shooting themselves in the foot imho) but there are some excellent sources of free audio books out there with books read by humans instead of computerised speech. Librivox has an extensive collection of public domain audio books. Be warned though their search facilities are quite tortuous. If you like sci-fi, fantasy or horror then the triumvirate of Escape Pod, Pod Castle and Pseudo Pod respectively are essential. These websites offer free high quality genre short stories read to a surprisingly high standard. Donations are voluntary.
Mp3 is a common format for free audio book material but it isn't ideal. Most MP3 players are optimised for music and don't offer the browsing and bookmarking facilities an audio book needs. Thankfully Nokia have a free audio book reader (currently in beta) for their s60 symbian phones. In addition to providing browsing and bookmarking facilities it also uses a proprietary file format that seems to offer about ten times the compression of mp3. Unfortunately they don't offer a converter that runs on the phone ( perhaps phone's don't have the processing power required) so you need to download files on your pc and convert them before transferring them to the phone.
Aside: The download page is here. The audiobook player needs to be installed on your phone while the audiobook manager is installed on your pc. In order to convert mp3 format you need to download the LAME mp3 decoder and unzip it TO THE SAME DIRECTORY as the audiobook manager is installed in. The process is a little bit fiddly but works well enough once you get used to it.
EDIT: I should point out that Librivox are always on the lookout for volunteers to read chapters of books that are in the public domain while the escape pod family of websites are supported by listener donations.