Aug 29, 2012

[Apps] Comics by comiXology (Android)

Last week I talked about Komik, a free comic reader app for Android and how I've come to appreciate reading comics on Kindle. Today we'll talk about a slightly more complicated app coming from comiXology, which presents an interesting alternative for those who want a richer comic book experience.

Komik is great for CBR and CBZ type files that you have already sourced independently, if you get my drift. And while we're all able to locate comics in this manner, the experience is varied depending on the quality of your comic book archive.

And being an avid Kindle user, I've become pretty appreciative of the paid digital reading experience. While it feels weird at times to pay for virtual goods in this way, one does get other benefits on the side that makes things all the better. Thus today's app.

Comics by comiXology is a free comic book reading app released by digital comic book retailer comiXology. The company has done well in terms of striking deals with various comic book companies like Marvel, DC Comics, IDW and others and thus have a unique position in the digital comic book market. comiXology is also behind the dedicated comic book app for DC Comics.

The principle of the app is pretty simple and straightforward, especially if you've dealt with digital retailers like Amazon and the like before. comiXology has an online store and an in-app store where you can browse comic book titles, view customer rating and make instant purchases. These comics are associated with your dedicated comiXology app (creating a login is required) and thus there is a cloud-syncing advantage. Comics can be left in the cloud for storage or downloaded to your Android device. And yes, you can also read your comics at the comiXology website.

The store has seasonal deals for limited periods of time where you can get individual issues for as low as $0.99 each or you can get the equivalent of trade paperbacks for about $8 a volume or thereabouts. Prices vary significantly depending on the comic in question, how old the title is and so on and so forth.

Beyond the basic back and forth swiping navigation, the comiXology app has a unique advantage in terms of their GuidedView technology for more dynamic comic book reading. Instead of just going page by page, you can also go panel by panel, in a manner of speaking. Or at least you follow the view in a way that ensures you focus on each panel, are able to read the text and yet also appreciate the entire page in context.

Let me walk you through an example:

Here's a full-page view of a single page from one of my comic books. It's more than possible to read the comic in this manner, but GuidedView presents other options.

When in GuidedView, tapping the left and ride sides of your tablet (specific to your device's orientation) allow you to go through the various panels as appropriate. Then you get to see each panel in a full-screen manner that makes it easier to read. Plus the app automatically whites out or blacks out the background in order to give appropriate focus on the action.

Then for panels that are larger than typical or those with lots of dialog, each comic is encoded such that it moves you through the various speech bubbles so you can read them in the proper sequence while also zooming back out to see the full splash panel so you can see all the action.

Some argue that the apps navigation options are less than intuitive in this latest update (approximately version as of the time of this posting). The "My Comics" link brings you to all the comics that you have downloaded locally to your device well enough. But to see all other comics associated with your account that are still in the cloud require that you click on the Featured button in the upper right corner, and then click on Purchases to pull up your full list. It does seem like too many steps just to get your comics again.

I can also say that comiXology customer support across email and social media is pretty responsive. I had an issue where one of my comics appeared to be missing content and when I contacted them about it, I received timely feedback within 24 hours along with a commitment to correct the errors with their copy of the comic. That will naturally re-sync with your account and should restore your comic book reading experience to its full potential.

I won't get into the argument about whether it is better to have physical comics or digital ones. However the biggest advantage, I feel, is getting access to many out-of-print comic books or at least hard to find ones with the click of a button so that you can finally read those comics you lost. Their database is still growing, so you're bound to encounter issues not yet available in the store. Thus it's a good idea to check the site, look for comics of interest and weight the benefits before you commit to the comiXology digital comic book experience.

Comics by comiXology is a great app that gives you access to a very robust comic book marketplace. I really enjoy the GuidedView option and it has made my comic book reading experience very pleasurable on my ASUS Trasformer tablet. Thus it rates 4 1980's Transformers comics that I've downloaded out of a possible 5.
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