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Comics by comiXology Review: Best Cross-Platform Comic Book Reader Store

Comics by comiXology


 

Considered by many to be the best comic book reader store app… and for the cross-platform, cross-publisher store, I agree. This flagship service has been at the forefront since the beginning and largely responsible for my move to digital comics. This is your ultimate guide to Comics by comiXology with videos, screenshots and more:

Get Comics by Comixology for iPad, iPhone & iPod on iTunes App Store > 
Get Comics by Comixology on Amazon.com Apps for Android >
Get Comics by Comixology Android App on Google Play >
Go to Comixology on Web >
Get Comics by Comixology in Windows Store >
 



 

Comics by comiXology Overview

The Pros

  • iPad accessibility (with retina display CMX HD graphics) is the closest to traditional comics dimensions and proportion
  • Read across iPad, but iPhone, Android, Kindle Fire and on the web
  • Integrated reader and comics storefront for Marvel, DC, Image and more
  • High resolution graphics for iPad retina
  • Guided View Technology helpful for iPhone and Phablets
  • Powers many of the publisher branded apps (Marvel Comics, DC Comics)
  • Offers many ways to browse into organization (artists, story lines, etc.)
  • User Interface has become a standard
  • Fantastic customer support – I had a reply to a request for an account change completed overnight.

 

The Cons

To be fair, many of these disadvantages are simply extensions to the challenge of the digital format in use today:

  • Is the future “windowed” content, like with Netflix, Hulu and Amazon?
  • Many free comics, but otherwise difficult to legitimately share with friends unless you loan out your device or account.
  • No ability to integrate your own digital comics collection
  • Personally, not many buggy or technical problems, but with a service this large and widespread, you certainly see complaints when things are not running perfectly every time.
  • Can be a bit slow start-up compared to pure reader apps, especially on initial page load.

 

The Download

Comics by Comixology – a digital comic book reader – has been at the forefront since the beginning and responsible for my personal move from dead trees to digital… and I haven’t looked back.

As the flagship app powering the marketplaces for the majority of the comic publishers, Comics by Comixology, is instantly familiar and recognizable – which plays into one of its greatest strengths: cross-platform compatibility. Like with Kindle content, the digital comic book reading experience can be started on an iPad, continued on an iPhone and finished on a desktop computer through the web browser for PC and Mac.

By far my most preferred way of reading comics is the new iPad and CMX HD comics supply the image quality and resolution to get the most out of every display pixel. It simply doesn’t compare with newsprint or baxter paper.

On a small screen with a high resolution display, comics consumption becomes palatable on the iPhone with Guided ViewTM Technology. I find the panel to panel transitions generally disorienting and in direct conflict with the power of the comics medium (See Scott McCloud) on a larger surface. It can feel like a sloppy, incoherent flipboard.

The volume of content – over 20,000 comics with hundreds of free comics at last count – is impressive. There is a definite emphasis on recent releases with much of the digital shelf space geared toward “Same Day as Print”. Search can be useful, but its a bit of a double edge sword because it helps point out (sometimes gaping) holes in the store catalog. On the plus side, browsing by series, genre or creator can yield significant runs of classic material that is available – sometimes at a discount.

Pricing, set by the publisher, varies considerably. Anywhere from Free to $3.99 for standard “monthly” issues with most titles at the $2.99 or $3.99 point – typically the same as their print counterparts. Collections and trades can range from $4.99 to $35.99 and higher, but generally a bit lower than print list prices. (I am going to refrain from commenting on price in general here… that is a topic for another blog post).

The customer support at ComiXology has been fantastic. I requested a change to my account settings and overnight I had a response from one their fine folks. After a quick email exchange and confirmation, my account was ready to go. There simply is no substitute for an attentive business with a focus on the customer.

Interacting with Comixology doesn’t feel like a content management chore compared with most readers. The user interface does a great job of being consistent when it makes sense across devices and optimized for a particular platform when appropriate. You can instantly recognize a comixology powered comic book reader and feel immediately at home and oriented to the content presented because of this emphasis on the user experience.

While Comics by Comixology is a great comic book reader and store with a multitude of options and features… the burden of being all things to all people is that you simply have a harder time specializing and tailoring that experience.

A product that powers so much often has to be concerned more with broader support issues and managing change than pushing the envelope on strength of characteristics. For instance, developing a cross-platform app requires a flexible, but often repeatable framework that can sometimes feel monotonous:

Bugs, freezes and crashes are a reality with much of the emerging digital world. Expanding a service across platforms only highlights this more and some versions are buggy-ier than others – many devices reviews can be overly critical in this regard.

Comics by Comixology is a pioneer app and because of this legacy, I want to see it continue to revolutionize the industry. Many thoughts on potential improvements relate to the state of digital comic book readers in general:

How can you legitimately share with friends other than loan out your device or account?

I appreciate the syncing Comixology to Marvel accounts for purchases, but what about integrating my broader digital collection?

How interesting would it be to see Marvel’s Infinite Comics initiative as a platform open to all publishers?

What about a more dynamic and flexible reading order beyond next issue in the series?

It feels stilted to simply be upsold the next numerical issue in the series – It should feel more like a twist-a-plot novel. Imagine reading orders like playlists in a major crossover event: Mini series to Main Story or Every Single Issue in Chronological Order. That’s the power of digital.

A big benefit is the cross-platform universal nature of the service. What if that becomes diminished for some reason, say with content windows or exclusives? DC Comics were removed from the Kindle Fire and that creates a big obstacle in the minds of consumers buying into a service: uncertainty. I hope this isn’t an indication of the service having scattered or unavailable content as currently experienced by customers when comparing a video service like Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime.

I admit to being really nitpicky with this comic book reader and expectations are high for a future of groundbreaking features with Comics from Comixology. This app was the reason I got an iPad in the first place and then the new iPad (iPad 3). As I mention in my going digital post, after experiencing the ease and convenience of digital comics, I find it impossible to go back.

Its a high bar, but if any digital comic reader app is going to continue helping move the industry forward and build momentum on the economic realities of today, its Comics by Comixology.
 


 

Comics by comiXology for iPad

Since its release, iPad has ushered a momental shift in the consumption of comics for myself and countless others. The iPad size and aspect ratio is very close to the modern American comic book and Comics by Comixology takes advantage of every pixel.

By far my most preferred way of reading comics is the new iPad and CMX HD comics that supply the image quality and resolution to get the most out of every display pixel. It simply doesn’t compare with newsprint or baxter paper.

Easily browse the Store by Featured, Publishers, Series, Genres and even Creators. You can manage downloads to your device through Purchases so that you can specify which comic books to add to My Comics. All of this works very seamlessly regardless of orientation – a big plus in the world of tablets.

The reader options are equally as intuitive as the store. Simple taps bring up contextual menus for Information on the issue (Summary, Credits, etc), Page Navigation, Quick Viewing Help and Settings.

The Settings are not extensive compared to some other readers, but primarily offer a choice between Animating Transitions and Letterboxing. Personally, and especially on iPad, I prefer the full page view and minimal animation between transitions – the quicker the better. (I don’t care for programatic page turns that feel like stock animations or using the Guided View Technology to view panel by panel.)

A very nice and welcomed polished touch is the handling of double-page spreads. In portrait orientation, the two page spread is auto-sized down seamlessly. If I want to look at it closer to its intended original size, a quick 90 degree turn to landscape orientation immediately scales the image up. Double page spreads are one of the bigger drawbacks of digital comic book readers, but Comixology does its best to help us through.

The end of issue provides a end cap to the Information option. The next issue in the series is offered along with a few suggestions entitled “People Also Liked”. The share links are well integrated and natural in the app, but I can’t help but notice all the links don’t point to the content within the app, but to the Comixology website. It would be a million times more powerful to have the link automatically bring you directly to the in-app comic if Comics was installed, much like linking to apps themselves can automatically open iTunes.

See All iPad, iPad Mini, iPhone and iPod Tablets & Devices >
 

Comics by Comixology for iPhone

While Comics by Comixology is an app designed for both iPhone and iPad, it prudently reduces the number of options and potential clutter on the smaller surface. This is no easy task and one can see the level of restraint in not offering everything when it just doesn’t make sense.

Easily browse the Store by Featured, Bestsellers and My Comics. You can manage downloads to your iPhone through Downloads so that you can specify which comic books to add. Unlike iPad, Store orientation is fixed in portrait mode which may require a bit of turning while reading – but it feels like the right choice for this platform.

All the other reader options from iPad are here with a simple tap: contextual menus for Information on the issue (Summary, Credits, etc), Page Navigation, Quick Viewing Help and Settings for Letting Boxing and Transition Animation.

On a small screen with a high resolution display, comics consumption becomes palatable on the iPhone with Guided ViewTM Technology. I find the panel to panel transitions generally disorienting and in direct conflict with the power of the comics medium (See Scott McCloud ) on a larger surface – It can feel like a sloppy, incoherent clipboard. On the iPhone – its the only way to read. Literally. There is no option to disable Guided View.

Like double page spreads on the iPad, panels in portrait or landscape orientation are auto-sized down seamlessly. If I want to look at it closer to its intended original size, a quick 90 degree turn to the other orientation immediately scales the image up. This is a lot more natural on a phone where its just a quick wrist motion rather than feeling like turning the wheel on a bus with a tablet.

The end of this issue information does not include any share links, only the next issue in the series and suggestions entitled “People Also Liked”. Now that a take a closer look, I do notice that sharing seems to be one of the most stripped away features from iPad to iPhone. I think this can be a lost opportunity: I would browse and order more often than not from my iPhone which has a much greater range of connectivity when compared to my iPad.

See All iPad, iPad Mini, iPhone and iPod Tablets & Devices >
 

Comics by Comixology for Kindle Fire HD

See All Kindle Fire Family Tablets >

Comics by Comixology was one of the first apps on the Kindle Fire and like the iPad and iPhone surfaces, the app was well designed for the screen size – and looks even better and sharper on the Kindle Fire HD. While there may be more options on larger tablet sizes, its simply not a blown up version of Comics for a phone. Again, prudently reducing the number features is an exercise in restraint that benefits the comic book reader.

Easily browse the Store by Featured, Publishers, Series, Genres, Creators, Purchases and My Comics. You can manage downloads to your Kindle Fire through Purchases so that you can specify which comic books to add. Similar to other tablet versions of Comixology, the orientation is not fixed and allows browsing in portrait and landscape orientations. A widescreen orientation is not as ideal for browsing on a 7″ tablet, but it feels much better than being artificially fixed – as it is on other Kindle Fire HD apps and content.

The Kindle Fire app does offer very limited options for contextual menus: Browse Pages and Settings for Letter Boxing and Transition Animation, but no Summary, Credits, etc.

Pinch-zoom is fast and responsive and although the Kindle is not a small resolution display, comics can still be viewed with Guided ViewTM Technology. Unlike the small screen phone version, its not the only option – simply double tap to enter and exit the panel reading mode. On a Kindle, I find I prefer the panel to panel transitions, while still a bit disorienting and jumpy, preferable over the panel view in Kindle Books.

Double page spreads in portrait or landscape orientation are auto-sized down seamlessly. If I want to look at it closer to its intended original size, a quick 90 degree turn to the other orientation immediately scales the image up. The only problem is the Kindle Fire is a widescreen orientation and comics that are still designed for print first, aren’t going to be maximized the way an HD aspect video can.

Two page spread in portrait and landscape orientation:

I am a bit surprised the Kindle experience does not have end of this issue information, include any share links or even the next issue in the series. Features like this have long been part of the Kindle reading experience for Books. Sharing on the Kindle is extremely minimized now that a take a closer look. Its unclear if this is a business decision or technical challenge.
 

DC Comics on the Kindle Fire HD

Speaking of business decisions… the Kindle edition when released featured content from DC, but now is simply unavailable and unmentioned from with the Kindle environment. I could however, consume DC content purchased previously or through other Comixology means. For the purposes of this review, I just did that: purchasing “Batman Year One” from the comiXology website. While this (rightly) may give users some pause or present a bit of inconvenience, its promising to see ways of still achieving the spirit of cross-platform and universal content.
 

Note: I am getting comments this may not be working for everyone and the comiXology Amazon Android Apps page reviews confirm this. The screenshots here show my purchase of Batman Year One from the Comixology website through the Silk browser on a Kindle Fire HD. I was then able to download this purchase through the Comixology App (Comics for Android Version 3.0.7.4) I have also had similar success using my same account on a first generation Kindle Fire.

ComiXology is aware of this issue – see this thread for more: Kindle Fire New 52 Problem – but there has not been any recent discussion. A recent post recommends redownloading DC Books and is also using Version 3.0.7.4 – the same version I have had success with. I am also able to download this and other purchases I have made through the browser on the Kindle Fire HD to other Comixology platforms on iPhone and iPad.

If anyone has any insight into why this is or if I am just lucky, please post in the comments so I can keep this review current. Looking at the receipt page screen from my purchase, I see comixology promoting the fact that “you can read your new comics any time here on comiXology.com or via our mobile applications on iPhone/iPad, Android and Kindle Fire.” Recent comments on the Amazon app page do not call out this issue compared to reviews from the first months of 2012.


 

See All Kindle Fire Family Tablets >
 


 

Comics by Comixology for Android

Comics by comiXology offers a solid experience on the Android platform and continues to show why its one of the best digital comic book readers with an integrated store. The design and integration of comiXology on Android feels natural and optimized for each surface – it is simply not a phone reader “blown-up” or a large sized tablet reader “shrunk down” – which can be an issue with a platform as varied as Android.

Similar to the Kindle Fire version, the top level Store navigation allows browsing by Featured, Publishers, Series, Genres, Creators, Purchases and My Comics. Downloads are managed for your Android device through Purchases so that you can specify which comic books to add. The app is not fixed and permits browsing the store and reading comics in either portrait or landscape orientation. I find the landscape orientation is typically not as ideal for reading on a 7″ tablet or phablet size Android device, until a double page spread, then its much easier to simply rotate and view.

The Android App offers does offer some options for contextual menus: Browse Pages and Settings for Letter Boxing and Transition Animation. While there is a “Next in Series” page at the end of a comic with an option to purchase the next issue and browse “People Also Liked” or Rate, there is no issue Summary, Credits, or other meta information at the start. Pinch-zoom, swiping for pages and double-touching are fast and responsive on both the Nexus 7 and Galaxy Tab 10 that I have included in the video reviews.

Double page spreads are auto-sized quickly in either portrait or landscape orientation. This feature is really going to depend on which device you have – Its a lifesaver on smaller 7″ tablets and depends on your preference at the 10″ size (I personally prefer to have the ability to make a quick 90 degree turn to view a page or spread if its more optimal instead of zooming.)

The Android App includes the core set of functions you expect with the cross-platform service including: thumbnail navigation within comics and the proprietary comic panel by panel – Guided View Technology for any size Android device – but can you really read a full screen comics page on a 7 inch device oriented toward HD video? Here is a screenshot from the Nexus 7:

The answer to me is a surprising yes. On the HD 7″ devices such as the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire HD, the comics are extremely legible and I find that I am doing negligible, if any, pinch-zooming. This is from someone who is quite used to reading comics on the larger iPad with Retina and is quite picky viewing on non-HD tablets. I still do the landscape orientation turn for double page spreads – but that is just a reading style I have embraced on tablets.

Nexus 7 Screenshots

Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 Screenshots

See All Android Tablets & Devices >
 

Comics by Comixology for Web Browser

Go to Comixology on Web >

Surprisingly, buying and viewing on the Comixology website is probably the least compelling of the platforms offered. I can understand if a website doesn’t have the same immersive qualities as phone and tablet apps, but there is still something that feels rather restrained. The biggest benefit I genuinely appreciate: cross-platform work that was put into the site for us Mac users.

Browsing the Store through a site navigation bar offers a great deal of choices: Home, New, Top-Selling, Sales, Series, Publisher, Top Rated, Creator, Genre, Story Arc, Free Comics, Marvel Comics, DC Comics and My Comics.

A big difference in the web experience is you don’t manage your downloads, but view My Comics on demand. Again, this makes a lot of sense from a cloud service point of view, but I can’t help but feel its really more about limiting the potential for abuse. As a consumer, I “purchase” the comic book and download on devices, but it is clearly not an ecosystem like iTunes Plus where I can purchase a universal format I can manage directly or have some assistance in syncing.

The reader options take a much different form and appear simple, but just are not as intuitive as touch screens. The hover action bar offers Information on the issue (Summary, Credits, etc), Guided View Technology (which simply feels wrong on every level when displayed on top of the blurred actual comic), Page Navigation and Full Screen – very nice if you have the monitor real estate.

(Other settings are alarmingly nonexistent: no choices between Animating Transitions and Letterboxing like the device apps, which destroys the experience of Marvel infinite comics)

Well, since devices don’t do so well with double-page spreads, does the website work better in this regard? For landscape oriented images, this works exceeding well. However… it comes at the cost of the experience of two single pages generally butted up together or holes in the flow for when a double page spread appears.

I don’t know exactly why connecting two single pages together as a spread on a computer monitor is such a problem for me. Its puzzling since this is exactly how it appears (and was designed to appear) in print. I don’t know if its reading distance, peripheral vision or simply being trained as a computer user over time to view the monitor as a whole. All I know is that viewing comics as 2 page printed spreads on paper does not bother me, but it drives me up a wall on screen.

The end cap to the issue is nowhere near as seamless compared to reading on a device. Its simply the issue information and feels like a brick wall with my only option being to click the “x” and simply stop reading for the day. Its seems the work of communicating the next issues and sharing is concentrated on the store product pages.

Go to Comixology on Web >
 

Comics by Comixology for Windows 8 & Windows RT

Comics by comiXology goes Metro – the Metro UI of Windows 8 and continues to blaze trails with the launch on Surface with Windows 8 RT. ComiXology for the Surface tablet is a native app that embraces the design and interaction of the new Windows – its not a port from another device.

The new v.2 (and our updated extended edition video) takes is whole another level further with richer browsing, and more of the comiXology experience, including no longer using Internet Explorer to complete purchases! (A early version did not include an integrated store, so purchases were completed in the browser on Internet Explorer.) I am not the only one who is happy as customers are giving the update solid reviews.

Comics by comiXology continues to set the standard and is one of the leading comic book readers on Windows 8 because of its well integrated and native comic reading experience. The large screen is luscious to look at and solid organization for browsing make this an intriguing experience. In terms of sheer screen richness, the Surface is more than a contender verses the iPad and may end up being most people’s preference when compared head to head.

On initial load of the app, you are dropped in Featured with Quick Links access to Kids Comics, Collections, New to Comics?, The Walking Dead, Free Comics, Top Rated Comics, The Comixologist! and Digital Firsts. The app makes beautiful use of the new Windows style grouping with direct access to Same Day as Print, New & Noteworthy, Digital Staff Picks and other editorial features. Up in the right corner is that every present cart when viewing the Store and gliding across with horizontal swipes reveal more and more content to take a deep dive into – all without creating an account or signing in yet.

Swiping down the App Bar reveals the main navigation areas: Featured (starting page), Just Added, Popular, Marvel, DC, Series, Publishers, Creators, Genres and My Comics. There is no Purchases item – that is shown later on in My Comics and other features, like Search, are integrated into the Windows 8 charms nav for a native, integrated experience. (These integrated items available from the charm menu include Search, Share and Settings for: Account, About, Feedback, Reader, Permissions and link to Rate and Review.)

Drilling down into any of major store sections reveals a deep store catalog of content. It feels like you can browse and swipe forever – but in a good way. Comic Detail pages contain a wealth of information, including the Issue Description, Preview, Credits, Release Date, Price, Rating and other issues from the full series.

The layout of all the pages is optimized for viewing in landscape mode – the preferred orientation for Windows 8 apps – and the only way to navigate all store content. There is simply no portrait view, and while that can seem overly confined for doing some things (like previewing portrait sized comic pages in a forced landscape app view) it is not unusual for Windows 8 – even the App Store requires landscape orientation viewing.

The big change, and very welcome feature with this version, is an integrated store and cart. Simply add to the cart, login/create an account, click on purchase and you are done. No more switching apps to Internet Explorer (although you could purchase and browse from there as well, too.)

After purchasing, you will go to My comics where you will see all your comiXology account purchases available under The Cloud grouping. By tapping Download, comics will then be pulled down and added to On Device. Again, the experience is very rich and a feast for the casual browser. I can see the In Cloud section becoming a bit overwhelming without additional filters or organization. I had a bit of trouble trying to re-find Invincible #1 until I turned to Search in the charms navigation, and that was just sifting a couple hundred purchases.

The comic book reading experience continues the richness with large numerated thumbnails for browsing pages and the inclusion of issue Summary and Credits from the “i” icon. Double tap to enter Guided ViewTM, the proprietary panel by panel viewing technology. Reading comics is always the best part and the screen is so large and rich, you would swear its HD. Feel free to rotate to the orientation you prefer – while reading comics you can hold the device in portrait or landscape.

Although the Surface feels like it has an exaggerated aspect ratio (probably due to its large laptop-like size) it has the same widescreen movie ratio aspect of other non-iPad tablets. Reading and browsing from either landscape or portrait orientation is very usable. (In fact, it can feel like you are on a double size monitor when using Internet Explorer in portrait mode to view the comiXology web site.)

There are a few particulars I notice when using this app on the Surface. There is the previously mentioned forced landscape orientation store browsing. There also seems to be delays when navigating around between pages of the store (you can see this in the video). To be fair, I see this quite a bit in the Windows RT app experiences and it just might be inherit to the platform – but it still takes getting used to. The “In Cloud” catalog also seems to reload upon each view, which can cause a bit of hesitation at getting a larger list of your available comics.

The Surface tablet with Windows RT can be a different experience, but I have found it very pleasant and Windows RT a bit of a different way of comic book reading. ComiXology takes the lead again in pioneering solid comic book reader experiences on new and emerging platforms – If you have Windows 8 and are looking where to start with a comic book reader, I heartily recommending to start here.

Get Comics by Comixology in Windows Store >
See All Windows Tablets & Devices >
 

 

There you go. What do you think? Let the world know in the comments.
- Comic Book Reader Guy
 


 
 

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When I was a kid, I wanted to be Batman and now years later… I still do. It all comes back to comic books - my first love.

Comments

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[...] sales and promotions and I have been very impressed and high recommend the comiXology service (Click here to see my reviews across a number of platforms) I have not regretted going to digital, with the exception of still going to shops to help out the [...]

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[...] To purchase DC Comics content, simply open your browser and conduct your purchases there – See ComiXology for Kindle for more details. document.write('x3Cscript type="text/javascript" charset="utf-8" [...]

[...] Comixology was not only on hand at the convention, but sweetened the deal for everyone with a first: a free exclusive Atomic Robo digital comic only available at the 2013 Emerald City Comicon. (It was nice to see digital make a showing and a number of folks I ran into were just as obsessed with comics on their devices as I am.) [...]

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[...] up and brought to light by simply comparing to the Marvel Digital Comics Store and Apps powered by Comixology. There is no “day-and-date” releases, integration with purchases outside of the Marvel [...]

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