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A quick look at the new Zinio magazine app for Android tablets

by Marty Gabel

Already somewhat popular on iOS devices, Android users can finally download Zinio for their new, fresh tablet devices. The app is free, and if you act quickly (e.g. before June 15) you’ll be able to download a bunch of the magazines on offer (their choice) for free. After that, you’ll need to pay for individual copies (priced similar to the newsstand counterparts), or splurge for a full subscription.

So, how does Zinio’s first foray into the Android tablet market work out? Let’s take a look.

Upon first launching the app, it immediately prompts you to sign-in or sign-up. Call me a grouch, but that’s never a great way to start. However, you’ll need an account if you want to purchase magazines in the future, so I suppose it’s ‘expected behavior’ -- I just wish more app developers would let us at least peek at stuff before we are urged to give out our personal info.

The range of magazines available initially is quite extensive. Popular titles like Seventeen, Rolling Stone, Men’s Fitness, Motor Trend, Cosmopolitan and Harvard Business Review are all represented to view for free, and there’s a load more in the shopping area of the app. If you love your mags, you’re bound to find something here. I took the plunge and downloaded May’s Motor Trend and was reasonably impressed. There was the magazine in full on the Xoom with a handy contents page or the ability to flick through thumbnails at the bottom to quickly access specific pages. It was easy to zoom in and out to read small text, but admittedly not as silky smooth as I expected considering the Xoom’s graphical and processing capabilities. Once zoomed-in, it felt a little laggy to move around while everything loaded. I then moved onto Cosmo, looked at the thumbnail page and got a “low memory” message on the Xoom. My fault, or the app’s fault? Who knows -- Android still hasn’t nailed the tablet thing perfectly just yet, sorry.

Encouraging start, but more work needs to be done

So, it’s a promising start for Zinio, and magazine readers will be encouraged to see the app finally available. But all I really got was the feeling that I was simply reading scanned versions of the magazines, complete with print-formatting and ads. Now, that might work for many people, but really, I was hoping for some unique tablet-only content complete with fun interactive stuff to take advantage of what Android tablets can do. Perhaps that’s coming in the future.

Still, Android has only just begun to get these types of tablet-specific magazine apps, so we should be happy that they’ve finally arrived. Next Issue Media unleashed some of its titles just a few weeks ago, albeit only for the Samsung Galaxy Tab right now. Even though the iPad has a number of wholly tablet-specific magazines available like much-hyped The Daily, that’s hardly been a runaway success either.

There’s no doubt that we’ll be consuming more and more on our tablets and smartphones in the future. I think big magazine readers will definitely appreciate the fact that Zinio is out there to download -- it’s a promising start. However, many are likely to stick to glossy full-sized paper format magazines until they can be sure that they’re truly going to get some unique and refreshingly different content if they download their tablet counterparts.