Zinio: Digital magazines for your UMPC/MID
This guest article was submitted by Andreas Ødegård.
I'm a very heavy user of digital content, from podcasts and music through iTunes to audio books through Audible and other services. Legal services are few and far between, and it hurts me to see that one of my favorite digital content providers is unknown to many: Zinio.
Zinio distributes magazines as digital downloads and sells both single issues and subscriptions to a lot of popular titles. The magazines are identical to the paper versions, with some even having added digital features such as animations and video clips.
When I saw Jenn's Viliv S5 review, particularly the picture of the gadget in portrait mode, I realized how nice it would be to pair Zinio with such a device. I unfortunately don't have any UMPCs to show you the features of Zinio on, but my Acer Aspire One netbook has both the same screen resolution as a lot of UMPCs (1024×600 like the S5) and a pretty low-powered Atom processor, so the results should be the same.
First, I need to set something straight that might scare off a lot of people right away: Zinio uses DRM. It's a proprietary format only readable in the Zinio reader or in the browser, so if you have Linux on your machine you're unfortunately out of luck
How It Works
Zinio works like this: you have an online store, a download application, and a reader application. You purchase subscriptions and single issues in the store and then either read them in your browser or download them to your local library using the desktop download application.
The online store has a nice selection of magazines that aren't specific to a region/area, which is nice because then people like me who don't live in the US have access to the major US magazines like PC Mag. Prices are very reasonable, with subscriptions to PC Mag, Popular Mechanics, and a lot of others going for only $10 for 12 issues. Some are more expensive and will run you as much as $50 or more depending on your country.
Over here in Norway there are actually subscriptions costing as much as $80, which is just ridiculous. In that particular case, the digital edition costs the same as a paper subscription at full price (not even counting the fact that you'll always get some sort of rebate, making the paper version cheaper) even though none of the paper version's production or distribution costs are involved. I emailed the magazine in question to beg for a price drop a few months back, and they replied that their Zinio edition would not be offered at all this year due to not selling too well. Gee, I wonder why
The library will display the magazines on your hard drive and sort them by month. Unfortunately, the download manager will consider any magazine as downloaded if it has been downloaded at all, which means that if you use Zinio on several computers you'll have to manually copy the files from one to the other as the service won't let you download them again (as far as I have been able to figure out).
This is a bit annoying but luckily, the DRM is account-specific and not hardware-specific (like music DRM, which needs to verify new hardware every time you copy the file), so you can easily copy files from the Zinio folder in "My Documents" from one device to another with no problem.
The reader itself will either let you display one page at a time or two at a time. Remember that when running a device such as a 1024×600 resolution UMPC in portrait mode you have almost the same vertical resolution as a full 1920×1080 screen, which means you won't run into many resolution issues even if your device has a low res screen.
The images above show the difference between scaling to fit the screen and the magazine's original resolution; there isn't that much of a difference (click for full resolution pictures to see how readable the text is).
You can of course zoom in even more but it will only give you a larger picture, not more details. Personally, I have no trouble using small screen devices as long as the resolution is decent and I run the first mode shown here without zooming.
Zooming and dragging the picture into view takes a bit out of the CPU as well. Even though Zinio states that a minimum CPU speed of 2GHz is required, it actually runs fine on a 1.6GHz Atom N270. I expect that it would also run fine on 1.33GHz Atom Z520 CPUs as well, or at least be usable if not blazingly fast.
Zinio for iPhone
Zinio also has a limited iPhone offer available where you can read certain magazines for free (without being a member) by going to zinio.com/iphone with the Safari browser on your iPhone or iPod touch. I'm not aware of any plans to make a dedicated Zinio app for the iPhone and frankly I don't see that working very well considering the resolution and processing limitations of the device anyway. Zooming is fine to a certain degree, but a resolution of 320×480 is after all only 1/4 of 1024×600.
Zinio hopefully represents the future in regards to distribution of magazines and newspapers. It eliminates the very high printing and distribution costs as well as allows readers worldwide to get their hands on the newest issues seconds after they're released. Saving the trees isn't a bad side effect either.
Zinio is the single biggest reason that I personally want a tablet-style computer like a UMPC/MID, and I highly recommend anyone with such a device to at least try it out if you like magazines. Several sample issues are available to allow you to try out the software and get a taste of the general user experience without paying a cent, so head over to Zinio and check it out.
Andreas Ødegård is currently finishing the second year of a three-year bachelor's degree in Economics and Administration at Lillehammer University College in Norway. He loves gadgets of all sorts and has been writing for Anything But iPod since January 2008, as well as updating his own DIY blog.