Zinio for Android review

Almost exactly one year ago I reviewed Zinio for the iPad. Since then, the iPad has gotten many new features that affect magazine reading on it, especially the forced in-app purchase system and the Newsstand store in iOS 5 that basically makes Zinio a bit outdated on the device. Android however doesn’t have this, but it still has Zinio, allowing you to buy magazines for your not-an-iPad. Read on to see how the app holds up.

Disclaimer

Zinio and I have something of a history. I’ve been a user for many years, since long before there were the kind of tablets we have today. Some years ago, they started a practice where magazines you subscribe to were able to get your email address and send you “information”, without the “no thanks” options working very well. Then they started shoving free magazines down your throat by simply pushing magazines you likely had no interest in to your library, and to top off the privacy failure, these magazines got the same email access as the ones you actually paid for. As a result, my Gmail archive still has emails from the likes of the Smithsonian Magazine, a magazine I have absolutely no interest in yet were able to get my email address by having Zinio promote it with a free issue. What’s worse though is that Zinio actually denied that they were the cause of this, which is just amazing when customers sit there with spam emails that even has Zinio’s name in them, all the while Zinio denies their existence. That lead me to remove all credit card information from Zinio, move to PayPal payment, use a filtered email for my account there, and basically denying them the satisfaction of being one of the worst privacy offenders of any service I have seen. Now, years later, my filters keep my happily oblivious to whether or not this practice still exist. I use Zinio because it offers products I want, but as far as the company itself goes, I consider them nothing short of crooks.

The service

Zinio revolves around a central database of magazines that is independent of platforms, with some magazines being unavailable on some platforms. The Android app has access to many of the magazines, as well as a store to buy them. Unlike the iOS app however, there’s no in-app purchasing option in that app, so you have to use Zinio’s own checkout system. This uses the credit card on file to do the purchase, not allowing the PayPal option. As such, I’ve found myself having to buy magazines in the browser and then wait for them to be pushed to the app. Not exactly the simplest of solutions.

The selection that Zinio offers is excellent, and as far as the iOS Newsstand option goes, there are magazines that one service has that the other doesn’t. Since you don’t have Newsstand on Android though you can’t just use both, but for the most part, you’re likely to find something you like. Actually finding it can be problematic though, as the store isn’t overly organized. The search feature doesn’t work at all for me in the latest Android app, and it doesn’t really do much to promote magazines you might like. For instance, I would frankly expect that Android Magazine be pushed in my face when I open the app on an Android device, but instead I get some sort of travel magazine. Another awkward issue is that the service doesn’t really treat a UK and an Italian magazine any differently if you say you’re from the US. They’re both “international”, which I guess is true, but hardly equally relevant for an English speaker. When I told it I was Norwegian, it showed me the Italian Android Magazine when I searched for “Android Magazine”, whereas the US location option promoted the English version. I guess Italy is closer to Norway than the US geographically, but as far as how many can read the language goes, an English language magazine is infinitely more relevant. In other words, there seem to be a complete lack of any recommendation engine that works even half way logically.

The app

The Android app is quite nice as far as design goes. The dark/black design fits right in with Android, and the layout of everything makes much more sense than many Android apps I’ve seen. It’s a very polished UI as far as looks go, and I frankly prefer it over the Newsstand UI.

Zinio magazines are for the most part the traditional paper-turned-digital type of magazine, not the interactive, scrolls-all-over-the-place “magazines” that have become popular on Newsstand. To me, that’s a huge plus. If you hold it in portrait mode you get one page, if you hold it in landscape you get two. No hidden content visible only in landscape mode or anything like that. You scroll from page to page the way you’d expect, tap the screen to bring up a thumbnail preview of all the pages, or click a menu button to bring up an even larger thumbnail preview mode. If a magazine/particular article supports it, a small  [text] button will pop up on the screen whenever you’re on a page where you can enter text mode, basically giving you just the text without the formatting and images. A very nice feature if you’re reading text-heavy magazines and want the “ebook experience”.

Screen size, ratio, resolution

The iPad’s screen size, ratio, and resolution (particularly on the iPad 3) makes it perfect for the magazine format. Android devices are however normally widescreen devices, and there are lots of 7-inch devices out there. Portrait mode in Zinio leaves a lot of empty space at the top and bottom of the screen because of the ratio difference, and even displaying two pages in landscape mode leaves some black bars on the sides. On 800 x 1280 resolution screens that doesn’t really matter too much since the resolution compensates for the wasted space, but on 600 x 1024 devices, you’re going to end up relying on zooming and panning. That was one of the major complaints with the Kindle Fire, which can also do magazines (and comics), and it’s just as true for Zinio on 7-inch devices. On small screened devices that has the resolution needed but lack physical screen size (like the Galaxy Tab 7.7), your eye sight is essentially the deciding factor as far as readability goes.

Conclusion

There are a few options when it comes to reading magazines on Android tablets, and Zinio is definitely one of the top dogs. I still don’t like the company after what they did with my email address, but I do like what they offer. Despite some issues, the Android app is very polished and gives you a nice magazine reading experience. The biggest drawback of magazines on Android is not Zinio’s fault, but rather the fault of manufacturers that push a widescreen aspect ratio on their devices’ screens.

As far as price goes, that varies depending on the magazine. It should be noted that for many international customers, Zinio is actually cheaper on Android than on iOS, because Apple operates with a fixed exchange rate that has very little basis in reality for some currencies at this point. As an example, Apple treats 1 USD as 7 NOK, whereas the actual exchange rate is currently ~5.7. So while Apple charges 238 NOK for a year’s subscription to T3, Zinio actually charges only 190.

[Google Play]

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Andreas Ødegård

Andreas Ødegård is more interested in aftermarket (and user created) software and hardware than chasing the latest gadgets. His day job as a teacher keeps him interested in education tech and takes up most of his time.