Review: Comics by comiXology version 3.0 (iPad & iPhone)

 

Yesterday comiXology, the leading digital comics platform, launched version 3.0 of their iPhone and iPad application. So what’s new?

The simple answer is…everything. comiXology CEO David Stone was keen to urge that this is a ground up re-write of the application and it really shows.

First up, the elephant in the room when it came to comiXology has always been the performance of the app. The way previous versions worked was that when started they would connect to comiXology servers and update the entire catalogue of comics on file. This meant that even on the iPad 2 you could wait a couple of minutes for the app to fully load and show you new comics to buy…it made for very frustrating Wednesdays and also made the app unusable on older iphones (personally I found it unusably slow on my iPhone 4). The new comiXology is an entirely different story, the front page loads from scratch in a few seconds and if you’ve already got the app open in the background it’s practically instantaneous and it’s now really quite usable on the iPhone.

The UI is completely reworked and seems to focus on clearer, larger graphics. Here’s a side-by-side:

Here’s the New Features and my thoughts on them.

  • Separate “Purchases” area that displays all owned comics – I’ve got maybe a hundred or so digital comics on the platform and wading through all of them was becoming a real pain. By separating purchased comics from downloaded comics it makes it so much easier to just see what I’ve got downloaded. This is where you’ll go to see everything you “own”.
  • New series groupings in store and “My Comics” – the My Comics area is now for everything you’ve got downloaded on the device and each is grouped by series. Clicking on the series folder brings up nice big preview images of the covers and now shows you whether you’ve read the book yet or not (I love this feature, I am always losing my place when working through a series I’ve bought). They’ve also made it much easier to delete books once you’ve read them…but don’t forget you can re-download at any time!
  • Pause and prioritize downloads – meh, prioritisation is nice.
  • Background downloading – I like this a lot but it seems a little flakey as my iPad 2 was still downloading the dozen or so Flash books I started last night about 13hrs later, on a 50Mbps broadband connection!
  • Improved “Instant Search” – Just like Google start typing something in search and like lightning a list of matches in graphical form appears. Sorted into categories such as Series, Collections, Comics, Creators. I love that the idea of digital collections is starting to take off.
  • Full-screeen previews – If you’re as tight as I am then deciding to buy a book based on a postage stamp sized thumbnail is a tough decision. Now you get 3-5 full-sized preview pages which look great and will no doubt help empty my wallet.
  • Branded publisher pages – the publisher area is now far more graphical and really quite a nice place to browse.

But this list really does underplay the differences in the app. Almost every single feature has been improved.

The bad news? Well you’ll have to re-download all of your comics again, and whilst this has been made easier by some of the improvements above it’s still a bit of a pain. Also by moving the app away from downloading the entire catalogue at launch you’re left relying on the comiXology servers a lot more while browsing and the little circular “loading” icon has become a frequent friend. comiXology have noted their servers took a hammering after launch so I’m hoping it’s just that. I’ve been unable to connect to their servers on a number of occasions and it’s very frustrating.

Other digital comics platforms need to up their game, comiXology have a hit on their hands.

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