I was lucky enough to get in on a free 1 year subscription to PC Magazine a couple months ago. I stopped buying it years ago because it was becoming so Internet-centric and home-user oriented that it lost the power-user edge it had when PCs weren’t as popular in the pre-$20-ISP age. I still read it now and then, and the columns from Bill Machrone and especially John C. Dvorak still are almost worth the cover price alone. Sadly, when I got to the free subscription offer, all the print-edition giveaways were gone, so I had to accept the subscription in digital format only. I figured, “well, it’s still PCMag, and still free, so why not.” I already have a print edition subscription to eWeek, and grab the PDF versions when I need an article and I’ve already tossed the aging paper version. I was not-too-pleasantly surprised to see PC Magazine’s digital edition isn’t in PDF, but in a format from a company called Zinio for their proprietary Zinio Reader. Frankly, Adobe’s PDF would have been a far better choice for many reasons. Acrobat even does DRM, which seems to be the main point of using Zinio’s software.
Click the link for my informal review on the app.
I’ll start with the good points, as it won’t take long. There’s a downloader app that receives the magazines you’re subscribed to, and stores them in a special subfolder in your My Documents folder. This is nice, because it’s easier to store digital copies than paper copies. You can launch the downloader separately or from within the Reader app. That’s handy. There’s a feature to highlight areas of the pages, and also a feature to make notes and annotations that are stored from session to session, and unlike paper notes or highlighters, these can be removed perfectly. There’s also the ability to share a copy of the magazine with a few friends. You click the button, and your browser opens to a page where you input their email address so a copy of the magazine can be made available to them. This requires they download the reader, though, so that the DRM features will still be in effect.
Now for the rest of the app. First, while the .zno files aren’t PDFs, Zinio license Adobe’s PDF technology for the core of their application. However, if I were Adobe, I wouldn’t brag about that. Zinio managed to take the PDF format to new lows.
First, the app is horribly slow. It actually takes more than a second to go to the next page. Now, this could be overcome with some smarter caching technology. I know they’re using some caching, because if you click back a page, it’s near instant, and if you then click forward again to the page you just had loaded, it’s also very fast. Simply caching the next page while the user is loading this one would solve the molasses-like page turning problem.
Zooming in or out on a page is just as slow. Zoom in, the whole page has to redraw as though from scratch, still taking over a second. Zoom out, same thing. Grab the page and pan in any direction, same thing. Adobe Acrobat Reader is so much faster, I can’t even begin to compare them. on this same system, it’s nearly instant when flipping pages, and the pages are redrawn as I pan, I don’t have to stop panning to let the app redraw, as in the Zinio Reader. And god help you if you ALT-TAB out of the app, and then back in. It’ll take about two full seconds to redraw the screen.
And while we’re talking about switching apps, you’ll have to use ALT-TAB as the reader maximizes itself full-screen, blocking access to the taskbar, even if your taskbar is set to Autohide (as mine is). Further, the Maximize/Restore button doesn’t actually do anything, despite being there and changing state when you click it. Why bother putting it there then? This is not a beta or preview version, the app claims to be version 1.6, and I found references to older versions on the web, so they didn’t skip versions 1.0 through 1.5.
You know those cardboard inserts in magazine offering subscriptions to the publication, or from advertisers? They’re still here, along with those annoying foldouts. I was stunned at this. What’s worse, is they act like pages, meaning you can’t just click them away or move them, you have to “turn” the page to see the content they obscure, and since it’s not paper, you can’t tear it out (see first comment). To the right here you can see an Earthlink ad card in two shots. In the first, it is on the right side, and the next picture shows after “turning” the page. And yes, it took just as long to render this turned page as it does a full page. And here are two more, this one a subscription ad card for a new Ziff Davis magazine called “Sync”. Strangely enough, I somehow managed to get a copy of it in the mail, it’s just another of the sexy-gadget magazines that frankly are done better by the dozens of websites out there.
It’s even worse for multi-page inserts. Those are usually affixed to a page with some rubber cement, so you can peel it out, then remove the rubber cement. Not so here, obviously, and you have to flip through multiple pages, not just one. It’s awful.
while most ads are just as tame as any print ad, they have abuse potential. Ads can embed other media, such as Flash. With such a bombardment of annoying ads on the web, and magazines being more ad than content to start with anymore (as he noticed too), I really don’t need magazine ads gesticulating at me too. It’s the worst of both worlds.
It seems to crash about 50% of the time when I attempt to print. I replaced my ancient Lexmark 1020 a year ago with a new, abusive chip-cartridge using Epson (thank you for ingenious Russian hackers) so I doubt it’s some obscure conflict there.
Despite the fantastic annotation and highlighting ability, you can’t copy/paste any text or images at all. This is taking the DRM too far. Even most protected PDFs allow limited copy/pasting, and information applications like encyclopedias and dictionaries retain limited clipboard use.
Lastly, there is a separate applet that is used to download the magazines. This is actually a nice little applet except closing it doesn’t actually close it. Much like AIM, if you hit the little close button in the upper right corner, it’s as though you minimized it to the system tray. This is very annoying, and bad UI design. Close means close. Worse, when you then right click the tray icon, and select exit, you must confirm this with a confirmation dialog, and you can’t check a “don’t ask me again” box like with most other apps.
All in all, it’s just bad. I would never purchase a subscription if I had to use this app. If it wasn’t for the fact I get this subscription free, I wouldn’t use it at all. I don’t even bother to read each issue as I get it, viewing them once and month or two, so there’s a strong chance I’ll never wind up reading all of my free issues, the reader application is so bad. I see no reason why they couldn’t have used a straight protected Adobe PDF format instead.