Informal Review: Zinio Reader

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.

Zinio ReaderI’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.

Earthlink card insert
Zinio Reader

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.

Earthlink card insert 
Zinio Reader

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.


  1. Scuzzii had this to say,

    November 30, 2004 @ 4:45 pm

    Not a fair review. Zinio was actually quite zippy on my system. Not sure what you have on your PC, but page turning looked appealing and it’s more akin to how a real magazine looks and works. It’s not a huge step up or down from PDF in my opinion. Only thing PDF has going for it is that it’s more robust and has been around longer

  2. Grey had this to say,

    November 30, 2004 @ 7:10 pm

    I turned off the page turn effect, which I did forget to mention. Personally it’s a cheap effect that gets old quickly. It just makes going to the next part of the textr slower. Sadly, turning it off here doesnt’ speed it up.

    Simply some caching of the next page would solve this issue, as flipping back a page is much faster, so obviously they have SOME caching going on.

    As for PDFs, this is based on Adobe’s PDF technology. I think the added bits are the custom UI for the reader, and the DRM and delivery technologies.

  3. John had this to say,

    May 19, 2005 @ 7:02 pm

    I agree completely with this review. Zinio is slow, and now with version 3, even slower–moving the screen around is now a halting, jerky affair that tries one’s patience. And the version 3 download manager STILL insists on popping intelf into the system tray instead of actually closing. If good competition comes along, I’ll drop Zinio flat.

  4. Brian had this to say,

    June 1, 2005 @ 3:30 pm

    My problem with Version 3 is that – unlike almost any other application I use, Zineo does not have the ability for me to drag it to my second screen. My main machine is a notebook, and I have a big digital monitor as my second screen. All my reading is done here, but alas, not Zineo who doesn’t seem to have the post 2001 technology!!!

    And it is fairly slow. My notebook is fast and has a Gig of ram. Where’s the caching!!!

  5. Doug had this to say,

    October 22, 2005 @ 12:56 pm

    Zinio 2.0 was useless but I’ve been using 3.3 on a 2.4 ghz desktop with 1gb ram and a Radeon 9800 (not sure if they are leveraging the video card performance) and page turns and zooms are instant. I’m using a 19" LCD 1280×1024. A sign for me that its working is that I have converted some of my trade publication reading such as eweek and information week over to zinio format even though I can get it for free in print

  6. Rick Williams had this to say,

    July 11, 2006 @ 12:24 pm

    The worst comes last – Try to remove Zinio and your machine goes into a loop. You can’t seem to crowbar the application off the machine no matter what you do. Maybe a new upgrade will be removable, but it really sucks having to carry this around.

  7. Mike had this to say,

    August 24, 2006 @ 6:24 pm

    I found out after buying a $73 textbook that I couldn’t view it anywhere except the computer I downloaded it to, which is very inconvenient. Zinio reader also doesn’t allow multiple pages per sheet to be printed, an important economical feature when your only copy is "locked" to one computer.

  8. lu had this to say,

    December 9, 2006 @ 8:05 am

    Lots of free zinio magazines.

  9. Dan Lovejoy had this to say,

    April 11, 2007 @ 10:04 am

    I too can scarcely believe that I can’t view Zinio docs on my large vertical monitor. It’s perfect for single pages, but I can’t drag it over there. I haven’t tried the Mac client, but it’s likely worse than the Windows client.

  10. Beaker had this to say,

    May 2, 2007 @ 9:37 am

    Two and a half years after the original post and Zinio is still horrible. Worked fine on my Vista machine for a while, until suddenly I could not access my mags and got a message about my lack of a license while offline. Got online, followed’s solution to get it working, but had to re-open each individual mag to re-aquire the license and once again be able to view my mags offline when i get off work and go back to my room. I don’t have any internet tubes in my room here in Iraq.

  11. Ford Clancy had this to say,

    June 3, 2007 @ 9:24 am

    If a magazine is available as a PDF, I will take the digital subscription. If it is available through Zenio, I’ll take the paper version, thanks. Zenio is NOT worth the effort.

  12. John A had this to say,

    June 20, 2007 @ 2:01 pm

    Terrible program. Still can’t move it to a different monitor, still can only print one page at a time, still slow.

    Worst of all, the print quality is terrible and hard to read. Only offers 2 zoom levels.

    This thing is in the stone age compared to Acrobat.

  13. Mixote had this to say,

    August 13, 2007 @ 6:43 am

    Is there any way of getting round the system so you can save images from zinio?

  14. Mixote had this to say,

    August 13, 2007 @ 6:43 am

    Is there any way of getting round the system so you can save images from zinio?

  15. breck lundin had this to say,

    August 28, 2007 @ 10:53 am

    What effect does the zinio "updater", or whatever their process is called, have on laptop battery life? Especially on a wifi enabled laptop.

    To me, the DRM is problematic at best but for a free sub I could live with it…but having to constantly kill the "updater" process is a dance I really would not care to do all the time.

    Can one tell Zinio when it is OK to hunt for new editions? I suspect no…and I suspect the reason is Zinio wants the hooks to push content at users, especially those with "free" subs. Can you imagine they have the hooks to suddenly blast the user with an ad for hygiene products at any instant? Not feeling fresh? well along comes an ad from Zinio to remind that you can do something about that with ????///of course this happens when running a presentation for the board….

    I am glad I ran across your blog before trying Zinio out here…no thanks.

  16. jmjsquared had this to say,

    September 1, 2007 @ 12:20 am

    Thank you all! I have NOT installed Zinio and, after checking here, will not! Seems you saved me a lot of woe.

  17. btran had this to say,

    September 23, 2007 @ 12:42 am

    i think it true , i subscribed to zinio for about more than 5 mag – the 1st few month , it work probperly . sudenly it’s stop since Jan this year – with message #187 – some thing , i have contacted the customer service severall time !! no help !! until now , can not download .. if you want a to read mag .. don’t subscribe to Zinio .. they are useless !!!

  18. rochel had this to say,

    September 24, 2007 @ 9:25 am

    Downloading Zinio put my Internet Explorer out of action. So I had to completely remove the program from my Add Remove. I will never use this again. Should be in pdf form. I agree with you all.

  19. rochel had this to say,

    September 24, 2007 @ 9:27 am

    I downloaded Zinio reader and this put my Internet Explorer out of action. I deleted from my Add and Remove program and I am back on line. I will never download that site again. What possessed them to put this onto zinio, why not in pdf form. Worse thing they could have done!

  20. Edward Peter Anderton had this to say,

    October 10, 2007 @ 12:13 pm

    I iwsh that I had looked for this site before buying the Photoshop User Zinio based magazines. I can download the magazine but when I try to Read it the whole application closes.

  21. Kevin had this to say,

    March 10, 2010 @ 9:02 pm

    Zinio is far better than PDF for reading magazine and it is very fast on Mac OSX, there is also a version for iPhone, very cool.

  22. Gerhard had this to say,

    June 14, 2010 @ 8:21 am

    I now have Zinio 4 installed.

    To be honest, I enjoy reading the digital magazine but for 2 things:
    1) It is still sloooooooow when loading pages. Caching is vertually non-existent with it only pre-caching the next page and nothing furteher. Why doesn’t it keep on caching all the pages.
    2) Zooming is a damn pain in the arse. In hight resolution monitors the default double-click zoom does not zoom in enough. This means that I have to manually zoom in every time. Why can’t they just as the option to set how much I want to zoom in on a couble click? Seems simple enough.

    The rest of the user interface is OK. I like the bookmark and tag feature and the digital library. It’s however the speed that totally kills this.

  23. Kenneth had this to say,

    January 9, 2011 @ 2:16 pm

    Very annoying to use and slow. Tossed it (figuratively speaking) into the trash.