On the app store there are currently two main types of comic reader apps, those that are tied to a delivery content system, like ComiXology’s Comics app, and those that rely on the user importing their own comics in .cbr, .cbz, .rar, or .zip format. While brilliant apps like ComiXology’s Comics app pretty much have set the gold standard for what a comic reader should look like and in my opinion, own the comic reader market for reading DC, Dark Horse, Image and Marvel comics on your iPad, there is an active market for readers NOT tied to a distribution service as well.
I’ve tried a number of these third-party comic reader apps, and in my opinion, until now, Biolithic’s Comic Zeal Reader has stood out as the clear winner on iOS, with the most polished and robust app in this category. Notice I said “until now” that’s because Comic Express poses the first credible threat to Comic Zeal’s App Store dominance.
Let’s start with the first hurdle for potential buyers…price. The Universal release of Comic Zeal Reader is $7.99 compared to Comic Express’ smaller $3.99 price tag (which also happens to be the same price as the iPhone-only release of Comic Zeal Reader). Sure, it may cost less, but without the features to back it up, that means nothing. So how does Comic Express compare? The simple answer is that for right now, it falls just a hair short in the feature department, but the potential is definitely there for a monster upset. Due to its lower price tag, I’d argue that most of these shortcomings could be potentially ignored.
Whether switch comics or switching pages, Comic Express offers a simple, clean interface that makes comic reading on your iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad quick and easy. Pages can be turned utilizing customizable swiping (up/down or left/right) or simply by tapping on the side of the screen. Screen orientation can be locked right from the menu bar at any time and you can auto lock the zoom for a consistent feel to every page. While content was easy to read on the iPad, I did find that for some smaller text, the degree of zoom offered by Comic Express was just not enough in portrait mode and I was forced to switch to landscape mode to be able to read the text. Perhaps the maximum zoom level could be increased? This is not a terribly big deal seeing as I do most of my comic reading on my iPad anyways.
If I see one big deficit in Comic Express it is its current reliance on iTunes as the sole means for loading content. Although iTunes was pretty speedy when it came to importing comics, Not A Basement Studio really needs to add support for Apple’s Document Interchange feature so that Comic Express can be launched directly from DropBox using “open in…”, allowing users that have gone “PC Free” to load new comics from anywhere and not tethering them to their PC or Laptop for accessing new content. It would be fantastic if they could discover a way to utilize the new iCloud save functionality to sync bookmarks/reading position across devices. It is worth noting that during my testing, I did run into one issue on my iPhone where I couldn’t access any of my pre-loaded content (it just showed the loading symbol forever until I quit the app). I actually had to remove/reinstall the app and re-import my content.
Organizing your comics within Comic Express is a breeze, enabling users to organize their comics into collections. Unlike in Comic Zeal, comics in Comic Express can be part of multiple collections, allowing users sort their content to best suit their reading style. From my experience, the only other missing features (when compared to Comic Zeal) are the ability to change the background color, and Comic Zeal’s “Assisted Panning” feature which allows you to read comics one panel at a time. While this is a neat feature, it isn’t completely accurate (prob why it is still classified as ‘experimental’) and doesn’t work nearly as well as the similar functionality ComiXology implemented into their The Walking Dead Comic app.
Not A Basement Studio’s Comic Express is a solid, simple, fast and universal comic book reader app for users needing to read independently purchased content. Offering quite possibly the most robust organization features in the genre, it falls flat when it comes to options for loading new content, unfortunately tethering users to iTunes. However, with just a few minor updates Comic Express could easily become the de facto choice for iOS comic book readers which are not attached to a proprietary content delivery system. If you are in the market for a comic reader, Comic Express should definitely be on your short list.