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Reviewed: Best Digital Magazine App

The next time you want to do a little reading on a business trip, reach for this handy app.
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I've been a magazine fanatic since my early pre-teen years. I remember getting Sports Illustrated in the mail and reading carefully through every page, memorizing the names of key players. I like everything about magazines: the in-depth features, the layout of the pages, the stunning photos. I even like the apps used to create magazines, like Adobe InDesign CS6 and Adobe Photoshop.

Since I travel frequently for business, I usually like to load my iPad with a few digital 'zines beforehand. (For the record, Inc. offers a digital version here.) On a recent business trip, I decided to test out both Next Issue, an upstart in this market, and Zinio, the reigning champ of digital magazines. Here's how they measure up.

Next Issue

Next Issue offers a small collection of top-tier magazines like Time and Sports Illustrated. The app works on the iPad and on Android tablets. The main draw is a monthly "all you can read" plan for about $10 per month.

I first tested Next Issue on an iPad. The install process is fast and easy. Once you register, you select the magazines you want to download. This is a simple process because you see the covers for each publication and click once to select it, which marks it with a blue halo. Then, this puts those magazines in your own digital library. When you want to read one, you click again in the library to download it. Removing them is just as easy.

One catch is that you can't register for the service through the app--you need to use a Web browser for that. It's also worth noting that I could not get the app to work on a Google Nexus 7, even though that tablet should work.

Verdict: Magazines loaded quickly and played content correctly, but the app is not well-stocked with magazines. In fact, a large number of the titles are aimed at women only. Next Issue does not work on your computer, which means you can't read anything unless you have a tablet. Also, the app does not work on smartphones like the iPhone or an Android model.

Zinio

Zinio is the digital magazine leader. The service works on a computer (PC or Mac), your phone, both the iPad and Android tablets, and even on the Kindle Fire. There are 5,500 magazine titles available, including most popular mainstream brands. (Curiously, though, you won't find Sports Illustrated or Time.) Many titles are international and about 1000 are interactive--meaning, some sections feature videos, music, and other animations.

Zinio is also much faster than Next Issue. In testing the same issue of Esquire, Zinio downloaded the magazine in about two minutes; Next Issue took over five minutes. Zinio has much better organizational features as well--you can quickly select the month and year to see back issues. There are some interesting perks to using Next Issue, though. When you subscribe, you automatically gain access to the back catalog for the year, back to the January issue. With Zinio, this depends on the magazine. I tested one of my favorite mags, Mental Floss, and found you only get the current issue.

But there's another interesting difference. With some mags like Esquire, Next Issue re-formats the magazine (or at least uses a digital-specific version) so it's easier to read on the iPad. I found the text was bigger and the images were not quite so intense that they overshadowed the main point: reading.

Verdict: There's no all-you-can-read option yet for Zinio, so you'll pay for each magazine. But if I had to pick only one app for reading digital mags, it would be this one. It offers more titles and works on every device I own.

IMAGE: Courtesy of Next Issue and Zinio
Last updated: Jul 27, 2012

JOHN BRANDON | Columnist

John Brandon is a contributing editor at Inc. magazine covering technology. He writes the Tech Report column for Inc.com.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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