Next Issue brings unlimited magazines to your iPhone

Previously for iPad only, this "Netflix for magazines" service shrinks to pocket size. But is that a good thing?

Next Issue for iPhone has a neat Cover Flow-style view for swiping through magazine issues.
Next Issue for iPhone has a neat Cover Flow-style view for swiping through magazine issues. Next Issue

As a die-hard magazine fan, I've enjoyed having Next Issue on my iPad. It's a subscription service that brings me unlimited periodicals for a flat monthly rate ($9.99 or $14.99 depending on whether you want weeklies as well).

Can you read this? Of course not. But Next Issue won't format the page for comfortable viewing on your iPhone.
Can you read this? Of course not. But Next Issue won't format the page for comfortable viewing on your iPhone. Screenshot by Rick Broida/CNET

However, I've bemoaned some fairly major shortcomings in the app, such as no Retina support, text-view mode, bookmarking, article sharing or printing, and more. The folks at Next Issue seem more concerned with adding titles to the library (which now includes an impressive 120-plus) rather than improving the user experience.

So I was hopeful that the just-released Next Issue for iPhone and iPod Touch would correct at least some of these issues. I mean, it would have to, right? A smaller screen all but demands changes to the way you consume magazine content.

Unfortunately, Next Issue Mini (my name for it) fails on many levels, starting with consistency: different magazines afford a different reading experience. Some have interactive tables-of-contents, others don't. A precious few let you adjust the text size, most don't.

Worst of all, the majority of mags I've looked at lack phone-friendly formatting. They're barely different from straight-up scans of the magazine pages, meaning you're going to contend with a lot of zooming and scrolling. If you've ever tried to read a PDF on your iPhone, you know just the kind of unpleasantness I'm talking about.

It may well be that publishers dictate what features can be included with Next Issue's versions of their magazines, though I'm not sure why they'd want their material presented in anything other than the best possible way.

Things get a little better in landscape mode, but without Retina support, text is still fuzzy.
Things get a little better in landscape mode, but without Retina support, text is still fuzzy. Screenshot by Rick Broida/CNET

Yet, Next Issue for iPhone doesn't support Retina, which is simply inexcusable. Text that should look razor-sharp when zoomed looks unflatteringly soft. And in some magazines (Consumer Reports, for example), there are limits on zooming, so you can't always get the text as large as you need it to be. If you turn your phone to landscape mode, you'll sometimes get a better, bigger view of the page, but in most cases it's still not optimally formatted for the small screen.

Much of this could easily be resolved with a text-view mode, which strips out all the formatting and leaves you with clear, size-adjustable raw text. Zinio offers that in their app -- which, incidentally, supports Retina as well. Alas, it's still MIA in Next Issue.

And here's what happens at full zoom on this particular Entertainment Weekly page. Do you really want to read like this?
And here's what happens at full zoom on this particular Entertainment Weekly page. Do you really want to read like this? Screenshot by Rick Broida/CNET

Printing? Nope. Bookmarking? Nope. Sharing? The New Yorker has pop-up buttons for Facebook, Twitter, and e-mail, but those are a rarity. The one thing Next Issue nails is navigation, both of your library and pages within an individual issue. That's thanks to a slick Cover Flow-style view that appears when you turn your phone sideways.

Look, I'm all for digital editions of my favorite magazines. I love reading Entertainment Weekly on my iPad days before it appears in my mailbox. But I get that one via Apple's Newsstand, and it lets me save favorite articles and read them in Retina glory. In the Next Issue edition, I get soft text and no bookmarks, though at least it does include the same bonus digital content.

To my thinking, Next Issue remains the single best deal there is for magazine junkies who want to read anything and everything, all for $10-15 per month. But there are some significant issues that need fixing, starting with Retina support and a text-view mode. Every time I ask company reps about this stuff, I'm met with a boilerplate non-answer.

By all means, take advantage of Next Issue's 30-day free trial. But don't be surprised if you find the reading experience lacking.

 

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