It’s clearer than ever that tablets are the perfect digital comic book reading option. There’s also no doubt that digital comics services like Comixology and Marvel Unlimited have made it easier than ever to obtain vast resources of digital comics.
What’s less clear is what type of tablet or e-reader you should consider for your comics consumption. Do you invest in a sleek 10 inch tablet? What about a mini tablet to save a few dollars? Could you stick to a laptop or desktop? And what about non-Apple or Android options like Kindle, Nook, or Windows Surface?
What’s the best device for comic book reading?
It’s a tough question, and one I researched extensively for the original incarnation of this guide in 2013. Since that time, Comic Book Herald’s tablets for comics guide has helped thousands (#bragbrag) and even better, we’ve gotten tons of feedback from comic fans going through the same purchase decision.
You’ll find all of those learnings and suggestions below. The answer to the right tablet for you will depend to some degree on your needs and liquidity (meaning both your access to cash and your ability to go full Hydro-Man at a moment’s notice). Nonetheless, I believe there’s a clear answer here to help you make an informed purchase.
The Best Option: Full-Size, Fully Supported Tablets
The simplest answer is that popular Apple and Android 10 inch (or thereabouts) tablets will provide you with an excellent digital comics reading experience.
I’ve had an iPad 2 through work for some time (yay, work supporting comics unknowingly!) and the full-size tablet has solved every digital comic book need I ever had. The resolution is amazing, the comics look great, and I could leave every issue in single page mode and read no problem.
The downside of Apple, of course, is that the typically excellent iPad features some prohibitive pricing. A newest gen iPad Air will never let you down, but it will also run you upwards of $449 (for the 16GB).
Fortunately, Android offers a number of comporable reading options at more manageable starting prices. I wrote a lot in the 2013 guide about Marvel Unlimitd problems with the Android operating system. As a functional MU addict this was a meaningful demerrit. I’m happy to say that now the gap between iOS and Android Marvel Unlimited is significantly less concerning today.
This is true outside of MU as well. Android and iOS are well supported by the major digital comics players, meaning you can have a similar experience with Marvel Unlimited, Comixology, and comic book reader apps across either operating system.
The Top 3 Full Size Tablet Picks:
1) iPad Air – $385 – 9.7″ screen – 16GB
While the iPad Air 2 is the newest generation tablet from Apple, personally I’d just as soon try a nice new iPad Air 1, especially with comic book reading as the primary consideration. At the time of publication, this will save you a nice $65 for a device with similar storage and specs.
Again, it’s pricey, but you will undoubtedly enjoy reading your comics on the iPad. If you’re really focused on comic book reading and not all that worried about additional features, consider an older iPad model or even a used model as a cost saving measure. Speaking from experience when I say John Ostrander’s Suicide Squad reads just as well on a new iPad Air or a certified pre-owned iPad 2.
2) Samsung Galaxy Tab S – $339.99 (refurbished) – 10.1″ Screen – 16GB
Android’s iPad Air rival is another great comic book reading option for those who lean Android OS. The Tab S had a lot of support from readers in our 2013 guide, including the below:
The Samsung Tab S is awesome for reading digital comics and Marvel Unlimited. It even comes with a free Marvel Unlimited subscription for 3 months.
Display is gorgeous, incredible for reading. Nicer than a LED screen.
10.5 inch screen and weight is 1 pound (465 grams). Super light and does not make it uncomfortable holding for long periods of time.
You can add a Micro SD card for extra storage. 128 gb card = reading forever.
32 GB Tab S is 50 bucks cheaper than 32 GB Ipad Air. So just from a comic book stand point, I feel it is the ultimate reader. ~ Jim-Jim
3) Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro – $549 – 12.2″ Screen – 32GB
If you want to go BIG, the Tab Pro is going to offer a screen that’s actually larger than your standard floppy comic. And while that price can definitely be intimidating, there are also frequently used or refurbished options that bring the Tab Pro down in the mid $300s.
Feedback from CBH readers on the Pro is similarly positive:
The Galaxy Tab Pro (with 12.1″ screen) is pretty awesome for comics. I use a combination of Unlimited (which,yes is a little buggy, but bearable for filling in caps), and the Comixology Marvel App (though I only buy the 99c comics). As well as the huge screen, it has a stylus which means I can eat my lunch and swipe the pages with my stylus (preventing a horrible dirty screen). ~ Michael D.
With the Galaxy Tab there’s also an 8.4″ screen option that will shave your price down in the $230 range. I’ll talk a bit about the pros and cons of a smaller screen in the next section, but in the meantime reader feedback says:
I was on the same dilema than you guys. After using and not being 100% satisfied with a Galaxy Tab Plus 7 inch, then a Kindle Paperwhite and a Kindle Fire HDX 8.9, finally I found my perfect, but bit expensive device.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro 8.4 is the perfect size and display to read comics and manga. I can easily read and collect mangas on the Manga Rock App. And on the same time read great american and european comics like The Worlds of Aldebaran.
Trust me Im very perfectionist, and I finally can say that I love my comic/manga devices. ~ Butman
10 Inch Tablet vs. the 7 Inch Mini Tablet: Does Size Matter?
The biggest debate of all is whether to lay down your money on the full-size or mini tablet.
On average, a full size 10 inch tablet is going to cost at least $100 more than a 7 inch mini, and typically over $150 more. Given that potential savings, the temptation is to look very closely at the 7 inch tablet and consider if the screen size alone is worth nearly an extra $200.
Looking at the above screenshot, you can tell pretty clearly that the full size tablets are going to approach the standard comic book reading experience much more accurately. This should hardly be a surprise. There’s a reason I’m calling it a “mini” tablet after all. Of course it’s smaller, but for a reduced price, is it functional?
Pros of the Mini Tablet:
1) Convenient transportation – The 7 inch tablet offers a degree of portability that’s hard to beat. You can easily hold the device with just one hand while reading comics, the tablet is incredibly light, and you could even conceivably fit the device into a cargo pocket if needed.
While this might not be much of a plus if you’re just reading at home, if you’d like to bring your comics on your commute, the 7 inch is an easier carry-on.
2) Resolution – Comics look great on the Nexus 7, or similar quality mini tablet. Again, I can’t sit here and pretend they look better than the new iPad, but I really don’t notice a discernible difference. I have, in the past, sat and watched FX’s Wilfred on my Nexus 7 while sitting in front of the TV. And I’d do it again.
3) Savings – I covered this, but for some specifics Apple lists their iPad mini 3 at $399, and an iPad Air 2 at $499. For that price you could take advantage of a Comixology .99 cent sale and buy 100 comics. Just saying.
Cons of the Mini Tablet:
You’re not going to believe this, but it’s size related.
The major downside is that single-page reading on the 7 inch tablet is generally not very practical. You will need to zoom some, or if reading in Comixology, use panel-by-panel reading. This is a slightly different experience than just having the page in front of you and may take some getting used to. From the words of the people:
After having a Nexus 7 since the day it launched in 2012 i’ve read about 150 comics on it (mostly the entire series of Walking Dead). That fact alone shows that it possible and indeed quite enjoyable. There was a lot of zooming and switching from portrait to landscape however and whilst this never stopped me it was a detractor.
Following recent price drops I purchased a Nexus 10 and omg what a difference. Hands down the 10″ is better. Just finished reading 47 Ronin and just read a page at a time the way it’s meant to be. No zooming necessary. ~ Corum
The Top Mini Tablet Picks:
1) Google Nexus 7 – $165 – 7″ Screen – 16GB
My take on the mini is if you’re gonna go small, you might as well get the best value while saving. The Google Nexus 7 achieves that goal, and as I’ve experienced now for 2 years, it delivers.
I’d also note here that the iPad Mini 3 (and the iPad Mini 2) is consistently a more highly rated mini tablet. I leave it off my picks here because if you’re thinking about shelling out over $300 for an iPad Mini, I strongly recommend you look into some full-size, non-Apple options for your comics. Nothing against the device, I just think you can get a better comic book reading experience for the same price.
2) Sony Xperia Z3 – $435 – 8″ Screen – 16GB
If you are looking for a more premium, smaller tablet experience, the Sony Xperia Z3 has been getting stellar reviews for a while now, and delivers the sweet spot size that may require comic panel zooming, but frequently will not.
I have much less of a personal attachment here, but recommend giving it a look!
Tablet & The Outsiders: Kindle, Nook, Windows Tablets
What about some of the other players in the tablet space? I’ll do a quick run down of each and assess the advantages and disadvantages.
1) Nook HD+ – $139 – 9″ Screen – 32GB
Update 3.19.16 – As a few commenters have noted below, the Nook no longer supports Marvel Unlimited updates, which makes it a less agreeable outside option. The below is still true, but I’d actually point you to the next item on the list if you’re looking for a good value.
I was able to snag a full-size (9″) Nook through a Groupon Goods deal almost 2 years ago now, and I’ve used it almost daily for comic book reading.
The biggest upside of the Nook is the value for a full-size tablet, and the fact that it uses the Google Play store, so your apps are the same as you’d see on a popular Android device.
For me, the big perk here was that Marvel Unlimited worked as well as it does elsewhere in the Android-verse (which is much better than it used to be these days).
Comic book reading aside, the Nook is not a particularly great tablet. It’s a bit clunky and buggy, and worse, Barnes & Noble stopped developing the product meaning support is basically this guy:
As I’ve said, though, I had very few complaints for the price. And hey, it ain’t just me:
Bit the bullet and picked up a Nook HD+ for under 200 – thank you for the advice, this thing is perfect for Marvel Unlimited. It’s already worlds better than the browser, which I was struggling to load from any desktop. The app might crash every once in a while, but since it opens back up in a second, it’s no big deal. And the screen is large and sharp – I’m really happy with it. ~ Lenn
1.1) RCA Viking Pro – $119.99 – 10″ Screen – 32 GB
My new favorite cheap, affordable option is the RCA Viking Pro.
This baby is just over $100, for a full size tablet, 32 GBs, and a portable, attachable keyboard. Best of all, it runs Android no problem, so you can easily access apps like Marvel Unlimited and Comixology.
Now, clearly, at that price point, there have to be sacrifices. The touch screen is a bit sluggish, and the visuals lack fidelity compared to some of the snazzier options.
But if you just want a full-size option that works? The RCA Viking Pro is a steal, and the keyboard is a nice added bonus if you’ve been wanting to test the Pro waters without taking out a small loan.
It also makes a very nice commuting device, with less concern about dinging up the screen during travel, or losing it on a train.
2) Amazon Kindle Fire – $229.99 – 10.1″ Screen – 16GB
Update 7.12.16 – I’ve been using a Kindle Fire 10 for the better part of 2016, and it’s my preferred tablet for reading comics. My original caveats about Marvel Unlimited still ring true, but if you’re reading the likes of Comixology (Or Comixology Unlimited), CBR files, or anything within Amazon’s Kindle experience, the Kindle Fire is my favorite high-quality value tablet to date.
To date the Kindle has never appropriately supported Marvel Unlimited. From the mouths of babes:
I have a Kindle Fire HD 8.9″ and a Marvel Unlimited subscription. To date, there isn’t a Kindle Fire version of the Marvel Unlimited App. So to use it you have to side-load the app. And your observations about it’s performance are pretty accurate. It needs a lot of work.
However, for as long as I’ve had my Fire, I’ve read my Marvel Unlimited comics directly from the Marvel.com website. I list of links in EverNote to facilitate locating the books I want to read. The link opens the Silk Browser right to the correct page. When you open a comic to read, it opens to fill the full screen unlike the app, navigation works great, and the comic looks beautiful. You can still pinch and stretch as you see fit. But since my tablet is an 8.9″, I seldom do so.
Thus, I’ve found the Kindle Fire to be great a tablet option, especially if you have a library of other Amazon content (like me). ~ Nic
3) Windows Surface –
Windows tablets worry me for the same reason as the Kindle – Marvel Unlimited compatability. Just look at how long it’s taken Marvel Unlimited to get up to speed with Android devices (and even then, with plenty of bugs and support requests from both Android and iOS users).
You will be able to access Comixology in the Windows store, though. Personally this is a stay-away unless you have an absolute need for Microsoft.
Bonus Round – Phones For Reading Comics
While I will acknowledge there are frequently non comic book related reasons people purchase phones, my current smartphone is like 80% based on comic book accessibility.
The discussion around your phone of choice is very similar to the full-size vs. mini tablet discussion, although in this case we’re dealing with screens that are genuinely too small more often than not.
Or at least… that was traditionally the case. The latest gen iPhone and behemoths like the Samsung Galaxy Note are extremely reasonable comic book reading devices. If you don’t much mind the “is that an infinity gauntlet in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?” jokes because of your phones enormity, these are solid on-the-go selections.
If you’re using a platform with smart panel reading like Comixology or Marvel Unlimited, then smaller phones are very possible. I’ve read many a comic on my Samsung Galaxy IV, and before that on an even smaller iPhone 4.
Did I also decimate my vision by about half? Of course. It’s far from perfect.
Simply put, if you think you’ll be doing most of your digital comic book reading on a phone, I’d strongly consider the phablets. The size is close enough that you’re in mini tablet range with the full benefit of a phone.
Bonus Round 2.0 – UH… digital comics?
I’ll save a comprehensive analysis for another day, but a quick and dirty guide to getting you started with digital comics (for a total newbie).
Comixology – This is the biggest digital comics store on the market, and the cleanest reading software I’ve used. To save some money, keep an eye out for their frequent $0.99 sales on full series. I just got all forty plus issues of DC’s Hitman this way, and it’s been great.
Marvel Unlimited – I’ve got all sorts of things to say on Comic Book Herald about Marvel Unlimited. The gist is this: there’s no more affordable way to read through the Marvel Universe. You can give a one-month subscription a shot for just $10, or keep your eyes peeled for the occasional free month promotion (usually alongside a movie).
Digital Scans – If you’ve scanned or, ahem, otherwise somehow obtained cbr, cbz, or pdf files of comics (you could easily do this through the Image Comics store, or a digital first initiative like Private Eye), there are a wide array of 3rd party reader apps. This is a bigger discussion, but the readers I’m using currently are ComicRack and Komik (for my Dropbox quick additions).
Scribd – I wasn’t blown away with this service the first go round, but it has a really nice library, including many of those Marvel Unlimited comics. If you want some non-Marvel in your life (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Jeff Lemire’s Underwater Welder come to mind), this is worth a look.
Hoopla – Simply put, Hoopla is my new favorite digital comics app. Your subscription is dependent on whether or not your local library is included, but after that it’s totally free with a library card. Great selection of DC, Vertigo, and Image books.
You May Now Enjoy Your Comics on a Tablet
Hopefully you have a better idea of the type of tablet you’d like to purchase for copious amounts of comic book inhalation.
If this post helped you, I’d be grateful for your support by using the following link to head to Amazon to make your decision.
Or, share your findings in the comments below!