Quietly big news this weekend as Marvel rolled out its Marvel Unlimited Android app update. Following the major Unlimited app development announced for iOS at SXSW, the Android app is now seeing similar improvements only a month later.
Are the app updates as functional as they’ve been on iOS? And do these app updates mean it’s time to pull the trigger on Marvel Unlimited if you use an Android device?
Marvel Unlimited App Improvements
As I mentioned with the iOS update, the positives in this rollout are significant. The overall theme is simply a finer, less challenging reading experience, but let’s highlight one at a time:
Single Page Reading Rocks
Single pages are now taking up the FULL display of my android devices. This is glorious and instantly makes app reading preferable to loading the comics through a web browser (which is what I had been doing).
This one probably doesn’t take a whole lot of explanation, but the value in a comic appropriately filling the length and width of your device is ENORMOUS. The lack of this feature has been one of the biggest impediments to appreciation of the Android app, and it is now uniformly improved.
Keep Reading Comics (Forever)
The app now includes the “keep reading” feature which allows you to quickly jump to the next comic book in the series. This is
seriously wonderful after the tedious process of repeatedly clicking a back button on the app for so long.
This is also a potentially dangerous feature when you pick up a series with over 100 issues, but if you’re not averse to lying motionless reading Spider-Man comics for weeks at a time, there’s nothing but positive here.
Smart Panel Movements
Smart panel improvements have carried over to Android. This is deceptively important. I read several comics through Unlimited on my phone (Samsung Galaxy IV) almost daily. Prior to this app update, I would turn my screen in landscape mode, and pinch and zoom my way up and down the page. It was manageable, but far from clean.
With the improved smart panels, I just set the reading to the panel-by-panel experience, and the reading experience isn’t too far from Comixology’s guided view technology. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not quite as good, but it feels a LOT more accurate, and I’m not consistently worried I’m missing text. (Update: At least on certain comics – some still feature very buggy smart panel reading, as mentioned below.)
App Concerns, or Room for Improvement
Full page spread, landscape mode
Despite the responsive fixes to single page reading on Android devices, in landscape mode you’re still not really getting the full screen. In my experience so far, often times when I get a double page spread, or page preferred in landscape, I basically have to do smart panel reading, or squint excessively.
Also, a lot of times, the landscape mode seems to populate two individual single pages, which is borderline unreadable. When I attempt to pinch and zoom on a page, it zooms in on that half o the page, but keeps the second page locked in place on the other half of my screen. It’s a strange bug, and this is probably the biggest knock so far.
Smart Panel Single Page Zoom
One strong feature of Comixology’s Guided View technology is that they allow you to view the full page before you begin reading panel-by-panel. Marvel Unlimited does not appear to offer this option currently, instead zooming between smart panels for the entirity of the comic.
This has a smaller impact than some changes, but personaly I prefer to see the entirity of a page design before I dive into the next panel. It’s easier to appreciate the art and design of a comic this way, whereas panel-by-panel you might completely miss that Spidey’s webbing forms the panel borders.
Additionally, I would mention that turning on Smart Panel reading from your Android device can be surprisingly tricky. None of the in-app buttons really lend themself to this option, so you will need to find the settings on your Android device and click ‘Settings.’ From there it’s easy to flip back and forth between smart panel or single page reading.
Smart Panel Reading on Select Comics
Wait, you just highlighted improved smart panels as a strength of the Android app update, right? Why is it listed again but as a con?
As AmorBavian pointed out to me below in the comments, smart panel reading can cut off up to a third of panels & text on certain comics. The examples given below from the late 90’s / early 2000’s period include Avengers Forever and Captain Marvel: First Contact.
Now, if you’re going to be reading in single page mode on a tablet, this may not concern you much. But if you’re trying a mini tablet or smartphone, smart panel problems like this can make certain series unreadable.
Personally, I’ve been able to enjoy Amazing Spider-Man #1 – #15, Amazing Spider-Man #600 – #624, and Superior Spider-Man #1 – #20 (I’m sensing a trend) on my phone using smart panel reading. Definitely worth mentioning that this will not be as smooth an experience for ALL comics in Marvel Unlimited, at least for now.
Do I get an Android Device or Subscribe to Marvel Unlimited now?
When I originally wrote my guide to tablet devices for comics, I had to mention that for Marvel Unlimited subscribers, Android devices were frustrating. I basically wholesale crossed out the Kindle Fire and Nook HD+ over the concern that Unlimited reading would just be a series of headaches.
This concern no longer has anywhere near the same legitimacy.
If you have an Android device (or Kindle or Nook), I would now recommend Marvel Unlimited to you with equal fervor as I would to an iPad user.
To be fair, I’ve basically been pushing Marvel Unlimited regardless of the app accessibility. But with these significant updates, I can’t imagine you don’t find value in $69.99 a year for access to basically every Marvel comic ever. Even finding 69 trade collections for a dollar each (good luck) would only get you around 414 comics. Marvel Unlimited offers more than that in Amazing Spider-Man comics alone. From 1999 to 2013. Not including various alternate Spidey titles and Avengers appearances.
Again, too, if you get nervous about throwing money around without testing (maybe we should form a club? The McDuck’s?) you can always download the app and use it on a couple free issues. Or even sign-up for just one month and see how it feels.
End of the day, I’m very excited about these Android app updates, and am thrilled I won’t have to continue using the web browser on my Nook HD+ to fully enjoy my comics. An improved landscape reading mode will be nice, but for now this is a signficantly improved comic book reader and service.
If you’ve been waiting for just the right time to join Marvel Unlimited, I think this might be it.