With all of the huge comic related news coming out of this weekend’s annual San Diego Comicon I thought it would be a great time to share my recent comic reading experiences within the Windows ecosystems. With the rapid adoption of touch screen devices, tablets and e-readers it is no surprise that the comic book industry has embraced the technology at a more rapid pace than most other entertainment industries.
The idea of digital comics came long before he dawn of the personal computer. As far back as the 1960s comic book companies were looking for unique ways to get their content in front of readers. As a child of the 1980s I vividly remember focusing on a scene in the Tom Hanks hit “Big,” where his toy inventing character discussed the possibility of developing and distributing electronic comics. In 1985 the first electronic comic book was published on CompuServe.
The difference of course between my comic book reading self of the 1980s and the present, is that thanks to recent blockbuster smash hits based on comic book characters – being a comic book geek is now mainstream. Meanwhile, in my teens the closest I ever got to a real comic book movie was Kevin Smith’s movies “Mallrats” and “Chasing Amy,” which had real geeks like myself discussing comics in real (and hilarious) ways. Mallrats even had a cameo from Stan Lee!
Comics on the Surface Pro or Surface RT
Believe it or not I am currently writing this article cruising at 36,000 feet somewhere over north Texas as I head to Chicago. I am typing away on my Surface Pro and red TouchCover, just moments after finishing another issue of Marvel’s Scarlett Spider, a relatively new super hero now unfolding on the pages in my hometown of Houston. I read my comics on my Surface utilizing a fabulous app called comicsJolt! The well-polished and feature rich app is developed by an indie developer (LindyBeat) and is quite fantastic.
comicsJolt! is a Window Store app, which means that it will run on both the Surface for Windows 8 Pro, and the Surface for Windows RT. I’ve tested the app thoroughly on both my Surface Pro and Surface RT and it runs flawless on each. The Surface 16:9 resolution display area is also absolutely perfect for reading digital comics in portrait mode. With the flick of a finger you can turn the page and with a pinch you can zoom in and out to enjoy the book art in all of its HD glory.
The Surface devices seem to be the perfect digital comic destination. I’ve read digital comics in the past on both iPad and Kindle Fire devices, and personally the experience just doesn’t compare. The 10.1” screens seem to be the sweet spot and the perfect size for viewing and reading, as it is nearly identical to the size of an actual paperback comic. For those of you familiar with the classic way of reading, doing so on a Surface should still be a pleasure.
There is a free but limited version of comicsJolt!, but I highly recommend paying the $1.49 to not not only support the great indie developer, but also for the superior experience. If you read comics regularly, it is certainly worth the tiny investment to maximize your reading pleasure. I rated the app five stars – and I’ll touch a bit more on why later.
Microsoft and our pals at the Surface team seem to know just how awesome the Surface devices are with comics, because they were at Comicon over the weekend. Color us jealous!
Comics on any Windows 8 Device
It should probably go without saying that the comicsJolt! app mentioned for the Surface devices above also work on any Windows 8 devices. It also works great on more traditional computers, like my Alienware laptop with a 15” display, and my home gaming machine that has dual 23” monitors. Navigating the app experience with the more traditional mouse and keyboard works well, although viewing the comics in portrait mode obviously isn’t as seamless as the Surface or tablet experience. short of turning your laptop or monitors sideways, reading on a classic machine won’t be quite as awesome as a tablet – although you can easily read two pages at once in landscape mode.
There are other comic book app alternatives for Windows 8 devices, including the Windows Store app from Comixology. There are also classic desktop apps including CDisplay EX, ComicRack and the lesser know MangaMeeya. While these apps may work for you, remember that they will only work on Windows 8 Pro devices – and not on devices like the Surface for Windows 8 RT. I personally recommend comicsJolt! because it performs great with touch or a mouse and keyboard and you can’t really beat the price. The Comixology app is terrible in comparison with comicsJolt!, which is surprising because Comixology is a “market leader.”
There are of course other Windows 8 tablets and touch screen devices on the market in all shapes and sizes that I simply couldn’t test. I am sure the experience on devices likes the Asus VivoTab, Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga or the Dell XPS 12 are similar to my experiences with the Surface. Clearly, some of these devices are slightly bulkier which may make long-term reading a strain in the lap – but most should function just as well on a desk. The beauty of the Windows 8 environment is that there is a perfect device out there for everyone. Variety is the spice of life.
Comics on Windows Phone
Building upon my success of reading comics on my Windows 8 devices, I went on the hunt for a great comic book reader for Windows Phone as well. Luckily, I didn’t have to search to far as the developer of comicsJolt! (LindyBeat) also has a similar Windows Phone app called Lindy Comics. Like his Windows 8 big brother the Windows Phone 8 app has a premium version for $.99 and a limited free version. There may be other Windows Phone apps, but honestly I didn’t try them. There was no need, because I loved comicsJolt! and Lindy Comics is a terrific mobile port with similar functionality and delivery.
Reading comics on Windows Phone devices will of course vary depending on your device. I’ve read comics on three devices when testing for this piece – the Nokia Lumia 920, the Nokia Lumia 928 and the budget Nokia Lumia 521. The Lumia 920 has a 4.5 inch curved glass display running at WXGA (1280 × 768) resolution with an aspect ratio of 15:9 using Nokia’s PureMotion HD+. Comics look fantastic on it, as you might imagine. The Lumia 928 also has a 4.5” display running at WXGA (1280 × 768) resolution and a 15:9 resolution – but it is AMOLED, which makes for a slightly better viewing experience. The Lumia 521 which is a budget Windows Phone 8 device has a smaller 4 inch display with 800 × 480 resolution. Obviously the smaller screen and resolution make the 521 a step below his big brothers, but reading comics on it using the Lindy Comics app still works well.
One important thing to keep in mind when reading comics via your Windows Phone, is to make sure you download your comics and/or sync them from the cloud when you can via Wi-Fi. You don’t want to eat up your data plan by inadvertently syncing hundreds of comics with your mobile network connection. Also, depending on the device you are using, the number of comics you’ll be able to store on the go will be different. Of course, the fantastic Lindy Comics app has cloud syncing so you can grab what you want when you want – which we’re about to discuss.
Syncing with SkyDrive
The beauty of utilizing Windows-based devices to enjoy your digital comics is being able to share them across all of your devices automatically thanks to Microsoft’s SkyDrive cloud storage. Both the Windows 8 app comicsJolt! and the Windows Phone 8 app Lindy Comics sync with the cloud. Both SkyDrive and Dropbox are supported, but we’ll of course focus on SkyDrive here. SkyDrive is Microsoft’s personal cloud storage solution, which can be obtained for free. If you have a Windows 8 or Windows Phone device, you probably already have SkyDrive tied to your Microsoft account, which you can access at skydrive.live.com.
There are SkyDrive apps for the classic Windows Desktop, the Windows 8 app store and Windows Phone – and of course you can access anytime, anywhere via a web browser. Initially you received 7 gigabytes of free storage, and if you had SkyDrive prior to the launch of Windows 8, you may have 25 gigabytes. I personally have the 25GB and store all of my comics via SkyDrive, so I can access anyone of my comics from anywhere, on any device I choose. Since you can install Windows Store purchases on up to five devices, you can read your comic books on your work computer, home computer, laptop, tablet and phone. While also maintaining a safe backup of your beloved comics.
The SkyDrive integration with the Windows 8 desktop is quite easy. As you install the classic Windows Desktop application which creates a SkyDrive folder in your Documents folder. Any file you add to that folder, will automatically sync to SkyDrive. You can then tell the comicsJolt! Windows 8 app, to read from your SkyDrive folder. Reading from SkyDrive is even easier on Windows Phone 8 as the Lindy Comics app has SkyDrive implementation directly in the app. So you actually link your SkyDrive account with the app, and you can pick and choose which issues to download to your phone for offline viewing. Both are truly great great experiences once you get through initial setup.
Comic Movies & TV Shows on Xbox Video
Obviously the joy of comics are not limited to just comic books themselves. There are some great ways to enjoy your favorite comic book heroes on the big screen thanks to Windows devices. Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 have Xbox Video built directly into the operating system. I recently purchased some great shows including the first season of Arrow, seasons 1 & 2 of Teen Titans, and seasons 1 & 2 of Young Justice. There are tremendous Netflix apps for Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 which allow you to stream any number of comic related films and television shows. As you can see from the screenshot of my instant queue below – there is plenty of great comic content to be had!
The beauty of the Windows ecosystem is regardless of your platform, you should be able to enjoy endless hours of comic book goodness. I’ve found that as a frequent traveler it is tough for me to find the time to keep up with all of the comics I enjoy, but luckily technology is there to help busy comic book geeks like myself. Through the power of the cloud, digital distribution and touch devices it is now easier than ever to get your geek on – regardless of your location. Unfortunately, I still haven’t figured out how to easily get the power of an Xbox in my pocket so I can play Injustice Gods Among Us from the seat of my plane. Sounds like a job for Bruce Wayne.