ComicRack (for Android) review

ComicRack for Android lets comics fans read and manage DRM-free comics with ease, but the lack of solid CBR support may turn off a few potential customers.

Image Comics—the rebel publishing house that championed creator-owned comics in the early ’90s—recently made another industry-altering move. It became the first major comic book publisher to release digital comics in DRM-free CBZ, CBR, ePub, and PDF formats. What does this mean? Comic book-reading apps, like Android’s $7.89 ComicRack, that were almost exclusively for reading stolen content are now given an extra layer of legitimacy (besides being used to read truly independent offerings, of course).

ComicRack doesn’t have an integrated digital marketplace like Comixology’s popular (and free) Comics app and doesn’t support Solid CBR files, but it offers a compelling reading experience for those who want to escape other apps ‘walled gardens. There’s also a free, ad-supported free version that lacks wireless comics syncing.

Pulling From the ComicRack
ComicRack’s attractive interface is divided into two main sections: Library and Reader. Library is where your collection lives; Reader, naturally, is where you read books.

The Library itself is further divided into two parts: Listbar and Comics Browser. The Listbar is a vertically aligned column where you select a comic to read from a number of default Smart Lists such as New Comics or Recently Opened. Smart Lists automatically sort books into categories should they meet certain criteria; having my comics sorted by author or title made finding books (such as anything with the name “X-Men” in the title) incredibly simple. Unfortunately, you can’t create new Smart Lists from within the ComicRack app; that’s a feature reserved for the desktop ComicRack for Windows software—more on that later.

It should be noted that ComicRack for Windows is an important part of the ComicRack for Android ecosystem. You don’t need it to transfer comics (iTunes is a solid alternative), but you’ll want it to create Smart Lists and wirelessly sync books or convert Web comics into mobile form. My two purchased Image Comics CBZ files (Lazarus #1 and Scatterlands #1) transferred to my Samsung Galaxy Note II with ease via USB and later by wireless sync. Note: Wireless sync is only available in this $7.89 premium version. The free, ad-supported ComicRack lacks that feature.

ComicRack doesn’t support Solid CBR files—a shame because many of my purchased comics are in that format. You can read why by visiting the ComicRack Android FAQ.

Navigation and Reading
Tapping a Listbar entry displays issue thumbnails and your own star rating in the Comics Browser section. Bringing a digit to a thumbnail launches a comic.

Rucka and Lark’s Lazarus #1 looked fabulous on my Samsung Galaxy Note’s 5.5-inch display. Word bubbles and captions were legible for the most part, but I zoomed in occasionally (which is executed by double tapping the screen) when I encountered dense text. Should you want to tinker with a comic’s presentation, pinching, zooming, and dragging the image around the screen are available options. Left or right swipes, naturally, turn pages.

ComicRack’s automatic scrolling isn’t nearly as impressive as Comics’ Guided View, so if you’re a fan of that particular feature, you may want to stick with Comixology’s apps. You can, however, flip an Android device into landscape so that ComicRack displays two pages at a time (much like Comics for Android). This makes the text a hair harder to read, but lets you enjoy double-page spreads. Another neat feature: ComicRack remembers where you finished reading, so that when you return to a comic after exiting the app, you’ll pick up where you left off. ComicRack also has excellent page scrubbing.

Overlay controls, activated by single-tapping the center of the display, let you quickly scan and access specific pages, activate the orientation lock, or open a window where you can assign a star rating or write a mini-review. Progress bars at the bottom of the page shows how far along you are in the reading process. There are numerous preferences to digest, so I suggest reading the included user manual.

Reading is Fundamental
The $7.89 ComicRack is relatively expensive when compared with the free PerfectViewer, and doesn’t support solid CBR files, but it lets you deftly read and manage non-DRM file formats (its page scrubbing is quite excellent, too). Now that a major publisher like Image Comics has cast off DRM, open digital comics readers will become even more valuable—and ComicRack is one of the category’s standouts.


Verdict
ComicRack for Android lets comics fans read and manage DRM-free comics with ease, but the lack of solid CBR support may turn off a few potential customers.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc