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Old 08-06-2010, 01:36 PM   #1
Rob_E
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Comics, iTunes, and 2-way sync

I'm gearing up for my iPad purchase. I currently have a 1st Gen. iPod Touch that I read ebooks on, and I've recently started reading comic books on it, too. It works better than I thought it would, but i can see where a bigger screen will make for a much better experience. In the mean time, I've been exploring digital comic book reading options on the iPod Touch and digital comic managing options on my Mac. I'm sure others have done the same, so I'm wondering what your experiences are and your preferred programs.

What I would love to see is a totally iTunes-like approach with 2-way syncing of files and, more importantly, information. I don't know if that's a possibility yet, but I'm imagining a situation where I'm reading my way through a series on my iPod/iPad, and every time I sync to iTunes, it removes the issues I've read, and replaces them with the next in line. I can manage similar transfers with audio books and music files using iTunes' smart playlists, but I haven't seen any book or comic book related options. It may be that iBooks will do it, but at present my iPod cannot support iBooks, so I don't know. I've used Stanza and Calibre to put books on to my iPod, but if removing them is an option, I haven't found it yet. And what I really want to sync back to my computer is information about when I last read it and where I stopped.

For comic books, here's what I've looked at:

Panelfly is what I started with. It seems like a great way to get digital comics directly to your iPod/iPhone/iPad without syncing, which is nice, but it seems the buying new comics from the device is your only option. I don's see a way to add content from other sources, nor does it look like you can back up your purchases to your computer or read them there. It's not even clear to me if you can download a comic to multiple devices without paying for it multiple times. I like the idea of a digital comic book shop you can access right from your reader, but beyond that, Panelfly seems pretty limited.

ComicZeal seems pretty good. Navigation is good. It says it supports pdfs as well as .cbr/.cbz files, but I failed in my attempt to sync a pdf file yesterday. It puts a smaller-sized file on the iPod, rather than loading something more space-intensive that the iPod's smaller screen wouldn't be able to take advantage of, which is nice. But, as near as I can tell, the desktop application exists entirely to support the mobile application. Not a huge deal if you plan on doing most of your reading on your device, but since your digital collection can quickly outstrip your device's storage, it seems like better desktop management might be helpful. Also, while it supports standard formats, it looks like it actually converts those to a different format for transfer to the device, which means you're storing your files twice and there's virtually no chance of syncing back information on what's been read and bookmarks because the ComicZeal files are not the .cbr/.cbz files that you started with. On the mobile application, however, it seems to do a good job with bookmarks, collections, and keeping track of what's been read.

Comic Book Lover is the other one I tried. It has a very iTunes-like interface on the desktop application with what looks like a pretty robust support for metadata editing of the various comic fields. The metadata seems to reside in a proprietary database, so careful tagging of a .cbz file is lost if you transfer that file into another program, but that may be a limitation of the file format rather than the program. At any rate, it looks very much like you can add all sorts of data elements to files in Comic Book Lover as long as that is your primary program. The mobile application doesn't seem too different than ComicZeal's. Both have different UI elements that I prefer, so it's hard to pick just one. But, like ComicZeal, I don't see that there's any backwards syncing of information between the mobile and the desktop applications, so I guess there's no reason to prefer the mobile application over the ComicZeal mobile application if you prefer it, although I suspect that if you stay within the Comic Book Lover's suite of aps, you will retain more metadata in the transfer. Also Comic Book Lover had no problem moving the pdf comic that ComicZeal seemed to choke on. The desktop application also has a nice reader functionality, but, apart from that, it seems visually pretty bland. Unless I'm missing some settings (which could easily be the case), items are listed textually only until they're opened in the reader. Some way of viewing covers might spruce that up a bit.

Longbox Digital is the solution I've heard about for the longest amount of time, but only just now seems to have officially come on to the market. It has a lot of potential, but still seems to lack a lot of key features. There aren't any tablet/iPod/iPhone mobile solutions yet, but they are in the works. Longbox seems to take all your other formatted files, but it first converts them into its proprietary format. There also seems to be a limit to the number of computers you can install Longbox on. I don't know if that's a way to prevent file sharing of the comics, or if it's a way to keep people from sharing the program itself. At the moment, the program seems to be free, so I would assume it's a file-sharing-prevention/DRM scheme much like Audible and iTunes use. The potential pitfalls of being limited by Longbox's DRM would probably take it out of contention, but it does have some other things going for it, mainly a store built right in to buy digital comics. The store is tied to your account, which might mean that you could buy comics on any device/computer and access them from another that was tied to the same account. This isn't clear yet because of lack of support for mobile devices and, as near as I can tell, lack of actual content for sale. It's still very new and buggy, but if they get it all together along with some content deals, and make sure the DRM restrictions are reasonable, it might become a viable option. The UI looks prettier than Comic Book Lover, but I haven't compared the metadata situation.

I've also read that Stanza will handle .cbr/cbz files, but I've not tried it. It is my go-to application for non-DRMed e-books, but it seems like you'd want something with a comic-focused UI for comic book reading. Is there any reason to prefer Stanza over other solutions. I love the program, so I'm certainly not opposed to trying it.

Does anyone else have experiences with these or other programs? I know there are some publisher-specific applications(like Marvel), but these seem like they'd suffer from the same pitfalls as Panelfly. Still, I'd love to hear how other people are dealing with this issue and what their preferred applications are and why.
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Old 08-06-2010, 02:53 PM   #2
khronos78
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I've tried several applications for comics (pdf / cbr / cbz)

The free ones : cloudreader, stanza, ibooks (for pdf only)
The paying one : ComicZeal, Goodreader (for pdf)
---

Cloudreader is simple, fast, and handles 200 meg PDF like a charm. The only feature to sort a collection is by placing "tags" which is overall an elegant solution. However 3 major drawbacks for me where
- too few user preferences
- no quick access to a given page
- it crashes a lot for cbr & cbz. It's not a big deal but it ruins the experience

Stanza was my favorite reading application for pdf / txt files with lots of user settings plus a great ergonomy. However it doesn't handle big pdf very well, plus it also crashes a lot for cbr & cbz.

iBooks is a good pdf reader with a very nice library view. However it is rather slow and there's also a lack of user preferences.

ComicZeal is expensive (6€ for me) but was my favorite app on iPhone and gets a huge upgrade with the file transfer feature on iTUnes (cbr/cbz conversion with ComicZeal desktop were a royal pain). Once files are transfered there's still a conversion but it's fast and this application is GODDAM STABLE. Plus it's really great for comics reading with lots of user prefs, a library view to manage collections, it's fast, etc...It's expensive though...up to you to decide. This is my favorite app for cbr/cbz by far, it's really been designed for comics reading.

Goodreader is my favorite app for pdf as it's both fast, inexpensive ($1), packed with features and user-prefs...a no brainer for me. Dunno if it reads cbr or cbz though.

My recommandations would be : pdf & ebooks on GOodReader, cbr/cbz on ComicZeal.
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Old 08-06-2010, 04:09 PM   #3
Rob_E
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Quote:
Originally Posted by khronos78 View Post
My recommandations would be : pdf & ebooks on GOodReader, cbr/cbz on ComicZeal.
Thanks for the feedback.

Does Goodreader do ePubs? Or do you just mean pdf ebooks? Right now Goodreader on my iPod Touch is what I use for pdfs, but for comic pdfs, I will probably put them in a comic-specific application, unless I take a huge performance hit because of it. That could be the case with large pdfs, but doing a brief trial with a typical, one issue, comic book pdf in Comic Book Lover's iPod reader, it didn't seem noticeably different from a .cbr file. What I really want, and what really bothers me about the publisher-specific applications (in addition to no back up or ability to transfer files to other devices), is one application to handle all my comics. The problem with publisher/file-type specific aps is that you end up with a separate application for each publisher, or, in extreme cases, for each title or issue (like the UCLICK titles). So splitting my files between Goodreader and a cbr application is something I would avoid unless it was necessary.

I do keep my pdf and epub ebooks in separate aps (Goodreader and Stanza) because large pdfs bog everything down, and Goodreader seems to handle them better than anyone else.

Right now between Comic Book Lover and ComicZeal, I think I like the ComicZeal UI better for navigating between comics and for displaying titles/collections, but when it comes to actual reading of the comics, it's a toss up. What will probably settle the issue will be if I go with Comic Book Lover on my home computer. It seems like a pretty good program, and it doesn't seem like ComicZeal's PC-based program really fits the same niche, so if I go with CBL on the computer, I'll probably go with CBL's mobile reader just so I don't have to edit my metadata twice (or deal with untagged files).

If it weren't for the CBL desktop application, I think ComicZeal would win, so far.
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Old 08-06-2010, 04:15 PM   #4
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I use CZ for reading manga, so I'll try to answer your questions.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Rob_E View Post
ComicZeal seems pretty good. Navigation is good. It says it supports pdfs as well as .cbr/.cbz files, but I failed in my attempt to sync a pdf file yesterday.
I haven't tried pdf manga in CZ yet, and honestly I wouldn't want to. The whole point of CZ is that you can import your cbz/cbr collection which are merely archives of the original image scans, using pdf comics adds a layer of indirection.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Rob_E View Post
It puts a smaller-sized file on the iPod, rather than loading something more space-intensive that the iPod's smaller screen wouldn't be able to take advantage of, which is nice.
CZ will only downsize images which are larger than the maximum supported for a device. This is smart as the maximum supported size is much larger than the actual screen, so its nice to be able to have images larger than the screen since they look better when you zoom in.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Rob_E View Post
But, as near as I can tell, the desktop application exists entirely to support the mobile application. Not a huge deal if you plan on doing most of your reading on your device, but since your digital collection can quickly outstrip your device's storage, it seems like better desktop management might be helpful.
Yes, CZ Sync is simply for syncing your comics over wifi, not a management tool. It also does some comic processing, but I prefer to use my own program for that.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Rob_E View Post
Also, while it supports standard formats, it looks like it actually converts those to a different format for transfer to the device, which means you're storing your files twice and there's virtually no chance of syncing back information on what's been read and bookmarks because the ComicZeal files are not the .cbr/.cbz files that you started with.
CZ takes the cbr/cbz archive that you've transferred over, unarchives it to an image folder, and then deletes the archive (I only know this because my iPad used to be jb and I looked at CZ's file structure). So you're only storing one copy of the comic. I'm not sure if you can transfer the comics back from your device to your computer. When you load CZ's app file share in iTunes you only see a single "imported" folder which contains all of your comics, so you can't individually transfer comics from your device. I'm not sure what format they would be in once you transfer back... I would guess image folders.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Rob_E View Post
On the mobile application, however, it seems to do a good job with bookmarks, collections, and keeping track of what's been read.
Yes, it does a very good job keeping track of what you've read and all of your collections. Each comic gets its own bookmark so you can keep track of where you are while reading multiple series.

Now as much as I love CZ, I have been really annoyed that every single release has at least one serious bug in it. The dev seems to consistently break the program with each new feature. I wish more time would be spent on ironing out all the current problems before working on new stuff. At least the dev listens closely to the community for bug fix/feature requests.

Goodreader is my favorite pdf reader, and I recommend it even if you don't want it for pdf comics. As far as free programs go, Stanza is the best for cbz/cbr.
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Old 08-09-2010, 08:18 AM   #5
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I use cloudreader to read CBR CBZ and have never had a single crash!

love the simplicity, speed and function of this FREE app.
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Old 08-09-2010, 01:26 PM   #6
Rob_E
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I may have to give CloudReader a try. I spent some more time with both ComicZeal and ComicBookLover. As stand alone readers, I'd say ComicZeal "wins" although there are a few UI issues that I prefer in ComicBookLover. For instance, I like how the CBL ap stops the motion of the page once you hit the edge of the screen, whereas CZ is "spongy" and lets you move the edge of the image away from the edge of the screen and then has it bounce back into place. CBL shows you individual files by default, whereas CZ shows you series by default. Theoretically starting with an issue list means that you could go right to the issue you want without needing an additional click, but it seems like you quickly get an unmanageable list, and it's easier to have it default to a series/collection-based view like CZ does. And I continue to be annoyed by the fact that CBL requires extra steps to determine where you are in a given book or if you've even read it. This is readily available information in CZ and is, in my mind, the primary way that CZ trumps CBL.

BUT, because CBL is an extension of its (Mac-based) desktop application, there remains the ability to manage all of the file data on the desktop and have that information transfer over to the mobile application. To me, this is a killer feature, and it means that I'll probably continue to use the CBL ap for the moment. If I could transfer .cbr/.cbz files from the Comic Book Lover desktop program into the ComicZeal transfer program while keeping the CBL metadata, I probably would do that instead. But as it stands, I have to re-enter information into ComicZeal that I already put into the CBL, so, in spite of UI preferences, I think I'm sticking with CBL until a better, more integrated solution comes along.

I'll still have to see how Cloudreader looks. I'd like to compare it to ComicBookLover because they're both free. Based on my experience so far, I think CBL is a perfectly capable, free comic reader, but not quite as functional as the for-pay ComicZeal. But, when combined with the ComicBookLover desktop application, CBL jumps into the lead. I'm guessing Cloudreader also lacks this desktop integration, so it'll be interesting to see how it stacks up to the other two applications in a stand-alone capacity.
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