Google Play Magazines is an Android app brings Newsstand-style digital magazines to Android 2.2 and up. Or rather, it brings another way to access digital magazines to your Android smartphone or Android tablet. We could already read the monthly PC Advisor magazine via the Zinio and Magzter apps, for instance, and I'm sure there are more.
No matter, Magazines takes its place in the Google Play pantheon alongside other Android-native media apps such as Play Music, Play Books and Play Movies & TV. Like those apps Google Play Magazines is easy to use and good to look at, but it also faces the challenge of convincing Android users to choose it rather than its rivals - Android is to its credit an open platform, so its unlikely that the Play apps will ever achieve an iTunes- or Newsstand-style dominance.
Google Play Magazines: what it is
Play Magazines is an Android app that offers up wide selection of magazine titles in digital format. There are literally hundreds of magazines to choose from, in categories ranging from our own technology sector through cooking to travel, fashion, sports, photography, and more. From the app you access the Play Store to buy individual issues or subscriptions. There are a good selection of 14- or 30-day trials, and the reading experience on Android tablet or even phone is pretty slick, offering HD viewing on- or offline.
Google Play Magazines: pricing and range
The app itself is free, as you might expect. If anyone makes any money here it is from selling magazines. In terms of content and pricing Google Play Magazines is to Zinio as Play Books is to Kindle. There are lots of titles, but the older platform probably has more at this stage. And pricing is about the same, but you can always check multiple platforms to find the best deal. Expect to pay around £3 for an individual issue.
We'd expect Google Play to become the most populated magazine app on Android, though. In essence Google has taken away from the publishers the task of creating a digital magazine from their existing print product. Google takes the printer files and makes a digital magazine for publishers. That combined with a simple revenue share deal makes being on Play a no-brainer for publishers. Watch this space.
Using Google Play Magazines
As with all the Play media apps, Play Magazines is in essence a reader app, with a back door into the Play Store for content. Once you've installed and opened the app, you click the now ubiquitous Play icon to go and hunt down some mags. Once you've bought them or started a trial, the magazines appear in your app, but you have to download them in order to read. This is an important point, both good and bad.
On the positive side, once you've downloaded a magazine it is yours to read whether or not you have a web connection. And you can make it so that your set Play Magazines automatically download. But some magazines can be more than 1GB, so you need to be wary of filling up your tablet or smartphone with magazines.
That's pretty much it. Reading magazines is simple and intuitive. You swipe or tap to scroll through pages. Holding your device in portrait- or landscape-mode changes the view from single page to spread, and so on. You can tap to pull up page thumbnails for fast flipping, or find the table of contents on the bottom-left. Now familiar gestures such as pinch-and-zoom are in attendance.
Google Play Magazines: how it looks
One obvious affect of the effort-free production of magazines in Google Play Magazines is that they look like exactly what they are: PDF versions of print magazines. This isn't necessarily a bad thing: in my own view some digital magazines are more akin to apps, and the additional functionality thrown in to some of the more adventurous e-mags can feel like overkill. But simplicity is all you get with this app: the content of each page with a black border to fill in any spaces around the edge. There's no video for instance, although Google assures us there will be in time.
Even the app home pages are a little on the simple side of dreary. You see flat magazine covers on a black background. the 'Recent' view does swap this for a carousel. No matter, its functional and that's what counts.
One interesting feature is the 'View text' option that you can select when viewing a magazine. This strips out all the images and words and displays them on Google's own app-like template. As a halfway house between print magazine and website it works really well, allowing you to read the collated monthly or weekly best of your chosen title, on- or offline, and in an e-reader style.