It's an awesome time to own an iDevice. You can get unlimited movie and TV streaming from Netflix, unlimited music from the likes of Rdio and Spotify, and even unlimited magazines from Next Issue (for iPads, anyway).
Great news for comic-book fans: Now you can get unlimited comics as well. Marvel Unlimited, previously a Web-only service, just debuted for iOS. (It's coming soon for Android.) Less-great news: The app needs work.
True to its name, Marvel Unlimited provides full access to the publisher's extensive library of comics, which currently numbers over 13,000 titles. You'll find a ton of big names and series here: The Avengers, The Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Spider-Man, X-Men, and so on.
As a subscriber, you can read each and every book in the library. A subscription costs $9.99 per month or $119.88 annually, but right now you can get a year for 50 percent off ($59.88). That breaks down to just five bucks per month, or a little more than you'd pay for a single comic. Translation: killer deal.
Alas, there's no free-trial option, but the app does serve up plenty of free comics (which you can read but not download) to give you a taste of what it's like.
Unfortunately, what's it like, at the moment, is not great. Marvel Unlimited for iOS suffers from a few problems, including clunky, non-animated page navigation and a very laggy zoom option. In fact, at first I didn't think it had zoom, because when I first tried pinching on both my iPhone and iPad, nothing happened. The lack of smooth scrolling and zooming really diminishes what is already a somewhat cramped reading experience, especially on an iPhone or iPod.
Indeed, although you can read comics using a one-page, two-page, or Smart Panels view, I found Marvel Universe almost unusable on anything but an iPad. The panels are just too small, and Smart Panels (a kind of auto-zoom) doesn't do enough to overcome that.
Contrast that with an app like Comixology's Comics or even Marvel's own Marvel Comics, both of which do a great job formatting books for various screen sizes and offer silky-smooth zoom, and it's clear Marvel Unlimited has considerable room for improvement. It doesn't even remember where you left off in a comic that hasn't been downloaded.
Speaking of which, the app limits you to just six downloads at a time for offline reading. And although you can purchase the latest titles in any given series, the comics in Marvel Unlimited's library are at least six months old.
Even so, if you have an iPad, love comics, and can scrape together 60 bucks, this is a really hard offer to pass up. Marvel Unlimited for iOS definitely needs some fine-tuning, but it's still an unbeatable value.
Now if we could just get someone to offer unlimited books. Hey, Barnes & Noble, this could totally be your thing.