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For those of us who read magazines more than any other print or digital publication, the idea behind Next Issue is marvelous. Much like a Netflix for such periodicals, the iPad app lets you plunk down a subscription fee each month in return for unlimited access to dozens of top magazines, with both current and back issues (only 2012 releases at present) available for all.
It's a prospect that could have serious effects on both the buying and reading habits of magazine aficionados, as the basic $9.99/month plan allows access to top monthlies like Esquire, Fortune, InStyle, Popular Mechanics, and Wired, all of which can be added to your personalized home screen and downloaded and saved locally for reading anywhere. Bump up to the premium $14.99/month option and you'll add weekly and biweekly offerings like Entertainment Weekly, Time, People, and Sports Illustrated.
And these aren't simply PDF scans of the printed versions – you'll get the same interactive digital versions found on Newsstand, with built-in videos, animations, and links where supported. When it comes to big-name mainstream offerings, Next Issue certainly has the cream of the crop in its 41 current selections, with more on the way; though I certainly hope its next push is to loop in more niche publications, as the focus is on mostly broad reads for now. Still, for regular readers of the included magazines, or at least voracious magazine browsers, Next Issue seems like a fantastic deal.
Sadly, the execution doesn't quite live up to the winning concept at this point, as the switch to an all-you-can-read approach comes at the expense of necessary features. The biggest omission is easily that of Retina display support, as the included magazines appear pixelated on the latest iPad – especially the text, which looks terribly muddled and really sinks much of Next Issue's potential. It's baffling to see a new reading-focused app launch in this day and age without crisp text on months-old hardware, and much as the magazines are still readable, it's not as pleasant an experience as it should be. Even the magazines that have Retina-ready standalone options don't offer that level of clarity here.
Additionally, there's no option to zoom into the text on pages or to read the plain text version of articles, and sometimes-slow issue downloads were an issue. It's a budget experience at a sort-of-budget price, and much as I appreciate being able to flip through numerous magazines without shelling out for each, Next Issue needs a much better reading experience to warrant the continued expense – and a wider selection wouldn't hurt, either.
The bottom line. The so-called "Netflix for magazines" isn't quite as polished an affair as expected, though there's room for brilliance in Next Issue's approach.
iPad running iOS 5.0 or later
Unlimited access to up to 41 magazines for monthly fee. Many big-name selections in the bunch. Year's back issues included.
Lack of Retina support means fuzzy text and graphics alike. Can't zoom in or read text-only versions of articles. Could use more niche offerings.