The PS Vita may be a fantastic piece of hardware but it is lacking when it comes to multimedia support. It’s web browser is sorely lacking in functionality, and while we do have access to apps allowing us to use Twitter, Facebook, Skype and Youtube, apps like Netflix, BBC iPlayer and many others are notable by the absence and unlike the PSP before it, the Vita is even missing a comic reader. Mike Oliphant from Nostatic Software wasn’t particularly happy with that omission so he took it upon himself to bring one to the Vita by way of PlayStation Mobile and thus Comic Station was born…
It has to be said from the start that Comic Station doesn’t provide Vita owners with a portal to access popular comic sites such as Comixology or the equivalents run my Marvel Comics. Instead, it’s a reader designed to view free public domain comics that have been made available in one of the many DRM-free formats available – .cbr, .cbz and .cb7 archive files – giving you access to a massive online resource for comics from the Golden Age of books from a range of publishers. That may seem restrictive at first but after a quick search online you’ll find a wealth of classic content that you can use with the app as well as contemporary titles that authors have made available for free distribution (although it must be said that there are some sources offering less than scrupulous ways of obtaining regular comics in these formats as well).
One of the problems that is encountered by any app of this nature – whether it’s a media player, e-reader or anything else – is that they are restricted by the way that the PS Vita handles files. Apart from games and apps that are installed onto the console, the only files that the system can recognise are audio, video and images stored in the gallery that you use the in-built viewers to access that you transfer across to the Vita using Content Manager. That being the case, how do you get the comics onto the Vita in the first place? This is where the cloud storage site DropBox comes into play.
Setting up is fairly straightforward. On running the software for the first time, you are asked to associate Comic Station with your DropBox account if you have one. If you don’t then the app will connect to DropBox and allow you to create a new account. One this has been done and you’ve linked the account to Comic Station, the app will then automatically create a folder within your account dedicated to the Comic Station app. After that all you need to do is sign into DropBox and upload any comics that you have downloaded into this folder and then run Comic Station on your Vita.
On loading Comic Station again, it will access your DropBox account where you’ll then be presented with a list of comics. You’ll be able to view all the titles you currently have in your DropBox account, as well as those you have downloaded directly to the Vita itself. If the comic isn’t on the console, downloading may take some time depending on your internet connection but once done it’s ready to read. The comics are displayed on screen using the width of the screen to display the full page width of the comic and rather than splitting the comics into individual panels (as the Comixology reader does) the app displays the comic one page at a time. To read the page, you use simply scroll up and down the screen to read further down. It’s not as easy to read as other comic readers are but it works well enough.
The interface is simple enough to use with either the touch screen or button controls. There are two choices for the on-screen display either having the comic using the whole screen on the Vita or having the app’s control panel displayed giving you access to the touch controls and page numbers. Changing pages is as simple as using the shoulder buttons or touching / swiping the screen so it’s simple enough that anyone can use it and just focus on enjoying reading. The only thing you can’t do is zoom in / out of the comic pages but maybe this is something for a future update? All of the menus follow the same approach focusing on ease of use and simplicity making the app a real joy to use.
Onto the visual side of things and the comics are presented well and look good on the Vita’s OLED screen and the text reads well enough to make them easy on the eye. Naturally, the quality of the comic depends on the original scans when the comics were archived so if the source is only of average quality, don’t expect a crisp comic on screen. Overall on that front though the reader performs very well indeed.
There are a couple of things that I did notice though. Apart from the download speed (which can’t be avoided), there were a couple of bugs / issues with the first release and some which are still present since the 1.10 update. One of the problems I encountered was the app crashing when viewing certain comics. This only usually occured when I came across pages with a large amount of detail or pages which were taken up with a single panel of artwork. This was caused by the way the app handled images (storing them into a cache within the app) but this has been addressed within the update by way of the provision of a Safe Mode to view these comics. However, you only become aware of the need to use this mode if the comic crashes first time without it.
Secondly is the amount of space that the app requires. The initial installation is tiny, using only a few Mb of memory card space. However, the after installing just a couple of comics this ballooned just almost 200Mb despite those comics only requiring 60Mb on my DropBox account. I understand that this is because the app creates its own uncompressed versions of the comics for faster viewing, but it could result in a vast file size for the app for those wanting to use the reader on the go.
Because of these and a few other issues that some users have experienced with the initial release, Nostatic published a troubleshooting page on their website to help users out at http://www.nostaticsoftware.com/p/comicstation.html to address many of the problems encountered. It has to be said that update 1.10 made a considerable improvement to the app and no doubt future updates will improve it further and the addition of the Safe Mode has made viewing comics a far less stressful affair.
Comic Station does a reasonably good job at providing a comic reader for the PS Vita and while it is a worthy addition to the console’s multimedia suite, it’s not quite there yet. It is hampered by the Vita’s inability to transfer files directly (through no fault of the app itself) although once comics have been transferred from your DropBox account they do stay on your Vita until deleted meaning that you have them in the palm of your hand to read at will so you’re not restricted to using Comic Station at home or near a wi-fi hotspot for fear of using your 3G data allowance.
It’s easy to use, image quality is superb and it does everything you could ask it to. A few more refinements and Comic Station could be a real killer app but even as it is right now, it’s still a must have purchase for any comic afficionado as it’s only going to get better with all the updates that are on the way. The only thing you’ll need to worry about is having space on your memory card and where to find all the comics you want to read!
At A Glance
- Title: Comic Station
- Publisher: Nostatic Software
- System: PlayStation Mobile
- Format: PSN Download
- Cross Buy: No
- Online Multiplayer: N / A
- Local Multiplayer: N / A
- Memory Card Space Needed: 4Mb (plus more space for comic files)