I’ve written about a lot of tablets over the past 6 years or so… and I’ve even bought a few myself. But to be honest, the only thing I really use tablets for is reading eBooks and comic books. For just about everything else I could do with a tablet, I’d prefer to use a phone or laptop.
But it can be tough to navigate comics and graphic models on a laptop, and smartphone displays are too small to properly show images in a way that makes the text bubbles readable.
But Google has a solution that could make reading comics on a smartphone a lot easier.
It’s a new feature for Google Play Books called Bubble Zoom and it lets you tap a page to make the speech bubbles bigger, one by one.
This isn’t the first solution to the problem of viewing big comic book panel on small screens. A bunch of other comic book reading apps already support a panel-by-panel view that lets you zoom in on just part of a page. But most comics were designed with pages in mind, so you full-page imagery can be difficult to appreciate in this view. And sometimes panels are arrange in a certain way on the page in order to direct your attention.
Bubble Zoom lets you view the whole page and only zoom in on the text. Sure, you might miss out on some of the artwork by viewing panels drawn for 11 inch pages on a 5 inch screen. But at least the text will be readable.
Google used machine learning to teach its software to identify speech bubbles in comics, even though they come in a range of sizes, shapes, and colors.
There’s one catch though: not all comics are supported. Bubble Zoom is available as a technical preview in the latest version of Google Play Books for Android, but the company only promises that “all Marvel and DC collected volumes are supported.” So comics from other publishers aren’t necessarily going to work, and neither are comics you upload to Play Books.
I’ve uploaded a bunch of digital comics purchased through Humble Bundle deals over the past few years to Play Books because it’s a nifty solution for being able to access those comics on most phones, tablets, or computers. But so far Bubble Zoom doesn’t work with any of the comics I’ve checked.
I guess I’ll have to keep a tablet around for now.
The good news is if you’re in the market for some new comics that will support Bubble Zoom, Google is running a 50-percent off sale on select DC and Marvel comics when you use the code SDCC2016.
There’s also a separate “up to 75% off” sale to coincide with Comic-Con, but it’s possible some titles available in that sale won’t support Bubble Zoom.