Those of you that have been around Gobbler Country for a bit know that we hold Phil Steele’s annual College Football Preview in particular high esteem. Currently there is less than a week before the 350+ page 2016 volume is available at newsstands. Those of us that have pre-ordered the publication through the online store at philsteele.com have already either received our copy or will be this week. But, mobile users have had access to Mr. Steele’s magazine for almost two weeks. The mobile application called Phil Steele Mag, which is available on the iTunes App store, Google Play, and Android devices, made the 2016 College Football Preview available on June 9. I downloaded the electronic version for use on both my iPad Air 2 and my iPhone 6S.
The most important thing to note is that all of the information that is present in the physical publication is included in the electronic version. At first glance it simply seems that the application consists only of high resolution scans of the individual magazine pages, but there are several features built in to enhance the user experience. The magazine operates intuitively, in the same manner as most reading apps do – flick the appropriate edge of the screen to turn the page, etc. Due to the extensive amount of information on each sheet the print is extremely small when viewed as a full page. For the average person it is barely legible on the full screen of a standard iPad. Regardless of what mobile phone you are using the print is too small to read without having to zoom in. As a result, the reading of a single page is gesture heavy, constantly requiring the user to zoom in to enlarge the text, drag around the page as the reader naturally progresses, and then eventually having to zoom out in order to turn the page. There is a simple zoom enabled by double tapping the area one wishes to enlarge, but this function will only work for a single magnitude. An additional double tap brings the page back out to full view again. The double tap is fantastic on tablet sized devices, but is all but useless on a phone sized screen, which will likely still require additional zoom gestures in order for the print to be legible.
As mentioned earlier the app is not simply a scan of the magazine and includes several embedded features that assist in navigating the magazine and finding specific information. Tapping the screen once will bring the features menu up where the user can select to either return to the library of Phil Steele magazines, view the full screen of the pages, call up a thumbnail view of individual pages to scroll through, quickly view the magazine contents, and access a search function. The contents and search function are, by far, the most useful.
The actual table of contents page, included in the magazine itself, is also very useful. Each article or section is linked to the displayed text. So, if the user wishes to read about Virginia Tech he or she need only tap the name and the app immediately brings up the desired page. Though, due to the compact script, users will likely need to zoom in to the desired text or risk fat fingering their tap and being sent to a different page.
Most of the aforementioned features are little more than a means for the user to navigate the electronic magazine with greater ease, but does not offer any more capability than the print version. The feature where this differs is the search function. By typing in a phrase, name, keyword, etc. the user can generate a list of every page the search subject appears. The user can now quickly access the information throughout the entire magazine without having to guess where it might be or flip back and forth looking for something.
The largest problem that I ran into with the Phil Steele application occurred with its initial setup. When I first downloaded the program it loaded normally and presented a library of magazines options for me to purchase. I was able to choose between the College Football Previews from 2014-2016 and the NFL Preview from 2014 and 2015. I selected and purchased the CFB 2016 preview for $9.99 and was met with a spinning loading circle. "Okay," I thought, "It must be downloading the issue." But, the option to view the magazine never presented itself and the app eventually froze and closed itself. This occurred a further five times. I tried turning off the iPad, resetting the iPad, and reinstalling the application. Nothing seemed to work. I returned to the application page on the iTunes store and saw that there was a mechanic that needed to be executed in order to facilitate the downloading and viewing of the magazines. First I had to open up the settings menu and scroll down to the Phil Steele Mag application setting menu. I then had to toggle the "Delete Issue Date" and "Clear Keychain" on and then back off. After reopening the app and attempting to download the magazine again, it immediately began to load and was quickly available. It is important to realize that the user must execute these steps AFTER they have made the initial purchase and set their Phil Steele Mag account user name and password.
This is the first year that I have elected to purchase the electronic version of the magazine. The early access, functionality of the search feature, and no loss of content make the application a solid product. Unfortunately, the application layout really only lends itself to being used on an iPad sized device. The density of information and complexity of page layouts make reading the articles on a phone sized device extremely cumbersome. If you have a tablet, I recommend the product. If your tablet account is linked to your phone account and/or other mobile devices, you can create a username and password in order to access the magazine on those different devices. I purchased the app on my iPad and once I created my Phil Steele Mag application account I was also able to download and access the preview on my iPhone with no additional purchase.
There is certainly something to be said about having a physical copy of the magazine (or any publication) in your hands, which is why I also ordered the hard copy. But, if you are an individual interested in early access or prefer consolidating your reading material as much as possible the Phil Steel Mag application is a worthwhile investment.