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TRVL: Getting the e-magazine right

I've tried just about every iPad magazine app that has made it to market. For many of the e-mags, the subscription cost is more than the value of the content. Some magazines are using the traditional advertising model to create a revenue stream, and fill their pages with annoying static ads (although some have created equally obnoxious interactive ads as a nod to the digital age). As a result, most iPad magazines stay on my device just long enough for the review and are then deleted. TRVL (free) is an exception to my bad habit of loading and tossing e-magazines.

The magazine was started in 2010 by two men from the Netherlands, Joachim Wijnands and Michel Elings. Wijnands brought travel writing and photography skills honed at such prestigious publications as National Geographic and GEO to the game, while Elings' technical prowess was used to design the app.

TRVL was the first iPad-exclusive magazine, and Elings admits that they made some mistakes early on. They've now changed to a free distribution model and are building a very loyal following of readers due to the high quality of the content. The magazine is a beautiful combination of prose and photography, with no advertisements to ruin the enjoyment of reading.



Each issue of the magazine focuses on a single place or topic. For the purposes of this review, for instance, I chose an issue that focused on a high-latitude polar excursion to the Svalberg archipelago that highlighted one big member of the local fauna -- the polar bear. But the articles also focused on the camaraderie that built up between the travelers on the small ship that was used to visit the area. Wijnands' stunning nature and human photography, as well as the descriptive and sometimes humorous stories accompanying the pictures, made the story come alive.

Being an editor, my eyes tend to jump to typos and factual mistakes. I was pleased to find that there were very few in the issue I tested -- "nearly glaciation covers nearly 60%" being one typo I found -- and there was a reference to an SAS Boeing 747 landing at the Longyearbyen Airport. SAS has no 747s in its fleet, so it was most likely a 737, a much smaller aircraft. Yes, I am pedantic... On the plus side, the TRVL guys know that the occasional mistake is going to slide through publication, and they provide a feedback form for corrections and comments.

The magazine can be read in either portrait or landscape mode, although it seems to act more like a traditional paper magazine in portrait. I enjoyed looking at the photos in landscape orientation, as the larger size really made the pictures "pop." The entire magazine uses a simple sans-serif typeface with either white lettering on a black or gray background, or black lettering on a white background. It's very readable and easy on the eyes, one of the reasons I found TRVL to be so readable.

TRVL makes good use of touch gestures for navigation, and it's very intuitive. One thing I've hated about some of the iPad newspapers and magazines is that the developers have tried too hard to make unique user interfaces that end up being almost totally impossible to understand or use. TRVL is easy -- you flick to the left to go to the next page, flick to the right to go back to the previous page, or tap on the page to bring up other navigation buttons.

There are buttons for bookmarking pages, sharing through Twitter, Facebook or email, looking at your library of TRVL issues, jumping to the cover with a tap, jumping to a photo report (describing one picture in the issue with an intense impact or unusual back story), jumping to specific sections of the magazine, visiting TRVL's Facebook page or downloading more free issues.

The issues range in size, with the example review issue weighing in at about 52 MB. That's very reasonable, considering the quality of the photography, and doesn't take up a lot of bandwidth when you're grabbing a new issue on the run over 3G or a slow Wi-Fi connection.

The guys at TRVL do a wonderful job, and the magazine is highly-rated on the App Store. Whether you're an armchair traveler or seasoned veteran of world travel (I'm writing this in Kusadasi, Turkey), you'll find TRVL both fascinating and entertaining. If TRVL goes to a for-pay subscription model in the future, it's an electronic magazine that I'd definitely consider shelling out money for.