Responsive WordPress Magazine Themes That Really Work On Tablets

There are countless posts that will list 20, 50, 60 or even 250 responsive magazine themes just waiting for you to possibly purchase, download and install.

The bad news is that of the hundreds of WordPress magazine themes available, only a handful actually work well across all platforms and particularly tablets.

The good news is we’ve got the list of those you should be considering.

Screenshot of the Bushwick theme on a tablet in landscape and portrait mode
Full-page featured images is just the beginning

Featured Plugin - WordPress Appointments Plugin

Take, set and manage appointments and client bookings without having to leave WordPress. Appointments+ makes it easy.
Find out more

Just Being Responsive Isn’t Good Enough

Screenshot of the entire home page of a magazine theme
Good for iPads, apparently.

A theme being responsive is a hollow claim: what does that really mean?

In most cases it just seems to be that it will “fit” on a tablet and as we have seen with themes like Twenty Fourteen, the choices made are often to the detriment of the user experience.

Responsive has both a technical and a UX perspective and it is rare to find themes that take both into account. As you can see from the example opposite, just because a theme is responsive does not mean that it’s going to work well across all platforms.

Indeed, most scenarios for tablet use differ wildly from desktop use and even with retina screens, the real estate differences are vast. Removing the keyboard appears to have the biggest impact though. Tablets are not perceived as mini-desktops but as media devices. We hold them as we would a book or magazine; we are perhaps more relaxed when using them; we navigate by touch; it is a slower and deeper interaction.

The designers of the themes listed here either get that. They’ve all set out to build themes that are about delivering content in the most pleasing form possible. They are not about pushing as much content in front of you in the hope that might click on a couple of posts. It’s about meaningful content; quality instead of quantity.

What Makes A Good Tablet Magazine Theme?

There is a certain magazine theme “look and style” that permeates through the theme repositories. The problem is that it just doesn’t work for tablets.

Look at the image opposite. This was pulled from a typical responsive WordPress magazine theme list post where each theme is supposedly going to “display nicely….on iPads”.

Really? Because I can’t imagine scrolling through this humungous page looking for something to click on (even if my fat fingers could get the right link the first time).

Magazines are not newspapers, they are not news sites. They’ve always been about curation, perhaps for a specific niche.

They’ve always been about what you really need to know or might find interesting.

The good tablet themes recognize this. They encourage curation, they excel in the “less is more” approach.

In fact, what they are doing is designing for the end-users. It’s about optimizing their experience, rather than optimizing the SEO and commercial elements of a site.

Featured Plugin - WordPress Q&A Site Plugin

It's now incredibly easy to start your own Q&A site using nothing more than WordPress - The Q&A plugin simply and brilliantly transforms any site, or page, into a perfect support or Q&A environment.
Find out more
You get the impression with most that tablets were always at the forefront of the designers mind. Many look different on the desktop, suggesting that the designers have thought long and hard about how best to present the content on the different platforms.

There are other nods to traditional magazines as well:

  • Extensive use of large images
  • Focus on great typography
  • Encouragement for issue-based publishing

The search for tablet-friendly themes was harder than I thought and the resulting list shorter than I expected. But in keeping with the spirit of the best magazine themes, it’s quality over quantity.

Featured Plugin - WordPress Google Maps Plugin

Simply insert google maps into posts, sidebars and pages - show directions, streetview, provide image overlays and do it all from a simple button and comprehensive widget.
Find out more

Bushwick, The Best WordPress Magazine Theme And It’s Free!

Screenshot of a post in the Bushwick theme
Simple navigation (arrows), great typography and a real magazine feel

Let’s not beat around the bush-wick: the best WordPress magazine theme is Bushwick from Automattic.

Built by James Dinsdale the theme is available for download from the WordPress.org theme repository as well as being available for WordPress.com users.

Fire up your tablet or iOS Simulator and take the demo for a spin.

Why do I like it so much? Because it looks and feels like a proper magazine. It instantly feels familiar (especially to those of us old enough to have grown up in a pre-internet age) and promotes content in a way that none of the other hundreds of themes I looked at could match.

From the fantastic treatment of the featured images (although there is a bug that prevents full-screen images for posts on a tablet, but I’ll show you how to fix that shortly) to the clear, easy to read typography and the simple no-need-enlarge-the-text-to-click navigation, this is a perfect example of less being more.

But what really lifts this theme above the competition is that clearly plenty of consideration has gone into each platform and what the optimal layout should be. And most importantly from this post’s perspective, plenty of time and effort has gone into making the tablet and mobile experience as good as possible.

A Fix And A Tweak

Of course, nothing is ever perfect and the Bushwick download (but not the WordPress.com version) has a small bug in it which prevents the featured images from being displayed in full-screen when viewing a post on tablets and mobiles.

This is due to a missing CSS clause in the download. Add the following to the theme’s style.css and images will be displayed displayed full-screen:

1
2
3
4
<pre><code>.screen-reader-text {
	position: absolute;
	left: -1000em;
}</code></pre>

That’s the fix. Now a small tweak.

As the navigation menu is located at the top of the page, if a piece of content is of any reasonable length then there is a lot of scrolling to be done to get back to the menu “hamburger” icon.

This simple tweak just fixes the position of navigation. In style.css, look for the following clause:

1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
@media (max-width: 1023px) {

.navigation-main {
-webkit-box-sizing: border-box;
-moz-box-sizing: border-box;
box-sizing: border-box;
left: 0;
padding: 1.75em 3.5em;
position: fixed;
top: 0;
width: 100%;
}

And, as above, set the position to fixed.

With the menu being invisible until the menu icon is tapped, the only visible sign that the navigation is fixed is the permanent display of the menu icon in the top right-hand corner.

As you’ve probably gathered, I’m a big fan of Bushwick and the fact that it is free just increases its appeal.

Featured Plugin - WordPress Pop-Up Chat Plugin

No javascript required, no third part chat engine, just fully featured chat right in your own database on your own WP sites - couldn't be easier.
Find out more

A Small But Impressive Crowd

It’s a little disheartening that of the literally hundreds of themes I looked at, only 7 made it to this post. On the upside, those 7 range from highly competent to stunning.

Whilst Bushwick’s simplicity won me over, there are some high achievers in the list:

  • I was really impressed with The Writer which at $40 is an absolute snip for anyone looking for a high-quality, high-impact theme. If the images “fit” better on a tablet then it may even have pipped Bushwick as my top theme.
  • Editr is also a great theme despite some minor quibbles. Based heavily on Quartz, it would make a great choice for a magazine that published more frequently and wasn’t looking to go issue-based.
  • And then there’s the Independent Publisher. It’s hard not to like this free theme and the project given its stated intentions. The theme is not bad either, in fact it excels in the delivering of post content but is just a little less inspiring with navigation and the homepage.

In the end though, it really does depend on what type of magazine you are trying to deliver as to which theme is going to work best.

So, as well as Bushwick, here’s another 6 to consider.

Editr

editr

Editr is a highly capable tablet friendly theme that is clearly heavily influenced by the online publication Quartz.

Possibly better when viewed in portrait rather than in landscape where it tries to fit in too much content, the simple layout manages to expose plenty of content thanks to the story links in the left sidebar as well as the post summaries in the main content pane.

The header is not fixed and whilst the left-hand post listing will initially scroll it does fall back into place and will remain fixed.

The home page post summaries use infinite scroll to load more posts although curiously there’s no infinite scroll on the category pages, the listings are paged instead, which seems a little odd as well as inconsistent.

There’s no Quartz-style automatic loading of the next post on the individual post pages but the current post is highlighted in the left-hand navigation pane.

The theme has two menu locations, a header, which is full-width and the footer that just spans the content pane.

With clear typography, Editr looks practically identical on a deskto.

A good choice for a magazine site that publishes on a frequent basis and has no need for issues.

Cost: $40 (standard), $2000 (extended)

Ambiance Pro (Genesis Framework)

ambaince_pro

Clean theme that would suit an issues-based magazine due to the simple menuing.

Grid layout on the homepage provides a highly visual pathway to posts that again are highly visual with strong treatment of the featured image, unmissable promotion of the author, clean metadata and an emphasized first paragraph (or possibly excerpt).

Typography is good and the design really puts the content front and center both literally and figuratively.

A nice clean-looking theme with a heavy emphasis on content that due to the Genesis framework will be highly customizable.

Cost: $99.95 (includes Genesis framework)

Wilson

wilson

A blogging theme that lends itself well to a magazine.

Sidebar is visible in landscape mode houses main menu, search bar, recent posts and about but becomes an extended Footer in Portrait mode with the recent posts and search disappearing completely which may be an issue, depending on your need for search.

Otherwise the homepage highlights the content well with decent treatment of feature images.

Again, a lot of effort has gone into content design: typography is excellent and content elements such as blockquotes are nicely styled although a minor quibble would be that navigation is only available at the top and bottom of the post, so perhaps a little work required either to fix the navigation or have a slide out sidebar in portrait mode.

All-in-all though, a polished good-looking theme and you can’t argue with the price.

Cost: Free

The Writer

thewriter

The Writer is a really impressive theme and certainly worthy of consideration.

The use of imagery is striking and the design is simple but highly effective. It also comes with one of my favourite features: the slideout menu.

The homepage would be fantastic if not for the fact that the images don’t actually fit nice on a tablet, a seemingly small oversight that makes quite a difference.

It also struck me that scrolling horizontally to view the grid would make more sense that scrolling vertical.

No such quibbles with the post pages, though, which get Bushwick-style full-screen feature images overlaid with the title and the author. The text is clear and easy to read, comments are well-styled and the related posts also make great use of the featured images.

One of the only themes to feature a fixed header, an almost essential feature for a theme on a tablet, I would have thought.

A great theme that just requires some tweaking of the homepage image sizes to turn it into a brilliant theme for tablet magazines.

Cost: $40 (Regular)

Publisher

publisher

It is, perhaps, fitting that a theme named Publisher makes it onto the list.

A capable theme that just lacks the visual punch of competitors such as Bushwick and The Writer.

The homepage does a good job of surfacing plenty of content, with an unordered grid approach that includes infinite scroll functionality.

The posts page are clean and well-laid, the featured image responds to device rotation, but the typography is a little bland and perhaps on the small side.

The menu is available from a header that isn’t fixed.

Publisher is theme where perhaps function is more of a focus.

Cost: $69 (1yr support and updates)

Independent Publisher

independentpublisher

I’ve included this theme as much for its design as its purpose:

If you believe that everyone has a right to independent publishing and that a beautiful, well-maintained home for your published work should be beautifully designed, well-maintained, and available to everyone free of charge, then this project is for you.

As the project freely admits, the theme is heavily influenced by Ghost and Medium.

Typography is excellent making content easy to read; featured images scale full-width with a click on a checkbox. The design is uncluttered and clearly is designed to focus on the content.

To really like this theme, you have to be keen to embrace a simple approach.

The homepage is a very basic listing although you could perhaps get around that, if you wanted to, with a static page (especially if you intend to publish in issues).

Navigation is scarce, especially on the post pages themselves where there’s really just an image link back to the home page. There’s no post navigation but instead tag-based navigation.

Despite these apparent drawbacks, there’s something about this theme: it looks stunning on a tablet.

Perhaps a good choice for starting out and letting your content do the wowing.

Cost: Free

Featured Plugin - WordPress Wiki Plugin

To get a wiki up and running you used to need to install Mediawiki and toil away for days configuring it... not any more! This plugin gives you *all* the functionality you want from a wiki, in WordPress!!!
Find out more

Delivering A True Magazine Experience

Despite claims of a myriad of responsive WordPress magazine themes, only a handful will actually provide a decent user experience away from the desktop, recognizing that tablets are often used completely differently and not simply mini-computers that need to have themes that simply fit.

These 7 themes are about quality over quantity. They are about curation, about delivering content that is worth reading with a depth that does the subject matter justice.

Unlike their desktop cousins and their focus on 24×7 bombardment, these are themes for delivering a true online magazine experience.

What do you think of these themes? Which ones would make your list?  

Tags

Comments (3)

  1. Great review. The link pointing to Quartz should be qz.com and not quartz.com. The site that is referenced is in need of a redesign, and they’ve got to be wondering why so many people are interested in glass tubes all of a sudden.

Participate