We were pretty excited about Playboy's Cover to Cover, an external hard drive that contains every single issue of Playboy -- all the way back from the inaugural December 1953 issue featuring Marilyn Monroe.

We imagined days lost to browsing. If you're in it for the articles, some of the greatest writers of fiction and nonfiction throughout the 20th century wrote for Playboy, like Vladimir Nabokov and Margaret Atwood. There are also interviews with the likes of John Lennon and Malcolm X.

And, of course, we were also looking forward to plenty of celebrity flesh: a pre–Tommy Lee Pamela Anderson, Drew Barrymore, a young and not-so-hairless Madonna.

Then we started to use the app. To put it simply, Playboy should lock Cover to Cover's software developers in Hugh Hefner's dungeon. And not the fun dungeon. Keep reading for a full review.


The drive is compact at 3.5-by-5-by-0.75 inches -- slender enough to fit in any pocket of your perviest trench coat.

There's a setup program that you install when you first plug it in. You have to use Playboy's built-in browser, which prevents you from copying all the scanned images onto your home computer. (Trust us, we tried.)

The images and articles are very poorly presented. Modern consumers have come to expect sophistication at the level of the Kindle or the iPad. There's no innovation here; it's as if they scanned all these mags and put them into an old version of Adobe Acrobat Reader. Zoom levels are useless, and it's very hard to read the text or get a great view of specific photos.

This shows a single page rendered in the "fit two pages" mode in the archive.

Searching the contents of the app is difficult unless you already know what you're looking for. We got 86 hits for the phrase "Drew Barrymore"; several had nothing to do with her, including an ad for whiskey because of the phrase "oak barrel." The pictorial we were looking for was from January of 1995 and called "True Drew." Without any helpful categories in the search results, we had to go to Wikipedia to find our exact article.

Browsing is only a little better. There are filters for contributor, category, decade, year and issue; but, if you're browsing the pictorial, you're wasting time with the contributor filter, which displays the photographer's name rather than the model's.

And did they have to scan every single ad? That's a lot of alcohol, cigarette and cowboy boot ads to page through.

If we sound disappointed and bitter, it's because the online version of Cover to Cover shows so much promise. It uses Silverlight to render the articles in a much better design and offers crisp navigation. But you can't buy a subscription to the online archive; it offers 50 trial issues. The only way to buy the whole archive is by external hard drive or CD.

The Cover to Cover drive retails for an astounding $300. Since you can get the pics from the stacks of magazines in Granddad's basement, we'd save that money for your electric bill (or beer). Or check out the best Playboy covers of the '70s, the best Playboy covers of the '80s and the best Playboy covers of the '90s on Asylum.