A while ago, when I wrote about organizing your news feeds in Google Reader, I mentioned a couple news reading apps for the iPad. Finally, I’ve made the time to really compare the apps I’ve been using and explain why I use the ones that I do. To see a chart of the features I look for, and the apps I considered, see this Google Spreadsheet for RSS Apps. Please feel free to add your comparisons, too!
Flipboard, Pulse, etc.
In case you’re wondering why the pretty magazine-style apps are not here, let me just say that they simply don’t mesh with my news reading workflow. I do appreciate Flipboard and have shown it to several other people, but I take a more methodical approach to my news feeds. I haven’t yet seen a way to incorporate such a workflow into something like Flipboard, though I still try it out once in a while.
First Place: Mr. Reader ($3.99)
I started using Mr. Reader just a couple months ago. Two big reasons I switched to it: 1) my other favorite RSS app, MobileRSS HD, kept crashing… a LOT. I was over it. 2) I started using Diigo for all my bookmarking and Mr. Reader lets me send links directly to Diigo with tags and description. If there was some way to also highlight text in an article, Diigo-style, I would be the happiest camper ever.
Likes: At first the interface appeared a little cluttered, but once I started using it, I found it helped me go through my news feeds more quickly since I didn’t have to open every article to take action on it. I love the little sound effects that are sprinkled into basic functions of the app, but have no fear – you can turn those off. I also appreciate having the favicons next to the feed titles and thumbnail images from each post. A wonderful bonus feature is the ability to add new blog subscriptions within the app. But it would be nice if we could then put the new feed into a folder, as is done in MobileRSS HD. One of the best features is having 4 different view options for your feeds: RSS (just the blog post), Web (view the original, with comments), Mobilizer (like Web but simplified), and Readability (full post). The ability to easily and consistently bring in the full post on those super annoying blog feeds that only send out truncated articles is the stuff of rainbows, my friends. And finally, a bonus feature that has become one of my “must have” tools is the ability to open links in non-Safari browsers such as Atomic Web, Mercury, or iCab. Those three are the only alternative browsers available in the app so far, but it also gives the option of using Send2Mac, which I have not played with yet.
Dislikes: Seriously, how can this be a Google Reader app and NOT have a “Share with Note” option? I’m hoping this gets added in an update soon. It’s one of the biggest features that keeps Mr. Reader from being my one-and-only RSS app. It has had 5 updates since it came out in April, so the developer appears to be fixing things on a monthly basis. I also wish there was a way to get back to the original blog post after following links – as in, a back button? One little thing that would be nice but isn’t crucial, would be a setting to choose between scrolling a post up to see the next post, or scrolling sideways to see more posts. I prefer sideways but the default right now is up/down, which causes a problem sometimes when it’s not obvious that I’m at the end of a long post.
Second Place: MobileRSS HD ($4.99 or free)
I have a love / hate relationship with MobileRSS. They have some great features and a nice interface, but the app crashes so often I have deleted it off my iPad at least twice. And yet, it can do a couple things other apps can’t do (like Comment View and adding new feeds), so then I end up putting it back on. But I can only use those features when it’s not crashing, of course.
Likes: The interface is similar to Reeder in using swipes between posts, but it doesn’t mess around with the goofy pinching piles of paper metaphor that Reeder uses. Going through posts in portrait mode is lovely – the text fills the screen but with good margins on the sides, and you can simply swipe to the next post like you’re turning a page. Using the book metaphor for news reading appeals to me, but for longer text I prefer this style of seeing one post at a time over the Flipboard style of showing several at once. On another note, MobileRSS seems to be one of the few apps that can display a subscription to another Google Reader user’s starred items – not shared items, mind you, but starred items. A couple people have shared their starred item feeds with me so we can discuss more posts without cluttering up each other’s shared items. But only MobileRSS and Feeddler will display them. Argh.
Dislikes: The crashing. And have I mentioned the crashing? If they could fix that problem, and add Diigo integration, MobileRSS HD would win back its crown as “Sara’s only RSS app” away from Mr. Reader.
Honorable Mention: Reeder ($4.99)
If you go back through the reviews in the App Store of MobileRSS HD you will see many disgruntled customers accusing them of stealing their design from Reeder. Reeder and Flipboard set precedents when it came to designing an interface for the iPad, not just for doing computer-like things on an iPad. I used Reeder for quite a while alongside MobileRSS HD, but as you’ll see from the Google Spreadsheet comparison – there is quite a bit that Reeder can’t do… for my purposes, anyway.
Likes: Clean interface, swiping between posts, holding on a link brings up the full action menu so you can send it to Instapaper without opening it.
Dislikes: It has no free version to try out and it’s never been cheaper than $4.99. It has no “Night” theme so if you try to read in a dark room, the screen is blindingly bright, even with the iPad’s brightness turned down all the way. Many apps are starting to incorporate their own brightness settings now, which can get darker than the iPad’s settings, thus avoiding some strain and headaches for night readers. But then, Reeder is guilty of one of my all-time greatest pet peeves in iOS apps — putting the settings in the iPad Settings app. I hate this. If I want to change something about your app, I’m only going to think of it when I’m using your app. Why should I have to switch to something else entirely in order to change your app?
The biggest reason I don’t like using Reeder much is the way it displays people I follow in Google Reader. I prefer to see each person’s shared items separately, but Reeder only shows them in a big muddle and it’s hard to tell who shared what. Both Mr. Reader and MobileRSS HD separate the shared items by person sharing. This makes much more sense to me, for whatever reason.
The beauty of using Google Reader for my news feeds is that I can switch apps on a whim and all my stuff is synced. There is the little set-up time when you have to log into Instapaper, Evernote, and so forth again but that usually doesn’t take long. Some RSS apps that I’m keeping an eye on, in case they get upgrades and improve are:
Readict ($4.99) – This is the app I’m most excited about. It was made by Diigo for Diigo, but works with Google Reader and Twitter favorites. However, it has not had many reviews yet in the App Store – only 7. It came out in early July but has only had one update so far. I like to see regular update activity on apps, because there is almost always something to fix, and I want to know that the developer is committed to their apps. I have it on my wishlist at AppShopper in case anything changes.
River of News ($3.99) – I picked up this app when it went on sale briefly several months ago. It has an interface very similar to Reeder and MobileRSS HD, but with a lighter touch and little letterpress-style details in the design. However, it also has many of the same problems as Reeder. One interesting addition that keeps River of News in the running is the ability to add customizable gesture commands for shortcut taps. I’m watching to see where this app goes, but it hasn’t had an update since February.
Perfect RSS Reader ($.99) – This has some similarities to River of News, including gesture options, but the interface and design give the app a style of its own with very thin lines and sandstone coloring. It definitely has potential but there are little things that keep me from using it regularly, such as only displaying the feed list in a pop-out window, and not having a night-reading theme.
What’s your favorite way to read news and RSS feeds? I’d love to get more suggestions!