Tablets are media consumption devices. They were made so we could watch, read or listen to our favorite media items on the go, at home or anywhere we please. Thus, for RSS junkies, a good RSS reader is not only important, it is essential for the best tablet experience.
For those unacquainted, RSS stands for ‘Really Simple Syndication’. This is simply a way of automatically informing ‘subscribers’ that a site has new information for you to view. But, the beauty of RSS is that it isn’t limited to sites or blogs. You can subscribe via RSS to almost anything, ranging from updates on a YouTube channel to the product tags on Amazon.com. RSS is truly versatile and this is why having a good mobile client is necessary, especially on devices where easy access to media is a top priority, such as on a tablet.
Now that we have the basics down, we can begin the review.
User Interface and Menus
The app’s user interface is usually one of the features that will determine its success. Luckily for Reader HD, its UI is beautiful and elegant. You can see the amount of thought and consideration that went into each icon’s design. As an added plus, the app also includes four different color schemes (called themes in the app) to choose from. Ranging from the default ‘light’ to the deep black ‘dark’ theme, there may not be a lot of options, but they all offer the same level of outstanding beauty, making the choice a difficult one. For what it’s worth, I decided on the ‘Dark’ theme as I do most of my reading at night before going to sleep.
The icons which inhabit the Tablet-Optimized ‘Action Bar’ at the top of the screen do not depict their purpose as well as I would like-it took a bit of experimenting to figure out what each button does. In the end though, the app is simple and intuitive to navigate and offers a very pleasant and seamless reading experience. I would also like to point out that the app makes very efficient use of this Action Bar, including all the functions you would need to use while enjoying your content. As an added bonus, in the app’s settings you can individually turn each button on or off to suit your tastes.
Age of Mobile, the makers of Reader HD, have taken cues from other apps such as Google’s Gmail app, and implemented a tablet-friendly two pane view while in landscape. While reading feeds on the right (also customisable in the settings) there will be a list of items on the left. Tapping on any item in the list will jump to that item. The list is also scrollable to make browsing feeds a breeze. In addition, this two pane view is also available on the home screen, with different sources in the left pane and articles in the right pane. Reader HD implements the two pane concept very effectively. It is both pleasing to the eye thanks to their wonderful UI, and allows for power users to wade their way through the mountain of feeds that usually swarm these users.
For starters, this app allows you to easily import your Google Reader subscriptions. It handles Google Reader synchronization as well as you would expect and items are quickly marked as read throughout all other linked devices. Also, you can choose to import only specific feeds, remove feeds or add additional feeds right in the app’s settings menu. This is a very nice feature to have and is greatly appreciated.
For frequent RSS users, it is common knowledge that many sites ‘truncate’ their feeds. That is, they only include a small portion of the article in the feed to encourage you to view their website instead and view ads, which in turn generate revenue for them. While there is nothing wrong with this practice as it earns the site income, it greatly disrupts the user experience while using these RSS readers. As a result, most RSS readers include some form of “mobilizing” which parses the webpage of these truncated feeds and presents the whole article with text and image only. Reader HD is no exception and not only does it include this feature, it build upon it, making it the killer feature of this app. Contrary to other RSS readers I have used for tablets, Reader HD does not bury this feature under levels of menus, but it puts it right on the forefront, in the app’s Action Bar. However, a quick trip to the app’s settings reveals a marvellous time saving feature. The app can allow you to control the ‘mobilization’ of each feed individually. Users are given the choice of automatically mobilizing specific feeds or display them as they are on websites. The latter feature is useful for forum posts in particular.
Navigation between feeds is as simple as it gets. Swipe left and right to navigate items while reading. Also, in any view, the sidebar can be used to quickly access other feeds or items with minimal swiping. The app also includes an image gallery feature which displays all the images contained in the feed one by one. As with most RSS readers, the app allows you to open the original site in a browser if you wish. Unfortunately, there is no Flash support so viewing videos in-line is not possible, but the app recognizes videos from YouTube and allows you to open them in the YouTube app for easier viewing, commenting or other YouTube actions.
In the style of the iPad’s Flipboard or the newly released Google Currents, Reader HD also includes a magazine view. Unfortunately, I am not able to directly compare it to either of the aforementioned apps as I do not reside in the US (to use Google Currents) or own an iPad (to use Filpboard). However, when compared to screenshots of those apps, Reader HD’s magazine view is very lacking. In fact, when the magazine view is opened, the sidebar is hidden on the articles list (but it can be temporarily shown over the magazine view with a convenient button). On the article view, it is completely lost, with no option to show it. To make matter’s worse; the articles don’t even make full use of the added space with the removal of the sidebar, instead simply centring the text. While this may result in a cleaner view, it restricts how quickly items can be navigated and read. The magazine view of Reader HD is one of the few areas in which it can be greatly improved. At the time of writing this review, the magazine view is only suitable for users who read only a few items per day.
Keeping on the ideas of efficiency, Reader HD contains many features that are standard in any RSS reader, such as a ‘Mark All As Read’ button, an option to show only unread items or alternate ways of sorting items, by newest, oldest or ‘magic’ (more on that later). However, Reader HD goes above and beyond the standard feature set and includes options to include excerpts of articles in the articles view, a nice feature to quickly know what an article is about. Selecting this option will also add a thumbnail picture next to the excerpt, also helping in identify an article as attention worthy or useless. However, this nifty feature is hidden by an odd icon in the action bar and will go unnoticed without a bit of exploring the app.
Back to that ‘Sort by magic’ option mentioned above. When selected, the items were barely shifted out of order, making little noticeable change to their placement in the list. This may have been because I usually read every item within a couple hours of it being posted, and the app having no real data to work with or it simply doesn’t do much. However, for someone who only reads a portion of their items, this feature may be of more use as the app should identify which feeds you are likely to read from a list of all unread reads. But as it stands right now, this feature is a disappointment.
It’s also worth noting that while the app doesn’t have native integration of Read It Later or other similar apps, this is quickly remedied by using the share button and selecting “Add to Read It Later” which is conveniently located at the top of the list. This easy and simple workaround which was just as effective as native support with the added bonus of not having to log in within the app meant that there would be no penalty for not including it. In fact, the share button approach is arguably better. However, since the share feature is built into Android and not specific for this app, it did not influence the final decision.
One final feature of the app is background sync. When enabled, the app will check for updates in the background automatically at user defined intervals. If new items are found, the app will inform the user via a notification. However, the included text on the notification is usually incorrect. Occasionally, the app will offer a correct statement such as ‘1 new item’ displayed below, but more often than not it will give an incorrect amount of new items. Regardless, the notification also doubles as a quick way to access the app when new items are found. A simple tap on the notification brings up the app, ready to display all your feeds.
There isn’t much to say here. The app has always been very responsive and actions such as scrolling through a list of 100 new items or quickly swiping between open items seem fluid. There was a bit of loss of responsiveness when viewing items in magazine mode but that was only when I was swiping between items very quickly and is not likely to be noticed in normal usage. Additionally, the app opens very quickly and doesn’t have an unnecessarily huge RAM footprint while running in the foreground. Overall, the app is speedy and performance is not an issue as with other RSS readers I have tried.
At $1.99 USD at the time of writing (see the Tablifed App Widget below for an up to date price!) the app is priced perfectly for the feature set and usefulness. There is a free version available, which offers all of the features of the paid version, but supports ads. This app is remarkable and I do implore you to purchase the paid version and support the developer. While it may not be a ‘steal’, it is priced just right and worth every penny for RSS addicts like me.
- App makes wonderful use of the tablet optimized two pane view.
- App is very responsive and easy to navigate.
- Contains four beautiful themes (really color schemes) to choose from.
- Allows for a lot of personalisation in the app’s settings.
- In app feed management.
- Synchronization and importing of Google Reader feeds.
- Auto-mobilizing certain feeds.
- Image gallery displays all an item’s images in an easy to navigate view.
- App syncs in the background and displays a notification for new feeds.
- Can show excerpts of items in the item list.
- Developer has both a free and paid version available, with the paid version being appropriately priced.
- App’s magazine view is unresponsive and lacks innovation.
- The text on the app’s notification is usually incorrect or ambiguous.
- The app’s ‘Sort by magic’ option was not effective.
- Most icons, while they look good, do not accurately depict their function.
- Some of the best features are hidden in the app’s settings. Exploration is necessary.
This app fulfilled all my desires created by previous apps I have used. It comes at a great price and offers many unique, wonderful features such as automatic mobilization, in app feed management, split pane views and item excerpts in the item list. At the same time, certain features, such as the magazine view or the app’s notification text, can stand to be improved. The developer includes both a free (albeit ad-supported) version and a paid (Ad-free) version, the latter of which was reviewed. See the Tablified App Widget below for market links and more information!
Despite its few shortcomings, the app receives a 5 out of 5 star rating from me as it is very intuitive, responsive and feature rich.