If you have more than a handful of favorite Web pages, keeping up with new content can be a full time job. RSS (Really Simple Syndication) solves this problem. Websites use RSS to publish feeds, summaries of their latest content with links to the full Web page. Users subscribe to feeds by clicking on the standard RSS symbol.
RSS Reader applications aggregate all the feeds to which you have subscribed, periodically checking for updates. New articles can be read at your leisure. Readers can be Mac or Windows programs (like Safari and NetNewsWire), Web-based services like Google Reader, or iPhone or iPad apps like the five reviewed in this article.
Reeder for the iPhone and iPad
Some RSS applications try to do too much and lose focus—this app avoids that trap. Reeder does two things and does them well. It provides an RSS reader client for Google Reader and offers an abundance of export services.
Feeds are synced automatically every time you open the app. You can turn this feature off if you want, but it seems noticeably faster than on the other apps I tested. Reeder syncs in two passes: article headlines and text in a first pass and images in the second (images can be cached for off-line reading). This allows you to start reading the article faster than with similar apps. In addition, Reeder's low contrast, dull grey color scheme is easy on the eyes. Even during prolonged use I experienced no eye strain with either the iPhone or iPad version of the app. Reeder is chock full of little design decisions like this that taken together help set it apart from other readers.
The iPhone interface is an exercise in brilliant minimalism. The list view contains the usual Google Reader elements, including All Items, Shared, Starred, Notes, and Folders. But which of these elements and their contents appear depend on the three radio buttons at the bottom of the screen. Tap on the star to display the starred folder and folders containing starred items, Tap on the circle to display the unread folder and folders containing unread items. The third button displays the All Items, Shared, and Notes folders.
Reeder for iPad is similar to the iPhone version, with one or two differences. First, folders are represented by thumbnails which can be tapped to open the folder. (The opened folder displays a feed list just like in the iPhone version.) The thumbnails can also be pinched-out to reveal thumbnails of the feeds inside. I found this change visually striking but functionally useless. The second difference is that Reeder's use of swiping is far more useful. Swipe an article up or down to move through your list of articles, or swipe an article to the right to return to your headline list.
Reeder offers almost every export service you can imagine. You can post to Twitter; open and copy a link in Safari; copy or e-mail articles; save feeds to Delicious and Pinboard; and send content to Instapaper, ReadItLater, Google Notes, Sharing. and Mobilizer.
The only think it doesn't let you do is manage your Google feeds from within the app. If it allowed you to subscribe and unsubscribing to feeds and create Google Reader folders, it would be the perfect RSS reader. Even with this limitation, it's a great app. Its fast sync, simple and quick navigation, and quirky but easy-on-the-eye interface make it my RSS reader of choice.
synchronization and features
RSS readers can subscribe directly to individual RSS feeds or to a sync service like Google Reader, which has become the de facto standard. Subscribing directly locks you into using that reader; change RSS apps and you have to re-subscribe to all your feeds. Using Google Reader or another sync service makes it easy to change RSS apps; all you have to do is set the new app to sync with Google Reader. Even better, using a sync service makes it easy to use more than one RSS reader at the same time. For example, I use NetNewsWire on my Mac and Reeder on my iPad. For this review, I set up and evaluated a dozen iPhone and iPad apps at the same time!
Many features previously unique to Google Reader have become standard in RSS apps: similar feeds can be grouped into Folders; individual articles can be Starred (saved for future reference), Shared (viewable by others), Tagged with user-definable terms, or have Notes attached to them; and articles, feeds, and folders can be marked as read/unread. Finally, RSS readers offer a variety of export services, including links" or sending articles to bookmarking sites like Delicious, Instapaper or ReadItLater.
ByLine for the iPhone
ByLine for the iPhone is a traditional Google Reader app. Open the app, log in to your Google Reader account, and ByLine automatically begins syncing your Google Reader Notes, Starred Items, Feeds, and Folders. The home screen displays these items along with an All Items folder. Unread items are listed next to the folder names. Syncing was relatively fast, but slower than in Reeder.
Navigation is simple: tap on "All Items" to list all unread articles, tap on an individual folder to list all the unread feeds in that folder; tap on a folder's blue chevron to list the feeds in that folder and their unread count. Individual feeds or entire folders can be marked as read or unread. Feeds can be starred and shared, and you can attach notes to them. Export options are limited to Twitter, Instapaper and ReadItLater. You can also read content offline.
Byline's settings allow you to hide started items and notes, control automatic syncing, and fine-tune the article caching. Managing your Google Reader account is not supported.
NewsRack for the iPhone and iPad
$4.99 (iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad version), app2.me/279
NewsRack is a universal RSS reader that works with the iPhone, iPod touch. and the iPad. On the iPhone version, folders and feeds can optionally be viewed on a beautifully rendered newspaper rack. Oddly, the iPad version drops the rack metaphor for a fairly useless headline slideshow.
Google Reader integration is NewsRack's strength. NewsRack syncs Shared, Starred, Notes, and Folders, as well as any customized sort order of folders and feeds. You can subscribe to feeds from within NewsRack and they will sync back to Google Reader. Unlike other apps reviewed in this article, you can manage folders and feeds (e.g., move a feed to a different folder, rename, or delete folders) and the changes will sync back to Google Reader.
Early Edition for the iPad
$4.99, app2.me/2908; no iPhone/iPod touch version
Early Edition sports a "newspaper style" interface and includes some standard RSS reader features. It comes with built-in feeds and syncs with Google Reader or with individual RSS feeds. Feeds are gathered in folders along the left-hand side of the app. Article links can be copied and opened in Safari or sent to Instapaper.
The reading experience is what sets Early Edition apart from the other apps. Feeds and articles are presented in a newspaper format. Tap on a folder in the left-hand pane and Early Edition assembles a personalized newspaper from the articles in the folder. Tap an article to view it in text or Web mode. To turn the page, swipe your finger across the page to the left—just like iBooks.
Early Edition deserves credit for trying to merge an RSS reader with an electronic newspaper, but several design decisions seem ill-chosen. Traditional sync options have been needlessly abandoned for confusing Last Sync, All, and All Dates options. In addition, there is no way to mark articles as read or unread. This makes reading less efficient than with the other apps, which is a shame—the newspaper layout format shows promise.
Pulse Mini News for the iPhone, Pulse for iPad
Featured by Steve Jobs during the WWDC keynote, Pulse attempts to redefine what an RSS reader is. Touted by its two Stanford creators as a "visual mosaic of your news," Pulse presents your feeds in a visually appealing grid (see figure).
News sources are listed vertically, articles within a source horizontally. Swiping up or down scrolls through your source list; swiping right or left scrolls through articles within the source list. Pulse represents articles with photos if the feed has one. Tap an article and its content appears in a pane on the right-hand side of the screen, from which you can read a text or Web version.
Pulse comes with several preset sources and a "featured source" list from which you can choose. You can also create your own source called "My Pulse" and add articles to it by tapping on the heart icon next to a news article. Friends or followers can subscribe to your Pulse and, if popular enough, your Pulse feed can rise to the top of the featured source.
While visually appealing, Pulse has some limitations. It provides no read/unread function, and you are limited to a maximum of 20 sources and 40 articles per source.
Your reading needs and style!
An App Store search on "RSS" yields almost 200 apps. Some of them focus tightly on a specific topic (politics, football, specific universities) or link you with a specific news source. The apps in this review are the best all-around RSS readers. The best app is the one that suites your needs and reading style!