Flipboard is perhaps the most well-known of the magazine-style news reading apps. It aggregates content primarily from the user’s connected social networks including Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and LinkedIn. It also displays content from a plethora of official content providers, consisting of a variety of blogs and news sources. There are some interesting news sources that a user can subscribe to. These content channels include Stumbleupon, PocketHits (popular content being saved on the Pocket reading service), Audio Content, Video Content, Instagram Popular, Reddit for Flipboard, and Local channels. Content can also be added from RSS feeds a user subscribes to via their Google Reader account. Flipboard selects to display content based upon how popular it is on the web and the users’ connected social networks. Since it supports so many sources, it does a very good job of finding relevant news. The Flipboard interface is probably the most aesthetically pleasing of all the apps reviewed in this post. It sports well-organized pages that animate as you flip through them as if it were a physical magazine. The reading experience for articles is also excellent, with a clean, well-formatted view with easy-to-read text. Flipboard allows saving to Pocket, Instapaper, and Readability. Content is sharable through the most popular social networks including Google Plus. One thing that really annoys me about Flipboard is the panel limitation. If you subscribe to many channels like me, you will soon discover a box that says you have more sources available for viewing. They can be viewed, but not in the same elegant manner as the other sources. It causes the continuity of the app design to break. Since the app’s design is probably its greatest strength, I consider this a major flaw.
Zite has been my favorite news reading apps for a while now. Upon your first use of Zite, it analyzes your existing use of Twitter and Google Reader in order to find relevant content to display. Users can then subscribe to various subject channels. Like Flipboard, articles are displayed in an optimized, clean, and easy-to-read fashion. When reading articles, users can select “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” to indicate whether they liked what they read. It also displays relevant tags for which the articles can be categorized. Selecting tags allows the user to see content in these categories in a later time, improving Zite’s content predictions. This system of rating content and selecting tags is what makes Zite great. These selections are used to algorithmically find relevant content to display, appealing to the user’s interests and tastes. The predictions it makes are phenomenal in my opinion, and its ability to determine what a user wants to read is the main selling point of Zite. Zite supports many services for social sharing and saving for later reading. Zite has one of the best interfaces for sharing articles to social networks and for saving to services like Pocket or Instapaper. It is also worth mentioning that although CNN purchased Zite, it shows no political bias towards which sources it displays.
The differentiating feature of Flud is its social nature. You can follow other users and see what they “Fluded”. There is a “Most Fluded” channel that aggregates the most popular stories on the Flud service. The app groups articles by news source instead of by topic, and acts much more like an RSS reader in this sense. Flud has a limit to the number of sources a user can subscribe to, and I quickly encountered an error stating that I reached my “feed limit”. The article view is a pleasant experience that is just as good as Flipboard and Zite. The greatest issue I have with Flud is its stability, as it often crashes rendering it relatively unusable. I hope to the stability issue resolved in an update.
Pulse is an old favorite for tablet and smartphone users. Users can subscribe to various content sources, most of which are specific websites. There are also feeds users can subscribed to such as Top Reddit Stories, Storify, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram Top Photos, YouTube Top Videos, Flickr Top Videos, Digg Top Stories, Vimeo Top Videos, Local, Aggregated “Best of” Categories, Readability reading list, and Google Reader. The article reading experience is good, with optimized easy-to-read views like Flipboard and Zite. Subscriptions are grouped into pages of panels. There is a maximum number of subscriptions per page and a limit of five pages total. Articles can be starred and saved to read later services like Instapaper, Pocket, Readability, or even Evernote for later viewing. Pulse supports sharing through Facebook, Twitter, and Email. Although Pulse is a nice app, I think RSS reading apps like Reeder ($4.99), Newsify ($0.99), or my personal favorite Mr. Reader ($3.99) are superior options. The only advantage Pulse has over these RSS reader apps is the free price tag.
Trapit is the new kid on the block. It employs an artificial intelligence algorithm developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the Stanford Research Institute (SRI) to predict user relevant articles, in a way similar to Zite. The predictions seem very accurate. They are based on categories that the user subscribes to (both general or very specific) and “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” article ratings. There is no subscribing to specific websites and the finding of content sources is left to the app. The article view is not the best, as it displays articles as they would appear in a web browser without an optimized view. As far as I can tell, Trapit doesn’t support saving to services like Instapaper and Pocket and has a few options for social sharing. A nice thing about Trapit is that there is also a web service that can be used on in your web browser. Overall the recommendations are good, but not as good as the ones I receive with Zite.
News360 is one of the best news app that you’ve probably never heard of. Much in the style of Zite and Trapit, it uses an algorithm to personalize the content that is presented to the user. News360 users can subscribe to broad and niche news categories, and articles can be marked as interesting to help improve the content it chooses to display to the user. The initial content predictions are derived from your social network usage. The algorithm’s predictions are superior to Trapit and on par to Zite, if not better. There is a local news feature, but it doesn’t work as well for me as Trapit’s local feature. The news reading experience itself isn’t as nice as Zite, but better than Trapit’s lack of an optimized view. One of the nicer features of News360 is it allows you to view multiple news sources for the same article. It supports the major read it later services and articles can be shared to Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus. Another nice thing about News 360 is that there is web interface you can use in your browser like Trapit. Overall I prefer Zite to News360, but there is certainly close competition between the two apps.
Google Currents is Google’s venture into the magazine-style news reading apps. I feel that Currents hasn’t received the respect it deserves, as it provides users with a very pleasant reading experience. Users subscribe to individual news sources and the app pre-downloads them for your reading pleasure. The app is more similar to Pulse than any of the other apps. The article view gives the user a very pleasant, optimized reading experience. There is sharing support for a variety of social networks and reading services. Google Currents is a bit no-frills compared to some of the other apps, but compared to a more popular app like Pulse, it is on par.
Float is a news reading app created by the document service Scribd. It is probably the least impressive news reading app of the ones reviewed in this post. The app is aesthetically pleasing, but no-frills. Users subscribe to various news sources and articles can be read in an optimized format. Much like Flud, users can “follow” other Float users and see what they are reading. There is a bookmarklet that can be used to add articles from your web browser to your Float account, which is unique and useful, but isn’t exactly enough to get me to use it. There is sharing support for Facebook and Twitter, but no support for services like Instapaper. Despite the lack of support for these services, articles can be saved within the app for offline reading.
Editions is made by AOL and is probably the most unique app reviewed in this post. It is a magazine style reading experience, but disimilar to Flipboard, there is no optimized reading view. There is faux subscription mailing label on the cover page, an actual table of contents, and a design that really attempts to mimic the style of a magazine. The front page displays local weather, your friends’ birthdays from Facebook, and upcoming appointments from your calendar. The app is organized into general categories and subjects, leaving it feeling fairly static and not as personalized as the other apps mentioned in this article. However, users can select tags that are displayed above articles and Editions will use them to find articles relevant to these selections later. The app pulls from a variety of sources and displays them based on your interest instead of just having you subscribe to specific content providers. The social sharing support is good, as is the reading service support.
My personal favorite out of the apps in reviewed in this post is Zite. I feel it provides the best mix of content suggestions, quality reading experience, interface, and other features. The runner ups in order are: Flipboard, News360, and Editions. I recommend trying a few out and seeing which you prefer.