The news used to be something that graced the TV at 6 o’clock, got read out by somebody chosen for their impeccable tie and was then relegated to the pages of tomorrow’s tabloids. At the time it was absolutely fine, but now that we’ve got access to our information at any time we need a new format; something that sits in the background quietly waiting for the latest events, serving them to us on a silver platter when we fancy catching up.
The only trouble is that with the internet have come thousands upon thousands of brilliant and varied news sources, ranging from the online offerings of posh broadsheets to tiny startups focused on the nichest of niches. Luckily there are a few brilliant apps that take this smorgasbord of news and deliver it to us in attractive and innovative ways; here are our top 5.
This is one of those apps that lures you in with a great new idea and keeps you hooked using solid underlying functionality. The main draw with Flipboard is (bizarrely) the things it does with page change effects. We’re not talking secondary school Powerpoint slide transitions here; each page, when swiped up, flips from bottom to top like a book turned on its side. It’s a simple idea that works well and looks great.
You choose which kinds of info you want (News, Technology, Gaming etc.) and Flipboard puts them onto little tiles akin to Microsoft’s Metro UI. Now you’re just a flip away from all of the most popular content on the web; and while it can get crowded if you decide to add all of your favourite blogs, news sites and social networks, it does it in such a unique way that you find yourself not really caring.
Perhaps the best bit is the way it also integrates your Facebook and Twitter feeds, amalgamating all of your information into one glorious flippy thing. After a while I found myself using it as my primary Facebook app just because it was so pretty, and as long as all you do is check out posts and like statuses, you probably will too.
Currents is Google’s foray into the News app market, and as per standard Google rules it’s almost too forward-thinking. There’s a theory that says in the future news will be provided by ‘brands’ rather than papers or blogs, and Google have taken this idea and run with it. Everybody who wants to be on Currents produces a unique ‘Edition’; a timeline of their most recent news stories, all formatted in the ‘holo’ style.
It’s an extremely pretty app, and the navigation is second to none. It’s effortlessly intuitive; swipe left and right to switch between ‘editions’ (The Guardian, the Independent, the Metro) and up and down to see what each edition has to offer. When you’re in articles, swipe right to carry on reading and keep going if you want to read the next story. It takes all the effort out of reading down a page and getting neurotic about where you are in an article; after a while you start wondering why analogue scrolling down a block of text is the accepted standard.
There are other pluses too; the various page effects and general holo implementation are gorgeous to look at, and article images are included in a neat and useful way. But there are also some big drawbacks; the effort of maintaining an Edition seems to be too much for some news providers; during review the Guardian edition sometimes lagged behind their website by up to 12 hours. The syncing is also slightly suspect in that it can take a little time for editions to update; an almost indefensible faux pas for modern news apps.
Add to this the fact that there aren’t a huge amount of news providers who publish Editions and we have a brilliant app that is hindered by its forward thinking; it’s a massive improvement on older versions and it offers an insight into the future of news, but there’s still some way to go before it becomes as useful as it promises.
Pulse feels like it’s been around for yonks; I remember getting it fairly early on in the lifetime of my old HTC Desire. But now phones have moved on, can Pulse still contend with the new pretenders?
Short answer: yes it can. Pulse manages to fit an amazing amount of info onto one screen; you choose from a huge array of news sources which then appear en masse in the main app’s screen. The selection they give you is pretty good and does well to include international sites such as Al Jazeera, letting you get a really varied perspective on the days’ events.
While the app is US focused on startup, the source addition and reordering is pretty swish, and the range of available news sources is both comprehensive and of a high quality. Within articles Pulse keeps its attractiveness and good layout, and the sharing options are quick and simple to operate. Widget-wise it’s also top drawer; the 4×1 news source widget is great for filling up a home screen with your favourite news sources.
Navigation seems to be intuitive and useful, and the slight lagging gripes can be forgiven. But the main drawback is a big one: the sheer amount of news stories that it decides to fit onto the screen can be quite overwhelming; 12 stories with headlines and images at a time gives Pulse a jumbled feel, and the necessarily small font can be a bit of a strain to read. Bearing this in mind, if you’ve got a smaller screened phone then Pulse might not be for you.
News Republic is a less well-known news app that we feel is slightly underrated. It works like most of the others in this list; add some categories to your feed and it will update you on what’s going on. But here’s the main difference; it feels a bit more human.
It uses the same Metro-ish interface as Flipboard, and has some fancy-fly-in effects to keep it looking good. But the biggest draw here is that they’ve been thinking inside the emotional box; it lets you choose from a load of topical search terms (UK, christmas, political corruption (no really)) and sticks it up there with the usual stuff. This way it can really keep you up to date with what you want to see.
On top of this there’s the ‘moods’ system. Everybody in the network can rate any article they read on an emotional scale; if something is shocking you can give it an ‘astonished’ face, if you get angry about something give it a frowny face, etc. This adds two aspects; you can organise articles by reaction which is mildly interesting, but you can also judge how joe public is responding to a certain news story; a hugely interactive and social idea that we hope takes off in other, higher profile apps.
This was the most surprising app that we reviewed, and judged on looks alone would be our number one by a country mile. It’s not like the others in this article; it relies on RSS feeds to generate its content and as a result it can contain almost anything that you specify. It’s even easier if you use Google Reader as it syncs with your account, and it’s about six levels of quality above all of the other RSS feed apps out there.
Even if you don’t follow blogs there’s more than enough out there (and available to browse through in Feedly’s suggestions) to keep you up to date and entertained. You can add things to your own categories which is great for all you organisation buffs out there, and the sharing options are lightning quick as well as slick. Another great feature is the one-click saving; quickly surf through saving the interesting posts and you can browse them later at your leisure.
The fact that it’s an RSS reader does mean that the big time news providers often aren’t represented, so you might have to use it alongside one of the other apps on this list. But we think it’s worth doing just because of the look and feel of Feedly; it’s holo, it’s navigable and it’s achingly good looking.
It makes you wish that every other app on your phone was this smooth looking and streamlined, and the use of post images is simple but makes an impact. It’s not as fully featured as others, it’s not as future proof and it relies on aftermarket sources rather than top-drawer services, but you won’t remember that after using it for a minute or two.
So those are our top 5; if you’ve chanced across something equally as good or even better then let us know in the comments; these apps are always evolving and there are loads of great new ideas forming on the horizon that have the ability to change our news consumption forever.