The RSS feed world was taken by storm by a simple app. It was a modern, design first, Android app called Press. It’s just a feed reader. I like feed readers. So here’s my little review.
The Press app is definitely modern. The first place to notice is just in its icon. I would describe it as the tip of a ribbon with a large white semi-serif P stamped on the front. Compared to Google Reader’s typically blurry icon, the Press icon stands out among other apps that have paid less attention to the first detail anyone could notice.
Press lists all of your named folders on the left hand pane. The right hand pane is used for different purposes. Selecting a folder, the discrete feeds open on the right hand pane. This could look great, but there’s a problem. Most feeds are accompanied with low quality or non-existent art, making the experience feel half baked. It just looks bad.
My Tech News folder is a combination of Techmeme and Google News’ technology section, along with special individual feeds from The Verge and Ars, among others. I don’t read the sources separately usually because there’s plenty of overlap in the news, so I skim the bunch of them at once. The first “feed” in each folder is always All Subscriptions, which is what I’ve been using most. Once you open a specific feed (or just all of them with the aforementioned All Subscriptions feed), you get a list similar to that of Google Reader’s headline view with another couple lines of summery. It’s pretty good.
A unique touch is that the feed is listed in posted date order. I’m sure Google Reader does this too. The unique touch is the separator with the date that groups long swaths of posts. I let my news accumulate over the week, so this is nice. From there, there’s reading stories. Just tap a headline item and it will open in full (whatever that ends up being) in the right hand pane. If you’re lucky enough to find a full text feed, you can easily read it in lovely font choices, the default being Source Sans Pro, but also Roboto, Open Sans (see WordPress’ 2012 theme) and others. If you’re not so lucky and need to click through, you can and the requested page will open in an internal browser. Google Reader will open the article in the default browser. At least on the Nexus 7, this is fine because it’s Chrome and the device itself is actually fast enough to switch apps properly, but on my phone, it’s annoying. Press opens the requested article in a webview without leaving the app, saving time and a jarring trip.
There are simple buttons for starring, read and unread and sharing in the preview pane. In the list view, there’s a great Mark all as Read checkmark button (that you can set to not ask if you’re sure).
This is where my praising review turns into some criticism.
Press does not have a way to star stories without viewing them in the right hand preview pane. Often, I’m purusing headlines but not spending time right now to read the full story — I want to save the story for later. Sure, I could send the story to Pocket and call it good, but that was never in my workflow for reading. With Google Reader, I would star stories I wanted to get back to. Press neglects having a list view favoriting function. If they add this, it would be perfect, but it would get perfect plus status by adding a star and share button from the list view.
Press does not offer a way to slide through stories. Let’s say you’re reading Daring Fireball and Gruber’s on a hot streak, so he’s written twenty things in one hour. It happens (or it feels like it). Every time you want to read the next story, you have to leave the preview pane on the right side and return to the list view. It wastes time and it’s annoying. The solution is obviously a swiping gesture, but where to? Swiping to the left brings the list view back, so that leaves the right for the swipe, which would be fine, probably. A similar swiping problem is that I’m right handed so I hold my phone and tablet in my right hand. It’s fine, but it’s just a little too far for my thumb to swipe comfortably up and down in the list view. This is mostly my problem though.
Finally, I mentioned the imagery for the individual feeds. They are so out of place in an app that is focused on its modern design. Techmeme’s icon is literally a 16-pixel favicon while iFans is a much better size. Some others do that do well are Apple’s Hot News, Betali.st, Paul Thurrott’s Supersite, Lifehacker, CSS-Tricks and others. But so many people have broken or super-low resolution feed art. I don’t know why, specifically. But the app can’t force my feeds to have nice images, only the feeds themselves can be fixed by their authors. (And that’s totally going to happen, right.) Maybe this isn’t a problem, but it’s something that’s out of the control of Press, but hopefully something that is addressed eventually.
Despite this tiny problems, the best part of this app is that it is in active development. The developers are listening to their audience too. It’s great.
Press is an app on the Play Store for $1.99 (which is a euphemism for $2). The TwentyFive Squares guys are great, especially on Twitter. I bought it. I like it. You can see some screenshots, if you’d like.