Google Reader is the ultimate RSS feed subscription and consumption app. Actually there aren’t many compelling alternatives for the desktop available out there. However, there are a lot of mobile apps to help you assimilate RSS feed subscriptions, leveraging your Google Account. Native apps for Gmail and other Google services have been around since the launch of Android, except for Google Reader.
It’s been a long time coming, but the official Google Reader app for Android is finally here. Read on after the break to find out how good the newest native app from Google is.
Google Reader is available for free in the Android Market for all users from across the globe. As an added bonus, the app is compatible on a lot of Android mobile phones. To be precise, all versions from Donut (v1.6) and above are capable of running the app.
If you have signed in with your Gmail account earlier, the app will automatically use the login information to create an account. If you plan to use a different Gmail account, use the Add Account button to do so. Google Reader lets you access multiple Reader accounts which is a nice touch.
By default, the sync feature is turned off. There is little point in keeping sync turned off in a feed reader; it can be turned on by selecting the icon right next to the account name. Once you approve the notification screen that alerts you of the request made by the app to access your Google Reader account, we are off to test drive the app.
Interface and Usage
As soon as the configuration is all done, you will be taken to a minimalistic yet familiar interface. The app looks a lot like the mobile web version. The count of unread items in the account is displayed prominently in the main screen. Starred items, people you follow and exploring new feeds and news sources are available as quick links. Then comes the list of folders you have created to keep related feeds together.
Following the unread count is a list of your subscription folders, which are accompanied by unread item counts. If you are scrambling for some screen real estate, toggling the Home section will hide a couple rows freeing up that much-needed space.
Tapping on a folder brings up the list of feeds you have subscribed to and the number of news items that have not been read yet. The list of news items are stamped with the category from where they originate. Each listing is accompanied by a star to the left to make it easy for you to highlight the news that is of utmost interest.
Accessing an article from the feed is simple – tap on the feed name and the content will be displayed. Long-press on a folder or subscription to bring up a contextual menu that lets you rename, unsubscribe or change folders.
Google has done a neat job with the interface: articles are displayed in full view, including images. To move to the next and previous items, use the respective arrow keys at the bottom of the screen. Unfotunately, these arrows are large, and poorly designed, and they totally ruin the aesthetics of the otherwise well-designed app.
Found something interesting in the article you are reading? Hit Menu to access features that let you make a note, add a star, share it with your friends or mark it as “liked”. I love how the notes feature maintains the same comprehensiveness as the original Google Reader. Strangely, an option to mark the item unread is available.
A gamut of sharing options make Google Reader a great recommendation engine on the desktop. Most of the oft-used sharing options from the desktop show up in the mobile app too. Sharing via Bluetooth and text message are added bonuses in this mobile version.
Exploring and Searching Feeds
Bored of reading the same old feeds? Give the recommendations from Google a go for a bit of a change. Feeds from a variety of quality news sources are listed and if you like what you read, you can subscribe to it then and there. You can sort the suggestions based on their chronology – newest or the oldest first. Alternatively, you can take advantage of Google’s algorithm to get them sorted magically (that’s how Google puts it).
Google has another ace up its sleeves with its search the feeds feature. The search is thorough and searches the full text of all the feeds. Not only are the items in the cache searched, but even the news items that still have not been cached are searched. Neat, isn’t it?
Another interesting usage of the search feature is the subscribe option from the main screen. From this screen, you get to search for keywords and URLs. Tracking of keywords and searching only a particular website or social network is an innovative new feature that will entice the power users.
Given the fact that this is a very early version of the app, Google Reader for Android scores big on usability and featureset scales. Google has put in a lot of effort to ensure that the awesomeness of the desktop Google Reader is transferred to the mobile app. Features like using the volume rocker to sift through the list of news items enhance the overall experience.
However, the app is not without its flaws. Foremost among them is the sketchy offline support. Although the app adds items to cache, errors pop up when the connection is lost. And the user interface, though easy to use, looks plain and bland. The app could really use some snazzy design elements and a splash of color.
That said, Google Reader is a welcome addition to the great set of native Google apps for Android and is a must have if you are a news buff.