If you follow a handful of websites regularly and you have heard of RSS feeds, chances are that you use the Google Reader service to stay on top of all the new articles posted every day. Google Reader offers a great collection of applications for Android, from the official Google Reader app, which is quite limited in its functions, to a slew of third party software.
Two of these alternatives, namely NewsRob Pro and gReader Pro, are aimed at the Reader power users. Being a power user myself, I have tried the two extensively and decided to share with you my findings.
NewsRob takes a bare bones approach to the interface, with the list of your Google Reader folders or tags, an All Articles section on top, a green marker on the left of the screen to show something as unread, and icons to display the number of items. Delving into a folder for a list of websites, then into that for a list of articles, take you to similarly designed screens.
A toolbar allows you to easily go back to the first screen or force a synchronization, a check mark helps quickly mark everything as read, and a round circle makes it simple to switch quickly between unread/all articles views
gReader’s interface is a bit similar on a first glance to NewsRob, with a list of your folders or tags and an All items section on top, however it uses two toolbars. The upper one gives you quick access to adding a feed, switching the view between Feeds only or Feeds and Tags, and lets you easily open your Podcasts, saved articles, starred articles, and recommendations.
The lower bar has the synchronization button, Mark All as Read, and a box that toggles between unread articles and all articles. Delving inside the main screen uses two paradigms in gReader: if you click on the number of items next to a folder (right side of the screen), a drop down list opens with the different feeds, but if you click on the folder’s name (left side of the screen) you’re taken directly to a list of articles, from all the feeds.
Winner: Tie. It depends on how you like your interface, NewsRob has 3 separate pages for folder-feed-article lists, whereas gReader uses drop downs to integrate the first two into one page.
The article view in NewsRob displays the feed as-is, with formatting and images. A star icon allows you to easily favorite a post, and there are menu options to mark the article as unread, view it in the separate browser, share its link to other applications, zoom in and out, and some more.
There are two other view modes for articles: one displays articles completely as a webpage inside NewsRob, and the other uses a Simplified webpage (via Instapaper, Readability, or Google Wireless Transcoder). The simplified view can be perfect for those websites with truncated RSS feeds, for example.
gReader’s article view is actually much cleaner with better on-screen controls. An upper bar gives you the option to switch the view between feed, web, and cache. A favorite icon and a check mark box are here for easy starring and marking as read or unread.
There is also an icon to open the article in a web browser, a share icon, and another “send” icon that integrates natively with Read It Later, Instapaper, or even translates the post for you. The menu holds more functions such as saving a page, tagging it, hiding the images and more.
Winner: gReader. However this win is tampered by one issue which is that gReader switches articles when you swipe sideways, so sometimes while scrolling down, you move you finger a bit diagonally and the article switches to the previous/next one. This, unfortunately, cannot be disabled.
Gestures and Interactions
NewsRob uses two gestures: a left-to-right swipe marks an article as read, a right-to-left swipe marks it unread (green marker). If a post is already unread, another right-to-left will pin it as kept unread (blue marker) which means that even opening it or using Mark All as Read won’t affect its state, until you decide to manually mark it. This is highly useful for posts that you want to come back to later on.
Its added benefit is that the swipe to mark gestures can be allowed in both the article list and the article view, which means that you can easily decide what you want to do with a post while reading it without having to click for menus. NewsRob also allows you to switch the next or previous article with the volume buttons, and can be set to vibrate when you reach the top or bottom of a list so you don’t keep pressing expecting something to happen.
gReader allows you to manually assign different functions for swiping left-to-right and right-to-left: read/unread, star/unstar and save/unsave. However, these gestures only work in the article list, not also inside the article view, where they are replaced by onscreen actions and menu options. The volume buttons can also be used to either switch articles like in NewsRob or to scroll up and down inside the article.
Winner: NewsRob. Although less customizable, NewsRob has more controls and works better.
NewsRob allows you to synchronize all articles or just the unread ones, automatically or manually, and to even restrict it to only “newsrob” folder inside your Google Reader (in case you do not want all your news on your phone). However, it also limits you to a maximum of 2,000 articles in the reading list, and 200 in the starred list – a letdown for those who want access to many of their starred items. As for offline use, NewsRob can download articles for you to read based on connectivity (enabled, disabled, or WiFi-only) and on format (article only, article + image, article + image + simplified webpage).
gReader is quite similar in this aspect, with the main difference being that you can go over 4,000 articles and even select an “all” option that doesn’t limit you at all, no matter the number of unread items in your lists. The one main attraction of gReader is that it can also handle audio and video podcasts.
Winner: gReader. The mere fact that it can also work with podcasts makes it stand out.
I can only comment based on my experience with the Desire Z. With over 1500 articles, NewsRob is quite surprisingly fast, especially the swiping gestures for marking articles as read/unread.
By comparison, gReader is slow, quite painfully so, and there’s a lag of almost five seconds between the moment I do any swipe gesture and it registering. I had this issue on the MIUI ROM, which I thought was the culprit, but even after switching back to CM7.1, gReader still lags miserably. However, I’ve heard great comments about it from other users with faster processors, so my only advice would be to try the free version on your phone before committing to the full version.
Winner: NewsRob. It is optimized to run well, even on older and slower hardware.
Both applications allow you to sort articles by newest or oldest, change the text size, display the article list with snippets of text and an image thumbnail, let you unsubscribe from a feed or subscribe to a new one. Both have a white and a black theme to suit your needs.
gReader also offers this feed management option, but there are lots of other added bonuses in it:
- a dual mode in landscape that shows the folder and the article list
- a dashboard view for articles instead of the regular list view, with image thumbnails and the title at the bottom of each.
- a fullscreen mode that removes the notification bar on Android and lets you enjoy those few additional pixels.
- a search function that only works in list view and lets you search the title and content of articles.
- a series of widgets that display your latest feeds
- a customization for the Share menu, that lets you specify whether you want the share the article title, URL address, and/or snippet.
- an option to move a feed to another folder.
Winner: gReader. There’s just too much to modify and use in it.
It’s a 4-3 win for gReader thanks to its oodles of functions. However, this will come down to personal preference, as NewsRob offers a couple of exclusive features such as the “keep unread” which comes in quite handy, depending on how you use Google Reader.
Personally, I had to completely overlook gReader because of its slow performance for swiping articles as read/unread on my Desire Z. However, I will come back to it when I switch to better hardware, as I’m pretty certain it’ll function well and offer a ton of added functionality.