Pulse, Currents and Flipboard: Top Android News Readers Battle

Over the last couple of years that I’ve had a smartphone, I’ve steadily moved my news reading routine from the desktop over to the phone. It wasn’t the best of experiences on the tiny screen of my old LG Optimus One, but the HD screen on the Galaxy Nexus does make it extremely good at scanning through a news article so I can decide whether to mark it to read later on a bigger screen.

The other big change in news consumption over the last couple of years has been the shift from traditional RSS readers to dedicated apps that do a much better job of collating and presenting updates. While Flipboard took its own sweet time to arrive on Android, a host of competing services – including one from Google – attempted to grab and lock in those users looking for a simple, elegant yet gorgeous way to consume their daily dose of content updates.

Having played around with a bunch of these apps, I’ll share my take on how they work out for me. I’ll avoid the usual RSS readers and Google Reader front-ends here, and go with the top three — in my opinion — dedicated news reading apps on Android at this moment: Flipboard, Google Currents & Pulse. Rather than talk about each app individually, I’ll discuss how they all fare on some of the most important features.


Like the article? You should subscribe and follow us on twitter.

User Interface

Although all three apps look pretty good, Flipboard takes the cake in the UI department with a brilliantly simple yet gorgeous UI. The grid layout makes the most use of available screen space and the focus on images ensures you have a decent idea of what to expect when tapping a story. For tweets and posts without images, the text-only representation makes as perfect use of typography as any I’ve seen on a mobile device. Stories are sometimes displayed as pages that you flip through or as long documents that you scroll through, which tends to be confusing. I’m assuming this is based on what format the sources release their content in, but as a user I should not feel the need to care.

Google has done a pretty good job with Currents, their supposed answer to Flipboard. The overall look and feel is extremely polished and Currents has by far the best layout and font for reading stories. I like the ability to view all my sources as thumbnails right on the home page of the app, letting me decide which one I want to dig deep into. The horizontal pagination when reading an article feels a bit weird in the beginning, but is not necessarily a bad thing. Once you reach the end of an article, swiping left simply loads up the next article.

Pulse takes quite the opposite approach to the bright and clean UI of its competitors by trying to crunch as much content on the screen as it can. Each story is still represented by a thumbnail image, but they are smaller and bunched together into rows — one for each source. On the brighter side though, the interface feels extremely snappy on my phone and is probably a good choice for those who like to scan through a lot of stuff quickly, newspaper style.

Landing pages of all three apps

Landing pages of all three apps: Flipboard (left), Currents (Middle) and Pulse (right)

Content

The one thing that can make or break an app focused around content is the content itself, of course. All three apps let you choose curated sources categorized by topic, or bring in your own content sources. While Flipboard and Pulse let you integrate your Google Reader list, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and more, Currents is limited to Google Reader integration. Flipboard, on the other hand, gets some extra points for Google+ integration. Why Google’s own app, Currents, does not come with support for their own service beats me.

Apart from the regular news and topical websites, Flipboard also has some of its own curated sources which bring you the best of each topic — or the best of everything on Flipboard through the “Flipboard Picks” channel. It even does a pretty decent job of figuring out what are the best stories from your social channels and puts them all together as “Cover Stories”. I’ve found this collection to be pretty accurate over time.

Currents on the other hand, gives you a list of popular personalities from various fields under the “Curators” tab, which lets you access the stories they are looking at and sharing, directly from the horse’s mouth, as some would say.

Overall, I found Pulse’s library of sources the most comprehensive of the three, but your mileage may vary based on what you’re looking for. It’s a choice between few but very good sources where you may not find exactly what you want, and tons of them that can be a pain to go through just to find those three or four you need.

Tons of content to choose from in each app

Tons of content to choose from in each app

Functionality

As far as functionality goes, all three apps are pretty bare-bones. You add sources to your library, the app brings the latest stories from these sources for you to scan through or read. You can change the font size to suit your reading preferences and — in Pulse’s case — also switch between a light and dark UI for the content. Personally, I prefer light text on a dark background — something both Flipboard and Currents don’t have at the moment.

You can of course share stories on social networks or through e-mail. Flipboard makes sharing a 3-step process by having you choose whether to use its built-in sharing mechnism or Android’s common share system, but gets extra points for integrating “read later” services like Pocket, Instapaper and Readability. Currents on the other hand makes sharing to your favorite service a single-tap affair by adding an icon to the last used service right next to the share icon. Pulse, not to be left behind, has a web app with your entire library synced and available on the desktop.

The one thing that keeps me hooked to Currents though, is the fact that it is the only app that provides offline access to content. There are major portions of the day sometimes when I’m not online and Currents’ ability to download the latest content and make it seamlessly available offline is a huge win for me. Yes, it means the app uses a lot of data when on WiFi, especially if you set it to download images as well, but I personally don’t mind the trade-off.

All three apps have similar features with some minor variations

All three apps have similar features with some minor variations

Wrap Up

As you can probably already tell, there’s no real winner here for me. Flipboard and Currents get a lot of things right in terms of the UI, but there are still certain things I need that only either one does. Pulse in the meantime offers a lot of functionality but in a package that cannot compete very well with the elegance of the other two. Whether either one improves on its shortcomings enough to emerge as a clear winner in the future remains to be seen. But I think the more likely outcome would be for a new app that takes the best from each of these and actually nails the experience enough to pull everyone towards it. We’ll see how that goes.


  • http://www.manafterdark.com Shaun McLane

    Check out Feedly. They updated the app recently, it looks very similar to Flipboard now, but the functionality is far superior. Definitely worth a look when comparing News Readers.

    • http://www.deridet.com Gderidet

      I agree. I use daily Flipboard for the fun and Feedly for the work (I’m a blogger)

  • Quiem

    Great article! :)

  • Amy

    I just wanted to second Feedly.

  • http://www.joshuacanfield.me/ Joshua Canfield

    I’m going to have to agree with @Shaun and @Amy, Feedly! That’s for the great round-up and taking the time to write this article as I was actually unaware of Pulse for Android. After using all of these News Readers through-out the afternoon, I still prefer Feedly. Google’s ‘Google Reader’ App falls very short on Android but Feedly picks up where Google left off in my opinion.

    When it comes to User Interface; Feedly’s interface is beautiful and works wonders on my Nexus 7. Flipboard has a beautiful interface as-well. Though Feedly is easy to use.

    Thanks again for the insightful article.

    • http://ashish.bogawat.com Ashish Bogawat

      I contemplated including Feedly here, but then decided otherwise because it is a very different app in my mind. Probably a preconceived notion that I should have reconsidered.

      To be fair, I use Feedly more than any of the three apps in this roundup – on the phone as well as the desktop.

      • quetzacoatl

        yes, you’re so right on that! for me too, they accomplish different things, and each helps me with different tasks (flipboard: aimlessly browsing news and twitter/facebook; feedly: reading blogs and longer articles). the reason they excel at different things might even not be intended by their creators, it’s just a result of the different gui designs and their level of source customization. many people throw those two tasks into one, though – it also happened in this (not so favorable) review of feebly, and I tried explaining my point in the comments there.

  • Eli Juicy Jones

    In my opinion feedly beats them all hands down. It combines good graphic design with the abiity to read a large volume of feeds from Google Reader better than the rest.

  • Christian M.Z.

    Flipboard is a huge data usage guzzler though. I did a test “flip through” of a topic, about 50 flips – without tapping and reading the actual article – and my data usage for the app (you can check individual app’s data usage on ICS and JB) increased by about 15MBs.

    Makes me think the recent survey results about iOS users being higher in web usage is not because they actually use the web more, but simply because they are using less data usage-efficient apps like Flipboard and Lightt.

  • Nick

    The answer, when you can’t decide, is use both :)

    If we’re talking phones, Currents and Flipboard are just fine. Pulse I think is more utilitarian – if looks aren’t your thing and you like at-a-glance functionality on a phone, Pulse works well.

    I assume this is just for phones? Because on tablets it’s a different story – I’d give that one to NewsRepublic.

  • https://plus.google.com/u/0/100066031670685501803 Joel

    I have used Pulse, Currents and Taptu. I ended up using Taptu the longest until I decided to give Currents another try.

  • Sigilist

    Thank you to those who mentioned Feedly, as each one of these falls short at different levels, succumbing to eye-candy vs. enough information to determine in one to two steps at most to whether or not an article is worth yet more taps to get to it. I’ll have to see if Feedly is any better. I’ve never liked Pulse at all.

  • Bill

    so far my nod goes to News360 … I’ve found it has the most content.

  • Bill

    I went back and checked out taptu, news republic, feedly & pulse … i still like News360 best. It is unique in that it gives you the headlines and lets you pick the source. The other apps seem to segregate the data by source first, so i encounter the same topic over and over. I like the reuters app too, but the data is too truncated.

    Sorry for the double dip, but i had to go back and see why i switched to News360 and haven’t opened pulse in over a month!

  • wickets

    thanks for the 360 mentions……I didnt know the app existed until now :) The one headline and then the different sources for that headline is a brilliant idea

    • bill lawlima

      the 2 complaints i have is that their local stories are not necessarially your location. “columbia, sc” gets you any story with “columbia” in it and all the “SC” (Supreme court) news. Sometimes the picture they feed has nothing to do with the story.

      the good news is the developer is aware and personally responded to the complaints about these issues. (they’re still not fixed, though)

theatre-aglow
theatre-aglow
theatre-aglow
theatre-aglow