Whether you’re reading a riveting novella, an insightful piece of long-form journalism, or the latest post from your favourite blogger, the written word has the ability to capture the imagination and make long, tedious journeys just slip away. In modern times, though, reading has become more than just words on a page or screen. A plethora of apps is available to make books more social, and news better suited to your interests.
To narrow down your options only to those that are worthy of a download, I’ve compiled a list of the most innovative social reading and news recommendation apps that the Play Store has to offer.
Readmill, a relative newcomer among Android e-readers, is currently somewhat of a beta-stage work in progress. It doesn’t provide much by way of customization, but it does provide a well-supported network for bookworms. The app allows you to discuss highlights with fellow readers and share your favourite excerpts on Twitter and Facebook.
A very nicely curated free bookshelf also awaits you in the Explore section, and the ability to import DRM-free ebooks straight into the app is very much welcome. Library syncing between your devices is available, too.
Fellow reading app Kobo shares social aspirations with Readmill, although Kobo delegates most reader-to-reader interaction to Facebook. This allows you to see what your friends are reading, and the app uses your social data to recommend what you might want to read next. As with Readmill, Kobo also offers book import, and it has its own library syncing system.
But Kobo has plenty of tricks of its own. It provides in-depth reading analytics, a system of badges to reward you for your commitment to page-turning, and a very good range of display options, including alternative fonts.
If you like the page-turning format, but would prefer your reading to be a bit more up to date, then Flipboard is the obvious choice of news app. This app is split into stylish magazine-like sections which can contain posts from your favourites publishers, links from social media accounts, or the curated content of your fellow users.
At the top of every Flipboard story is the opportunity to discuss the article with other readers, and the ability to share the post to numerous social networks.
Zite is designed for the casual browser of news, but this app takes a very hands-on approach to the content it delivers.
Although you can manually choose the topics you’d like to read about, Zite is at its best when you sign in with Facebook, Twitter, or Pocket, and allow the app to work out what suits you. The result is an impressively well-tailored stream of posts that is served up in a neat, if unspectacular, design. Also included is the option to mould the app to your taste by approving or disapproving of stories, and you can share posts via any social apps installed on your Android device.
In terms of the basic function and mode of operation, there’s very little to split Pulse and Zite, but that’s not to say they are identical. For starters, as Pulse is nowadays a product of the world’s largest professional network, there’s a slight bias in this app towards work-related news, and the first screen you encounter encourages you to log in to your LinkedIn account for a personalized news reading experience.
If you ignore these asides, though, you’ll find a very sleekly designed news app that includes an integrated commenting system and easy social sharing.
Taptu is yet another magazine app, and one that doesn’t reach the quality of aesthetics seen in some of the extremely polished offerings above, at that. However, its intriguing subtitle — “DJ your news” — is backed up by an intelligent news-gathering system that allows you to mix publishers, topics, RSS feeds and social updates into a personalized home of reading material.
It also provides a considerable number of visual customization options, as well as a proficient search engine, and in-app social sharing.
Digg is a social news network that has been up, down, and is now on its way back up, in part due to the revamped website’s elegant interface and RSS compatibility – attributes also found in its Android offering.
Along with the ability to view the network’s signature crowd-curated content, you can add your own feeds — either by URL or via the in-built search — choose from the pre-selected publishers that are listed by subject, and digg your way round the stories on offer. Integration with the big three read later services is a welcome bonus.
Speaking of reading later – you might not think of Pocket (formerly Read It Later) as a clever news reading app, but after the recent release of version 5, that is what it has become.
Although the Pocket Android app is truly excellent for reading the articles you’ve saved for later, the new Highlights feature follows your reading habits, and suggests which clipped content is likely to interest you the most. And from both my own use, and the experience of others, I would say that Pocket gets these recommendations pretty much spot on.
The idea of Circa is to reinvent breaking news for the smartphone reader, and it does so with some style. The latest headlines are told in bite-sized statements, facts, or numbers, all of which are curated from trustworthy sources by Circa’s human editors. On the one hand, this limits the number of headlines available, but on the other hand, it gives this app human intelligence.
Additionally, Circa’s reports update as new information becomes available, and if you follow a story, you can receive notifications about the latest updates.
As its name suggests, News360 is in the business of serving up the latest headlines, too, but it takes a Google News-like approach to its delivery, with stories split by subject. News360 offers quick access to your favourite topics, and presents stories in a beautiful, side-swiping interface.
Although the topic sorting isn’t always completely accurate, the multiple news sources pulled in by News360 make for a rich, comprehensive reading experience, and the app has its own, in-built read later service.
So there you have it – the cleverest aggregators of reading material your Android device could possibly dream of running. My personal favourites are Readmill for reading, Digg for feeds and Circa for news; but which are your favourites? And have I missed a killer app from my list? Let me know in the comments below.
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