Thank goodness for the apps that have come along to make online reading beautiful. While Google Reader is helpful for collecting content from a wide variety of sources online, the experience is utilitarian. Sure, it works. It functions just fine, but it isn't a design that immediately pulls you in.
Contrast Reader with Flipboard, and it's easy to see why the app is getting such high reviews from its growing Android user base. Flipboard started off as an iPhone app, and it was very cautious in its migration over to the Android system. Even now, I can install the app on my phone but not on my tablet. (Flipboard has no current plans to move to the Android tablet market, though it is available for the Nexus 7.)
Description: Flipboard describes itself as a "social news magazine" and not just an RSS reader. If you wanted only to have a single place to be able to access your social media accounts, you could use Flipboard. If you wanted to only read articles saved in your Google Reader account, you could use Flipboard for a beautiful interface.
Flipboard works with a wide range of services, including Reader, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn, and several others. The idea is simple. Flipboard creates a series of pages from your connected networks that you can easily flip through for a quick browsing or a more in-depth reading experience.
How it works: With the default setup of Flipboard, users get news and entertainment feeds from Flipboard. Simply by selecting the image, users can then read the entire article or status update. Flipboard's feeds are curated efforts that are certainly worth your time to look through.
The real strength of Flipboard lies in the additional accounts that can be tied in. By "flipping" to the second page (swiping the bottom of the screen to the top), users have the chance to add their own social media and news feeds by clicking the "More" square. Click "Accounts," and you're on your way. (See the screenshot below.) From the accounts page, you can select practically any social network you use, or you can add another curated feed from Flipboard.
If you're the type of Google Reader or social media user who builds lists and folders to segment out your reading (tech articles in one folder, friends from high school in one social media list), then you'll love Flipboard even more. Not only can you select the main feed from each of these connected networks, but you can also select specific lists or even select feeds. Say you wanted to put the Android Headlines RSS feed or any of the Android Headlines social media streams on your selected reading list in Flipboard, you could easily do so.
When you're browsing through your list of articles, you can click on any one to bring up a full version of the article (or at least as much of the article as the RSS reader or social media stream will allow). If there is still additional material to read for that article or if you want to play a video, you can simply click on the article link or the "View Original Article"' link to get to the native app for that material. Unlike some other RSS readers, Flipboard doesn't use its own browser to display an article or video link. Flipboard will rely on web browsers, social media apps, and YouTube to provide a native experience for the material.
By not trying to do too much, Flipboard is able to remain a smooth user experience. The app does allow for some interactivity with social media services like allowing you to "like," "+1," or even retweet a status update that you like.
Opinion: This is by far my favorite way to read news stories on the phone. It's a simple, beautiful presentation, and it makes reading enjoyable. In the same way that Facebook applies a unity to the diversity of information that it serves up, Flipboard simplifies the designs of news sites and blogs to create a comfortable reading experience.
I'd love to have the functionality added in to allow status reports on Facebook and Twitter to be marked as "read." Once an update, I don't want to see that status again when scanning through the system later. If this setting does exists I wasn't able to find it.
- Speed (4/5) - Images can take a while to load when flipping through several pages quickly, but the networks integrate well.
- Features (5/5) - Flipboard has extensive connectivity with social media and RSS feeds.
- Theme (5/5) - A beautiful display. A clean, clear reading experience.
- Overall (5/5) - It's not the only app I use for reading RSS and social media, but it's certainly one of the prettiest.
- Simple, clean presentation
- Wide range of connectivity with social media accounts
- Easier way to use Facebook on Android that the Facebook app
- Photos can take a while to load if you're trying to flip through the pages quickly.
- No tablet support.
Conclusion: If you use Google Reader on your phone, you should definitely give Flipboard a try. The service nicely syncs with Reader, so your read articles will not continue to show up in Reader or Flipboard unless you go back to search on past articles. The social media accounts are nice, too, though I mainly use Flipboard for article reading. Check it out on the Play store for free.