RSS feeds have changed the way a lot of people get their information from the web. Rather than visiting 10, 20, 30 or more sites per day, it’s possible to consolidate all of that information into one central location using a RSS reader. Google’s offering, aptly titled “Google Reader,” is one of the most popular readers available. I, for one, have a tab for Google Reader open in my browser 24/7.
It’s a way of life. So naturally, I need an easy, intuitive way to stay up-to-date with my RSS feeds. For over a year, I have relied on the pretty excellent Byline for this purpose. I’m always looking for something better, so I was excited to see Reeder released. Does it stack up? Let’s find out.
Reeder, at its core, syncs unread and starred items from a Google Reader account. Upon launching for the first time, you are prompted for your Google account info. Once you are logged in, the app immediately begins syncing your feeds. Just how much it syncs is up to you and can be configured in the iPhone Settings app.
It’s possible to sync only a day’s worth of articles all the way up to all articles with several options in between. If you have your feeds grouped into folders in Google Reader, those same folders are reflected within Reeder. The app provides the ability to view all of your feeds in one big list, separated by folders, or by individual feed. Any folder can be sorted by date or by individual feed.
When your feeds are synced, images and the text of the feed are downloaded and stored locally. Clicking on the header will launch an in-app browser to pull up the full website, but keep in mind that these external pages are not locally cached. When reading an item, there are five buttons across the bottom for marking unread, starring, previous item, next item, and a dashboard. This semi-translucent menu appears over the bottom half of the screen and provides more options like sending the article to Instapaper and various methods for sharing what you’re reading.
The 1.2 update also brought a cool new way to mark an item as read or to star it. Rather than having to view the article, you can swipe right to mark as read or swipe left to star from the list itself.
The best thing Reeder has going for it its stellar UI. They grey text on beige background differs from any other app I’ve seen; reading with these colors is actually easier on my eyes than the traditional black and white. All of the buttons have a purpose, and I was never left thinking “I wish there was an easier way to do this.”
It seems silly to mention the fact that Reeder will let you sync all of your articles no matter how many unread items you have, but since Byline arbitrarily caps each folder at 200 items, I guess I should.
While the UI is great, the performance doesn’t always match up. Syncing a large number of articles (I’m talking hundreds or even thousands) can take an eternity. This would be somewhat understandable if not for the fact that the app can become extremely sluggish while syncing. If you are patient and can wait until all of the feeds are done syncing, this isn’t really an issue. All of my testing was done on an iPhone 3G; I’ve spoken with a couple of others that have a 3GS, and, in general, they have not experienced any performance issues. Even the developer mentions this issue in the app’s description and suggests alleviating the issue by limiting the number of items to sync. A viable solution, but not the best if you simply must have everything.
The major area where Byline has a leg up on Reeder is full offline syncing. If you don’t have an internet connection, Reeder will only allow you to view the article headers. At most sites, this is just a blurb; the meat of the content requires a trip to the actual website. I would love to see this feature added.
Reeder is a great app with a UI that should make other apps envious. Is it the best RSS reader out there? Probably not. Like a lot of apps out there, it’s a solid entry with room for improvement.