Catching up on the news can be a daunting task, what with the myriad sources of information and the many channels of its circulation that we have access to in this day and age. But mercifully, there are apps that afford effective ways of separating the signal from the noise as far as news consumption is concerned. Among the best of such apps, in my opinion, are NYT Now and BuzzFeed News. But which between the two is the better news curation app, the one with “All the News That’s Fit to Print” or the one from “The Media Company for the Social Age”?
Release date: April 2, 2014
Latest update: 2.0.2 (June 11, 2015)
Compatibility: iPhone and iPod touch
NYT Now was launched in April last year to help readers quickly and easily catch up on the most important stories from The New York Times and elsewhere on the Web. Unfortunately, it required a subscription for unlimited access, with non-subscribers allowed to read only 10 stories for free. Fortunately, that changed when the app was updated to version 2.0 last May, when it became completely free for all users.
As before, NYT Now highlights the top stories from The Gray Lady along with articles from other sources. But now the so-called “Top Stories” and “Our Picks” have been merged into a single feed for easier consumption.
The thing that makes NYT Now really jump at you is how it doesn’t really jump at you. That may not make any sense at first, but the fact is that the app has an interface that’s so clean and simple, even as it features full-bleed images, that you really get to focus on the featured stories in the feed.
These include the daily briefing, which gathers essential news and information in one place to help you more quickly and easily get caught up with what you need to know for the day. Optionally, you can also include a weather forecast below each briefing.
Also included (and appreciated) in NYT Now’s feed is a mini crossword puzzle to give you a welcome respite from all the (mostly bad) news.
Another welcome aspect of NYT Now is its very own bookmarking feature, which is independent of read-later apps like Instapaper, Pocket, and Readability. This allows you to save stories for offline access in the app, for when you’re on airplane mode or on the go and out of coverage area of your cellular network.
Unlike BuzzFeed News, which provides much context around featured stories, NYT Now offers very few background-expounding bullet points or “atoms” particularly for developing and breaking news, which are quite beneficial to users who are pressed for time.
And regarding background in a different sense of the word, the alerts for the daily briefing requires Background App Refresh, which I’ve never been one to enable in my continuing effort to preserve battery life. The push notifications for breaking news, however, don’t have that requirement.
Also worth pointing out is the fact that NYT Now shows ads. You see, when the app became free, it also became ad-supported. To be fair, though, the app sometimes doesn’t show ads at all, and when it does, the single ad from a single sponsor is far from intrusive.
Ease of Use: ★★★★★
Total score: 18 out of 20
Release date: June 18, 2015
Latest update: 1.0.2 (June 29, 2015)
Compatibility: iPhone and iPod touch
BuzzFeed first gained traction as a website for shareable viral content such as quizzes, videos, and listicles. But in recent years, it has made a conscious expansion toward serious journalism with its dedicated News section on its website and the recently released BuzzFeed News app, which, like NYT Now, features information from other sources as well as stories from its eponymous publication.
Every time you launch BuzzFeed News, you’re presented with the top stories summarized through a bulleted list of the most recent and relevant headlines. This helps you catch up at a glance, with the invitation to scroll down for more details and other stories.
It’s also worth noting that BuzzFeed News’ headlines and headers occasionally employ emoji, particularly in connection with non-serious stories. In so embracing this increasingly popular “dialect” of the language of the digital age, BuzzFeed News adds a touch of wit to the news mix while drawing attention to it.
Another noteworthy thing about BuzzFeed News is that it offers an option of disabling the app’s usage information tracking. So if you’re specially concerned about online privacy, you can turn off BuzzFeed News’ tracking (via Quantcast) in the app’s settings.
But where BuzzFeed News really has the upper hand over NYT Now is in its support for customizable notifications. NYT Now offers notifications on breaking news and briefings only. BuzzFeed News, on the other hand, lets you customize alerts based on your interests (Major Breaking News, World, U.S. News, U.S. Politics, LGBT, Business & Technology, Celebrity & Entertainment, Sports) and developing news events (such as the FIFA corruption scandal and the Charleston Church shooting). It even includes a “Do not disturb” option for muting notifications when you wish not to be alerted.
In contrast to that of NYT Now, the interface of BuzzFeed News could use some housekeeping, especially with regard to the plethora of icons and their associated text. For instance, each share icon need not be accompanied by the word “Share.” Also, I don’t really need to immediately know the byline for a BuzzFeed article, nor do I need to see the icon beside the name of an external news source.
Moreover, the bottom navigation bar, consisting of the tabs for the main “Catch Up” content and the “My Alerts” settings, don’t have to be visible at all times. I’d rather they be hidden while I’m reading and scrolling down the feed, and perhaps reappear when I scroll back up (à la Safari).
Another thing BuzzFeed News has going against it is that it has no indication of how many new stories have been included in the app since the last time it was synced and which stories are new, have already been read, or have been passed on.
BuzzFeed News also doesn’t lend itself well to offline use, unlike NYT Now, which preloads and locally stores new and saved New York Times articles with every refresh.
Ease of Use: ★★★★☆
Total score: 16 out of 20
And the winner is …
“NYT Now beats BuzzFeed News in App Smackdown” — that’s the alternate headline for this article. Indeed, NYT Now carries the day when it comes to catching up on the news that you need to know for and during the day. And it’s not just because it has 165 years of award-winning and world-renowned journalism backing it up, compared to BuzzFeed News’ less-than-a-decade exercise in serious reportage. Its combination of proprietary pieces and stories from other publications (sometimes including BuzzFeed), presented in a clean, simple, and easy-to-use interface, really takes the chore out of checking all the important and interesting news that’s fit to print, or rather, be read on an iOS device.