Review: NewsRob (RSS/ Google Reader sync) for Android
There are a selected few Android apps which i really use on a daily basis. I’m planning to write reviews about those essential Android apps on a regular basis, and the first one i would like to present is called NewsRob. NewsRob is basically an RSS reader which will sync to all the RSS feeds you have added to your Google Reader account. This means that having a google account is mandatory, since NewsRob can’t download RSS feeds on its own. But NewsRob is just such a incredible app, that i actually added all my feeds to Google Reader only to be able to use NewsRob. And i’m not even using Google Reader at all to check feeds on my desktop pc, since i read all my RSS feeds on my smartphone.
Nowadays there are many different ways to read news articles on your Android device. You could just browse all the news websites and find interesting articles, or you could install one of those news apps like “Newspaper” which will show you all articles of predefined newspapers only (i.e. NY Times). But all of those options just weren’t flexible enough for me, as i didn’t see the point of having a seperate app for engadget news, and another one for the L.A. Times. I wanted to have all news articles within one app, and that’s why the only real option was a good RSS reader.
After trying out a lot of different RSS readers on Android, which all had some kind of drawback, i ended up with NewsRob. This RSS app quickly became one of my most frequently used Android apps, as i’m reading news articles at least once a day. When starting up NewsRob for the first time you will be prompted to provide your Google account login data, and on the next step all your feeds will be synchonized with your Google Reader account.
The overview shows all feed categories you have set-up on your Google Reader account, and additionally there is an entry to show “all articles” as well as your recently “starred” articles too. NewsRob uses a very clean and sleek design, which results in perfect readability. Navigation through the lists and categories is very fast and scrolling is fluid. Touching a category on the startscreen will open an overview of all feeds, which have been grouped within the specified category. On the left side of each feed name you’ll see a green bar, which means that this feed has unread articles. And the number on the right side specifies how many articles (read + unread) have been stored from this feed.
All serious news websites might have RSS feeds, but one problem is that a lot of those webpages provide teaser RSS feeds, which will only show the first few sentences of an article and in order to read the full article you have to open the webpage via webbrowser. This is quite time consuming, and you don’t always have a good wireless connection to open the articles quickly.
This is were the first killer feature of NewsRob comes in place: just touch and hold on a feed name and a pop-up menu will appear showing “Manage Feed” and “Mark All Read” entries.
“Manage Feed” gives you the option to choose how the data from the specified feed should be downloaded. You can choose between downloading the RSS article, RSS articles/images, RSS article/images/mobile web page or RSS article/images/web page. The mobile web page will either download the mobile view of a website (if available) or convert a regular website to mobile format using Google Readers ‘mobile view’ feature.
You can also specify what the default detail view of a feed should be (displaying the web page, or the RSS feed). Furthermore it’s possible to define for each feed seperatly, if there should be notifications of new articles. This is a very handy option to differentiate between feeds which produce many articles everyday, and the ones which update with less frequency. For some feeds you know that there are new entries on each sync, so you don’t want an notification on each sync in order to receive notification for those rarely updated feeds only.
Pressing the “menu” hardware button will open up the main menu, were you can choose to refresh all feeds, mark all feeds as read, access the general settings menu, choose to hide/show read articles and clear cache which will delete all feeds from your device.
Using the general settings you can configure options like sync intervals, offline storing, default download configuration (Feed only/Webpage/Mobile Webpage), storage provider (sd card or internal storage) and notification settings.
All those mentioned options are really very powerful. And as each RSS feed can be configured seperatly, NewsRob gives you nearly unlimited flexibility to organize your news streams to your personal liking. Touching a feed name will open the articles list, as shown on the following screenshot.
A small circle icon on the left of each article header indicates how the article was downloaded (RSS Feed only, Web Page). Full black circle means that the web page has been downloaded, half-circle stands for RSS feed only. Touching and holding on an articles will bring up the following options: Mark Read, Add Star, Show in Browser, Share Link, Share in Reader, Share with Note, Manage Feed and Show Info.
I often use the “Share Link” feature to post some feeds on Twitter or Facebook, and you can also send an email or a text message with the feed url. Adding stars to articles means that they will be kept in your feed list under “starred” and won’t be deleted on you next feed update.
Opening an RSS feed in the browser will automatically switch to the full webpage article. The following screenshot shows the detail view of an RSS article for engadget.
And the next screen shows an article when choosing the “mobile web page” download option. This is very useful for webpages which only have teaser RSS feeds (no full articles RSS feed).
Of course you can also access the options menu from the article detail view by pressing the Android “menu” button. Options include: mark unread, show in browser, share link, share in reader, share with note, zoom in, zoom out and manage feed. I have already explained most options earlier, but the zoom feature is only available here.
Since most feeds/web pages/mobile web pages have different font sizes it make a lot of sense to adjust the zoom level to your liking. NewsRob provides a zoom feature, and the best thing is that it will remember the zoom setting for each feed individually. So you only have to adjust the zoom levels for each feed only once.
You can also activate zoom control buttons on article detail views, so it’s much easier to change the zoom settings on the fly. And there is also the possibility to activate paging icons on the article detail view, in order to flip through the articles.
Another great feature is the locale support. Locale is an Android app which lets you set up profiles for different circumstances. In example you could configure locale to mute your device each night, or activate WiFi when you’re at home (using GPS). And you can set up sync times for NewsRob as well. I have set up two sync times, one in the morning and another one before coming back from work, in order to have fresh RSS feeds to read everytime i’m in the subway. It works flawless and this is just another great possibility when using NewsRob.
Of course as every other app, NewsRob has it’s issues too, like the cpu hogging. NewsRob can become quite cpu hungry at times. And you can’t add new feeds within the app, you have to do this via your Google Reader account. This might turn off some people who don’t want to open a Google account just to use NewsRob. But then again, how many Android users don’t use Google services at all? Also depending on your download settings, a complete sync of your feeds can take quite some time (up to 2 hours). Downloading 1000 articles and webpages for offline reading takes some time, but i don’t think that this is something which can be blamed on NewsRob only, as your internet connection and the downloaded webpages can be bottlenecks too. Just remember that a 2 hour sync will drain your battery to quite some extent too.
When i first switched to Android about a year ago, i was a little bit disappointed about the app market. Yes, there were many free apps, but Windows Mobile just had the much bigger professional app catalogue back then. Too many Android apps had that ‘Beta’ feel to it, and the UI looked more like some experimental stuff instead of professional software. Still i found some gems from day one, and one of them was NewsRob. It has such a wide feature-set, great UI and superb usability, that no RSS reader on Windows Mobile (or any other mobile platform i know) can compete. I have seen some RSS readers on the iPhone too, and while they were good apps, each reader had at least one missing important feature i needed. So as far as RSS readers go, NewsRob is the near-perfect solution in my opinion. I can highly recommend this app to anybody who is interested to read RSS feeds on their Android device.
You can find a free NewsRob version as well as a paid version on the Android market. The paid version will get more features over time, but all of the features i mentioned on this review (except the locale support) are available on the free version.
There is also a great NewsRob discussion group, were you can directly communicate with the NewsRob developer to ask for new features or help regarding any NewsRob problems.