This week, I decided to seek out alternatives to NetNewsWire, the popular feed reader from NewsGator.
My disenchantment with NetNewsWire began soon after NewsGator updated the app, switching from a private syncing service to Google Reader at the end of August. I didn’t have any trouble migrating my feeds to Google Reader, as some users did. I also didn’t mind that the updated version of the NNW desktop client displayed unobtrusive ads. Hey, it’s free (A paid version is in the works to get rid of the ad; a paid, ad-free version for iPhone is already available).
My problem with NetNewsWire is all about the iPhone app. Before NNW switched to Google Reader, my iPhone app was reliable, quick, and pleasant to use. After I upgraded to the newest version of the free NNW iPhone app, syncing began to take much longer and, more importantly, ceased to function reliably. Sometimes it would sync, sometimes it would not. It drove me crazy. Often, it would appear to sync correctly, but selecting a feed would result in a blank screen or (even more annoying) a blank screen with an embedded advertisement. I put up with this spotty performance for weeks (hoping it would get better, hoping it would be upgraded) before deciding to try something else.
I’m not saying that the NetNewsWire iPhone app is terrible. Based on user comments I’ve read, many people seem to be happy with it. I will say that, in it’s present version, I can’t use it. A reliable feed reader on my iPhone is important to me. This frustration led me to consider other options. Since there are many, many front ends to Google Reader for the iPhone, why not shop around? It was an easy decision. And since I decided to try out something new for my iPhone, I also decided to try out other desktop clients. It was sort of a reverse halo effect.
After sifting through a plethora of reviews for iPhone RSS readers, I decided to go with Byline (from Phantom Fish, current sale price: $3.99). I’m pleased with my choice. The interface is clean and simple. There are many customization settings, the best of which is that I can choose to cache from 25 to 200 feeds for offline viewing (great for subway commuting). I can also set it to cache items only when I’m using Wi-Fi, which is a handy option given I’m on a slow Edge network. Another nice touch is that I can choose to cache Web pages linked to feed posts. I can also read my feeds in landscape mode. It’s worth a look. The one glaring item I’m missing is the ability to mark a folder of feed items (or all items) as ‘read.’ As far as I can tell, I can only mark individual feed items as ‘read.’ A minor annoyance. According to the developer notes in the iTunes store, a new version is due out very shortly which promises to be a ‘major update.’ I’m looking forward to it.
As for a desktop replacement for NetNewsWire, the vote is still out. I’m currently testing two options: Gruml and feedly.
Gruml, currently in late stages of Beta, looks and operates much like NetNewsWire. The main difference is that Gruml offers more features. It allows me to send an article link from my feeds direct to a variety of social media sites. Or I can send an article direct to MarsEdit, which I find very handy (more blog tool integration is forthcoming). I can also post to Instapaper, my favorite iPhone ‘read it later’ app. More, I can share items and add notes to articles (options currently unavailable with NetNewsWire). So far, I like it. It’s easy on the eyes and is a quick, efficient way to get through a lot of feeds. It’s much easier to look at than Google Reader.
Feedly, on the other hand, is something completely different. It’s a free browser-based aggregation service (available on the Mac for FireFox or Safari) that presents your articles in a pleasant, customizable magazine style. It offers strong social media integration and fancy algorithm-based filtering/recommendations that purportedly improve over time based on reading habits. It’s also highly customizable. I’ve tried these kind of news readers before and never really cared for them, but this one is pretty slick. I vastly prefer it to the iGoogle service. I’m giving it a go. We’ll see if I like it as much a month or so from now.
Meanwhile, I’ve left NetNewsWire behind. I don’t miss it. If you have a suggestion for a killer feed reader for the desktop or iPhone, I’d love to hear about it.