Android App Review: Google Reader

I have been an avid user of Google’s RSS reader for quite some time. Since I bought my smartphone, I was able to view my RSS feeds on the phone’s browser through Google Reader. Owning an Android phone means that I have become accustomed to using Google branded applications for most of the things I do on the phone. For example, I use Gmail for email, Maps for directions and GPS, Calendar for my schedule, YouTube for videos, etc. However, considering that I spend a lot of time on Google Reader, I was disappointed that Google had neglected to make a dedicated application for this service. It was easily accessible from a mobile website, however the website could be a little cumbersome to use. Even the third-party applications to view Google Reader were quite poor.

So, I was pleasantly surprised when Google finally launched a dedicated Google Reader application for the Android platform. At this point the application is essentially a front-end for the mobile website, however it is fast, light and simple to use.

Basic Usage

The main page of the Google Reader app is similar in style to the mobile website. Under the “Home” section, you can browse all the new news stories (“All Items”), your starred stories (“Starred Items”), the stories you have shared (“Your Stuff”), stories shared by the people you follow (“People you follow”) and finally stories that would interest you, as selected by Google, (“Explore”). If you use the Google Reader website you will notice that the list of options in the Android application is almost identical to the one on the website and this makes navigating the mobile application fairly straightforward.

greader-main

Beneath the “Home” section you can view all your subscriptions. Since, I have my subscriptions grouped into folders I can only see the different folders I have created.

greader-folders

To view a story simply click on a feed (or folder) to open up the list of new stories. For example, I clicked on “Starred Items” to view all the stories I had previously starred.

This is where the biggest weakness of the Google Reader Android application is most noticeable. Since the application does not store news stories offline, each time you launch the application to view a story it has to be downloaded from the internet and this can take some time depending on your connection speed.

greader-loading

Once the folder you want to view has loaded you will be presented with a list of news stories sorted by the newest first.

greader-starred

By clicking the menu button on your phone you can refresh the feeds, mark all as read, view all items (i.e. those that are unread) or change the way the feeds are sorted (newest, oldest or “by magic”).

greader-menu

To open a news story simply click on it and it will load in a new page. I actually prefer the way the mobile website of Google Reader loaded the stories. Instead of opening a new page, it simply dropped down the story in the current page. This made viewing a large list of stories much easier.

greader-story

Similar to the Google Reader website you are able to star a story, “like” a story, share a story, add a note to a story or mark the story. Additionally, by clicking on “More” you can tag or email the story.

greader-storymenu

Basic Options

Clicking on the menu button from the main Google Reader page presents you with the option to refresh the feeds, subscribe to new feeds, show updated feeds, search for new feeds, change your Google Reader account and other additional settings (see below).

greader-menu2

Clicking on “Show updated” limits the feeds displayed to only the ones that are updated. This caused a slight problem for me as it hid the feeds without stories on the Google Reader website and for some time I was unable to figure out why. In my opinion enabling this option should not change the Google Reader website since space is not limited.

The “Subscribe” option is quite useful if there is a feed you want to subscribe to while away from your computer.

Firstly, you can either search for a feed, by entering a keyword or URL, or you can track particular keywords.

greader-newfeed1

Secondly, you can follow particular people through various social networking sites.

greader-newsfeed6

greader-newfeed4

Thirdly, you can browse a list of feeds on various topics.

greader-newfeed5

Other Settings

Finally, clicking on “More” gives you the option to re-arrange your feeds, hide unread counts, use default icons and toggle the ability to navigate the feeds using your volume keys and to enable plug-ins.

greader-settings

greader-settings2

Conclusion

As I noted earlier, the Google Reader mobile application is simple and effective. However, at this point it is merely a front-end for the website. There are few compelling features that make it a must have application. Nevertheless, if you are a regular Google Reader user, whether on your computer or through the mobile website, there is no reason why you would not want to start using this application.

Image credit: benstein