News Readers for Mac – Five of the Best Rated and Reviewed
It might be under assault from services like Twitter and Facebook, but the humble RSS feed remains one of the most compellingly useful ways of extracting useful content from sites and displaying it in a readable format. The majority of websites have RSS capabilities, thanks to default integration in services like WordPress and Blogger and most web publishers understand that it’s a useful way of getting your content out there.
The RSS feed received a welcome revitalisation when Google created their own web based Reader and enabled users to add predefined feeds from a large selection of user-created content or to just add feeds from your favourite websites on an ad-hoc basis. Google Reader quickly became a de facto standard and is the preferred method by which many news feed readers manage their subscriptions.
There has of course been a long history of good application-based news readers for the Mac, though most people will only have encountered RSS feeds in Mail, with Apple’s own obligatory news updates. In recent years terrific applications have evolved and you have plenty of choice when it comes to getting your news fix. We’ve taken a look at five of the best applications – free and commercial.
$free – Black Pixel
One of the original RSS readers for the Mac, NetNewsWire has been around nearly as long as the RSS feed itself and was recently purchased by the Black Pixel development team. It’s available in Mac, iPad and iPhone varieties and we tested the free ‘Lite‘ version of the software that was just released in the App Store. The principle difference between it and its paid-for big brother is that it doesn’t have Google Reader syncing, tabs, the Combined View and some other bells and whistles.
The interface sports the cool light grey tones that Apple have opted for in the latest version of Lion and it sits well alongside other Lion applications like Mail. The main screen is broken into three panes for feeds, article list and article view. These can be resized according to your requirements, but the actual layout can’t be changed. The main menu bar sports just seven buttons for adding or removing feeds, refreshing, mark as read, next unread, share and article style. It’s not comprehensive, but it’s all you really need.
You can click down the article list with the Next Unread button and when you see something that catches your eye, clicking on it expands the article to fill both right-hand panes giving you more space to read. Articles can be styled from one of six options, but they’re not very easy on the eye and you probably won’t go past the default ‘Easy Justified’ style.
NetNewsWire Lite will happily import feed lists, meaning you can migrate to this from Google Reader if you wish, but as I mentioned – if you want Google Syncing then you’ll have to pony up for the full version. Share options are limited to email, Instapaper, Twitter and (blog editing app) Mars Edit. You can also add ‘Open in …’ buttons for whatever browsers you have installed on your system, so there’s nothing stopping you adding an ‘Open in Safari’ button and then using Reader mode to present a more legible article layout.
If you have fairly simple demands from your news reader then NetNewsWire Lite won’t disappoint, it’s great for flicking rapidly through articles looking for something of interest. It’s a well designed application, but the ‘Lite’ design does mean you miss out on some bells and whistles that some other free news readers include. There are some thoughtful touches in the application, such as using ‘Today’, ‘Yesterday’ and ‘August’, ‘July’ etc for the article list break-down, but power users will probably find the interface restrictive. If you’re new to news readers then this is a good place to start.
$free – Gruml
No, we don’t know why it’s called that, but we do know that autocorrect kept trying to insert the word ‘grumble’ for us, whenever we typed it, not that we’re grumbling or anything. First things first – this is a beta application, which at the time we wrote this was version 0.9.26. The late version designation does suggest they’re getting close to a full 1.0 release, but who knows. It’s also currently free, but this may well change once the application leaves beta, so please bear this in mind.
Gruml’s interface is nowhere near as polished as the other news readers in this round-up, but it makes up for this by offering a feature-set you find only in other paid-for applications. There are two layouts on offer, with the standard triple-pane (feed, article list, article view) option or the traditional email-inspired horizontal mode with the article beneath the article list. The top menu bar is a fairly crowded affair with navigation, view and share buttons.
The article window itself can be styled in one of nine different modes, most of which are actually pretty good and if you want to view an article in its original mode, you can just double-click on it to open a new tab with the source web page. You can further modify those styles by resizing the text or tweaking the base font in the preferences. Stylistically it’s a bit of mish-mash with clashing Tiger era blue blobs, Leopard style folders and Lion style icons.
One of the best features of Gruml is the full and complete Google Reader synchronisation. Just enter your Google details and the program will download your feeds and sync them for you automatically. You can augment those feeds from within the app and those changes will be reflected back in Google Reader. It also has a bewildering number of share options covering 17 different services including Twitter, Evernote, Reddit and Tumblr. The Twitter sharing is particularly well conceived, since it integrates fully into the application.
This is certainly an application to watch in the future, but the beta status of the code is fairly evident and it lacks much of the polish of other news readers in this round-up. Gruml is full-featured, with genuinely good article view styles and a vast number of sharing options. While its rough edges may be hard to ignore for some, the features and the fact that it is free, make it well worth checking out – particularly if Google Reader sync is important to you.
$free – The Vienna RSS Project
Vienna is a mature open-source project under active development by a team of volunteer coders. We reviewed the 2.5 version which was itself a substantial upgrade on the previous release, introducing plug-in functionality and social sharing facilities. Being open source it is, of course, completely free and will remain so under the terms of its Apache licence.
Unlike many open source applications, Vienna is a great looking program, with a slick and streamlined interface. It can be used in one of three layout modes – report (email), condensed (triple pane) and unified (article view) of which the condensed view is the most useful for scanning and reading feeds. In addition, the articles can be styled from one of 14 built-in looks or you can download other styles from the app’s website or develop your own using CSS.
The application does not support Google Reader, but it can import your Google feeds via the OPML format. Feeds are displayed in traditional style on the left of the interface and can be arranged as you see fit by dragging and dropping from the list. Folders are supported and enable you to combine a number of similar web feeds into one merged feed, speeding up browsing times.
Vienna’s key strength lies in its filtering capabilities. You can search within a particular feed, within a folder, within unread articles, within today’s articles or within all articles. It’s useful way of finding topics you’re particularly interested in. Articles can also be shared in the usual way, though the Twitter and Facebook integration just calls up the relevant embedded page. Alongside Twitter and Facebook there’s also Delicious, Evernote and MarsEdit support.
While Vienna is a slick application, it lacks the bells and whistles and the Google Reader support of Gruml. The filtering is useful and the extensible CSS-driven styles are a great way of getting the articles looking the way you want, but it’s not the most feature-packed application. It’s not a bad application, but if you don’t want to pay for your news reader, I recommend you test drive Gruml at the same time and see which one is the best fit for your needs.
$10 – Acrylic – Trial Download
Most news readers have a familiar email style of interface where you drill down to an article from the feed, but the developers of Pulp decided to try something different. The entire application is rendered to look and (partially) behave like an actual newspaper, with large bold headlines, feature articles and content columns. There’s no getting away from the fact that it looks sensational, but the question is, how is it to use?
For this review, I tested version 2 of the software under OS X Lion. According to user feedback in the App Store, there were some teething problems with Lion, but we experienced no crashes during testing. The application loads with a baseline set of feeds in four categories, but these can be deleted immediately or added to easily enough. Pulp does include basic Google Reader integration, but only so far as adding individual feeds from your account – it doesn’t sync with your main feed.
Articles are displayed in a configurable and resizeable column format. To change a feed’s layout you simply click the Edit button and click on the configuration icon next each feed header. You can tweak sort priority, read mode (more on that in a minute), change the layout between one of six styles (from basic lists to photos only), the number of articles displayed at one time and in the security tab, enter any log-in details for the feed in question.
One of the issues with RSS feeds is that many sites only display the first two lines of any article. Pulp gets around this particular issue with its ‘Magic Reader’ feature. Clicking this button in article mode will download the rest of the article from the website and render it within the Pulp page – you can set this as the default behaviour in the configuration screen if required. There’s also a favourites drawer that you can drag interesting articles into for later reference.
Pulp is a likeable app that invites you to delve into the articles it displays. The developers have attempted (not always completely successfully) to circumvent some of the basic issues with RSS feeds and the Magic Reader feature in particular is most welcome. It incorporates Facebook, Twitter, Instapaper, Read It Later and Readability sharing and also comes with an app-specific sync that ensures that any article you’ve read on the Pulp iPad app is dealt with as such on the desktop version. It has matured considerably since its original release (it was previously called Times) and is definitely worth looking at if Google Reader sync is not important to you.
$10 – ReederApp
Every now and then you get a Mac application that’s so effortlessly cool, it makes the rest of your software collection look like it’s running on an TRS-80. Reeder is one such app. It has been sitting pretty in the top half of the best-selling apps in the App Store since the store opened and won’t be leaving the ‘New and Noteworthy’ list until hell freezes over. It’s an app so slick that it makes the Old Spice guy look like the pop chanteuse Justin Bieber.
Reeder works in conjunction with Google Reader. It syncs your Google Reader folders and feeds the first time you run it and any changes that you make to these feeds in the app are synced back to Google. The application sports a triple-pane layout in full view mode, or a Twitter style two-pane look in compact mode. Feeds are displayed simply on the left of the application with unread post counts for each item.
Silvio Rizzi who developed Reeder went for a minimalist interface, with as few buttons cluttering things up as possible. However don’t let that deceive you, Reeder’s feature-packed in every way – it just doesn’t shout about it. When you select a feed from the list on the left, the articles are displayed in the middle pane in date or feed groups (depending upon your preference). Selecting an article displays it in the article window in beautifully rendered text. If the RSS feed in question only shows the first few lines of the article simply click the Readability icon beneath to download the rest of the article.
The interface is highly configurable – everything from the tint to the texture can be tweaked according to your preferences – you can even select monochrome icons if the colourful feed icons are putting you off your chai latte. Articles can be forwarded on to email, Readability, Instapaper, ReadItLater, Pinboard, Delicious, Zootool, Twitter and browsers. Twitter is built right into the app with a cool drop-down window enable you to quickly tweet about any interesting stories you discover.
Reeder is an absolute joy to use on a daily basis and offers everything you could want in a news reader application. The integrated Readability feature transforms even the most belligerent advert and graphic-heavy news pages into beautiful text that’s easy on the eye. The sharing functionality is easy to use and totally integrated. The Google Reader integration is seamless. The interface is a thing of beauty. Reeder is far and away the best Mac news reader currently on the market.