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We used to love RSS. Quick news bites for our on-the-go lives. Then we added more feeds -- because, hey, that's a cool site, and that one and that one -- until our RSS readers became just more unwieldy lists we had to trudge through, like to-do's and email. The bare bones articles, presented in stripped down interface, gave us little to look forward to and virtually nothing to look at. We began to hate RSS.
Until the iPad came along.
When you have the tiny screen of the iPhone, lists make the most sense because you're packing in the content. But there's no good reason to stick with that design when you've got the big screen of the iPad. Luckily, app developers realized this and opted for another route.
Newspaper layout is the product of hundreds of years of print news. Over the decades, it has been tinkered with and modified and colorized, but the essentials remain. Big stories above the fold, smaller stories down below, and extended articles linked to pages deeper in the paper. There's something inherently satisfying about the design.
Even Bad News Looks Good in Newspaper Layout
Pulp from Acrylic makes a good go at reproducing this on the iPad with tons of preloaded content delivered in a variety of newspaper layouts. Tabs across the top arrange sections into Technology, Science, Arts & Entertainment, and Lifestyle. You can add a number of custom areas to this or delete the ones not to your interest.
And each content section tab can have its own layout, and you scroll down for more articles. Want a big story up top and two columns of smaller below? Done. Three equal columns? Done. Lists only? Lists with small graphics? Just graphics and headlines? Just graphics? All done and more.
Comics Just Needs Pictures
Subscribe to feeds from any of your Google accounts, add from a site's URL or their direct RSS link, then customize the appearance as you wish. Pulp allows for mega-personalization.
What it doesn't do is make things easy for you. Tap the edit button and each column gets three buttons attached. A + sign lets you add or delete feeds, a gear wheel lets you insert of delete columns, and Settings lets you reformat, but there's no instructions as to what each setting will do.
Lots of Places to Customize, But a Little Help, Please?
What is the magic wand view versus inline? (An awesome addition as it turns out.) What does sort priority do? How do we drag articles to the save bar for offline reading later? These aren't answered in the app. You learn by doing, but we deleted a few feeds, and altered some layouts we particularly liked just tinkering around.
Don't get us wrong. Pulp is a deeply satisfying RSS reader with great functionality. We'd just like to see that functionality made a bit more explanatory.
Glasshouse Apps set the standard, being one of the earliest out the gate with their luscious newspaper display. The Early Edition more resembles a newspaper than Pulp. All your feeds, while still categorical, turn up in one big RSS paper. Tap on specific feeds or sections and it's like pulling out that section of the paper. Flick your finger across the page to turn it.
A Beautiful Layout Just Like a Newspaper
What this app lacks in comparison is the ability to bring much customizability to your view. Layout is how Glasshouse Apps designed it, period end. Articles are randomly sorted -- technology, comics, politics, and food all on each page -- and there doesn't appear to be an organizing principle. Everything runs together and nothing pushes bigger stories to the front page except newness. To be sure, RSS operates chronologically, but when you have everything in one place, chronology seems less important than relevance or newsworthiness.
The Early Edition Makes It Easy to Add and Subtract Feeds
But set up is easy to manage. The app comes pre-loaded with certain RSS feeds ready to roll and from there you can change what you read. Either tap the Edit button to remove feeds you don't care for or the + button to add feeds. Google Reader is represented, there's a huge library of recommended feeds, and you can enter URLs manually. You can even add new sections.
Easy Controls, But We'd Like To Hide This Sidebar
What you can't do is easily re-sort feeds you've already added. Tap the Edit button and you can't drag feeds elsewhere, though you can create new sections and move your feeds there. Our advice is to be certain where you want your feeds in the first place and stick with it. It wouldn't take much to add this ability, so we hope Glasshouse is planning that for an update. We'd also like the ability to hide our feed list when reading in landscape.
We bought The Early Edition the day we got our iPad; it was one of the apps that made us burn to own Apple's tablet. So, needless to say, we've been using it for months and it has a soft spot in our heart. But Pulp came along and showed us a new way of organizing and laying out our articles, and it stole our heart. We'd love to see some of Pulp's customizabilities turn up in The Early Edition, and we'd love Pulp to gain an All Feeds button. But for now, we like the idea of having two iPad newspapers with two totally different flavors.