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Rockmelt began life as a Mac browser a few years back, but newly released on the iPad, it aims to deliver an all-in-one web browsing, news reading, and social discovery service for well-connected tablet users. Embarking on a jack-of-all-trades approach is expectedly a challenge, seeing as even nailing one of those pursuits can be difficult, but Rockmelt shows some promise in this early iteration.
Essentially folding together Flipboard with a traditional browser, Rockmelt lets you sign in with either a Twitter or Facebook account and then watch as it populates the main screen with slick, photo-centric tiles based on the links your friends and others post to social network accounts. Tapping one brings up an ad-free version of the article or link for easier reading, which you can adorn with reactions like "lol" and "hmm" for friends, plus you can flick to save them on the sidebar and read stories offline later. You can also follow sources directly from within Rockmelt, adding an RSS-like reader function to the app.
All the while, a minimal onmibar lingers up top, letting you type in any URL to access to full web version of a site – which typically loads swiftly and easily – or a keyword to trigger a Google Search. It's a solid and effective browser for looking up sites on a whim while flipping through posts, and you can save favorites to a hidden bar on the right side (no permanent on-screen option, though). Still, I can't imagine it replacing the more fully featured Chrome or Safari on my iPad. One notably aggravating hitch: typing in just "maclife.com" (or any partial URL) doesn't bring up the site, only a list of potential search terms – an odd reaction to a simple request.
As a social network-backed reader, Rockmelt compares favorably to Flipboard in some respects but not others. It doesn't link up to quite as many types of accounts – only Twitter and Facebook are included as of now – though the slick and clean aesthetic works well in both portrait and landscape views, with an impressive shifting animation that moves the boxes around when you refresh the feed.
Getting started brings unexpected headaches, though. From the outset, the app automatically subscribed me to at least a dozen people's feeds – company employees and others alike – without asking, which seems a rather presumptuous thing to do. Beyond that, you cannot log in to Twitter and Facebook at the same time to get links from both sites, which leaves the experience a bit fractured for now.
The bottom line. Despite good looks and ideas, Rockmelt isn't quite ready to replace both Flipbook and Chrome – though maybe someday it can.
iPad running iOS 6.0 or later
Cleanly blends elements of social-connected news readers and web browsers. Great look to the reader side, while minimal browser is effective.
Automatically follows random people without asking. Omnibar adds extra step to short-form URLs. Only connects to Twitter or Facebook, not both simultaneously.