Thoughts on the Mr. Reader iPad app

April 05, 2011

Mr. Reader--yet another feed reader for the iPad--has been making the rounds lately as us info-junkie dorks can't help but to latch on to what we hope will be the "new hotness" for delivering our drug.

Frankly, since Reeder came out (for iPad, iPhone and Mac), I just haven't looked at anything else. No matter what anyone said about whatever app, I just kind of ignored it, on the assumption (almost always correctly) that it couldn't be better than Reeder.

All of that said, for whatever reason I decided to give Mr. Reader a shot (probably because it actually lets you manage feeds, something Reeder is sorely lacking), and believe it or not, I kind of like it. I think Reeder looks better (I mean, come on, it's just beautiful) and its animations make more sense, but Mr. Reader holds its own.

Unlike many 1.0 feed readers, Mr. Reader gets a lot of stuff right, like support for various caching/display options with respect to images, the ability to sort items by ascending or descending publication date, support for a large number of third party services, etc., but of course it gets a few things wrong as well.

Yes, I realize that some of these niggles are personal to me (and maybe no one else), but hey, you kind of expect that by now don't you?

  • Instead of wrapping to the next line, item titles get truncated after a certain width; I think I'd rather the excerpt be shorter and the full title shown. (This is especially annoying when a thumbnail image is shown to the right of the item.)
  • Doesn't hide feeds that don't have unread items; thus, if you don't use folders, or have a ton of feeds in a particular folder, then you're required to do a lot of unnecessary scrolling in an effort to reach those feeds with unread items.
  • Can't interact with the app while it's syncing.
  • Seems to crash a lot for me, especially when sending stuff to Instapaper or Read It Later (which is terribly annoying, because I use both apps a hundred times a day).
  • Sending to either Instapaper or Read It Later (and, I'm assuming, other services I don't use) requires ‘confirmation' every time. I understand why this is offered with Instapaper (i.e., so you can add additional info), but I'd rather it just send everything right away, without requiring any further input from me.
  • While you can assign feeds to folders, it's unclear to me whether removing from a folder, a feed assigned to multiple folders, fully deletes the feed or simply removes it from the folder (the intended action).
  • I'm not a big fan of the name or the icon. (I don't like the name "Reeder" either--it just makes people think you can't spell when you write about it--but its icons are fantastic).
  • I like that you can get to the services menu (e.g., Instapaper, Read It Later, etc.) without having to jump into an item, but it's clunky and takes up a fair amount of real estate. (Reeder is a bit more elegant in this regard.)
  • It comes with three themes, but only one really is usable for me ("Paris at Night"); the other two have a border image that I just don't care for.
  • No way to collapse away certain of the ‘selectors' in the root view (or with respect to the icons that appear next to each item). For example, I never want to see "Shared items," "Starred items" or "Tags"; it would be nice if we could hide those.

On balance, I think it's a solid release, especially for this category of app, which inevitably generates a lot of criticism from us ‘power' users, because it's something we use all day, every day. The developer appears to be rather responsive, so I'm expecting great things in the future, and am sure that most of the app's larger issues (most notably, instability) will be attended to in short order.

While I'm going to stick with Reeder for the time being (it currently is the better app, and is available on all the platforms I go between each day), it's exciting to know that it's finally seeing some legitimate competition.

Relatedly, Justin Williams loves Mr. Reader, and Ben Brooks hates it. And so it goes. (I should note that, unless I'm misunderstanding him, I think Ben's wrong where he says, "[the] interface… doesn't allow you to scroll through the news items, instead you see a headline and excerpt and then you can click mark all as read." Within the "item view" you can scroll between whatever other items are in scope, just like any other feed reader.)

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