RSS Reader for Torch

On my PC, I love using Google Reader to aggregate my RSS feeds. I used to have (it’s probably still current) a paid-for copy of “NewGator” and I’ve tried several other alternatives, but the one that just worked the way I do was the Google product.

When I started using my new Torch BlackBerry device I noted that it had a “Social Feeds” application that really isn’t up to the standard that I felt RIM’s other, similar applications are. i.e. Facebook, Twitter and BB/Enterprise Messenger – all of which I use and like. This integrated tool while sporting some of my criteria for a good RSS reader, fell quite short of the mark.

What I am looking for:

  • Syncs with Google Reader (I don’t want to have to figure out where I left off on a feed whenever I move to a different platform – It might not have to be Google’s product, but I want multiplatform synching)
  • Removes read articles (or at least hides them)
  • Notifies me when new articles are available
  • Caches the articles / information on the BlackBerry rather than making me wait for each article while I’m reading them. Or at least intelligently caches the next few while I’m reading the current one so I can zip through them at my speed, not AT&T’s.
  • Same as above for pictures associated with the articles – I have an unlimited data plan, *some* extra bandwidth consumption is an OK price to keep up the reading momentum.
  • Shows me an abstract and lets me easily open the full article if I decide to move forward.

I’ve had Viigo on my various BlackBerrys for a while now. It was OK but there were a lot of flaws that I finally grew weary of working around:

  • Every time I updated Viigo I would have to re-enter my credentials (they tend to update a lot)
  • Also it would lose my feed position and everything would show as unread again on each update
  • Before I got my “touch” device it was a pain navigating because they were unable to navigate a page at a time using the space bar like every other app on the BlackBerry
  • With my Torch I find that every article is just a little too big to view on the screen and I have to “pinch” EVERY ONE OF THEM before reading – even in landscape mode
  • If I follow any link in a Viigo article, I can not get back to the article, I have to close it, and open a previous one, *then* open the original one. And I’m not where I left off but back at the top (needing to pinch it again)
  • Viigo never seemed to actually do anything in the background even though that’s how I had it configured so feeds only updated when I re-opened the app
  • There were far too many layers in Viigo, most of which I never used but had to navigate through and I can’t get rid of them. I think there were a lot of plans to expand that never really took off.

So Viigo is not really very efficient for RSS reading.

So I downloaded the latest version of BerryReader. I heard good things about this app’s ability to sync with Google Reader. But I found the interface absolutely useless – certainly no touch ability – but I found it really didn’t work for me at all. It *did* seem to sync with Google so I’ll give it that much.

I went to try out “Feeds” but they have no free trial, so even though I have heard good things about it I don’t try ANYTHING on my BlackBerry anymore without a trial. Too many apps are designed to work only in very niche ways that you either love or hate. That’s kind of why there are so many apps out there for all these devices.

I then tried “Unread” (cute play on current zombie craze I believe) and it was certainly better than BerryReader, but took a long time to load up (I only have 118 subscriptions). It actually nicely mirrored the subscriptions (folders/labels) of my Google Reader, but it was cumbersome in that it can’t hide stuff you’ve already seen. So each time I open it I end up wading through a bunch of stuff I’ve already read before. I had other issues with it but I was basically just frustrated by this point

So I opened the Google Reader URL and, now that I have the new Web Kit Browser that comes with OS 6, it’s actually pretty good. It automatically figures out that you’re on a mobile so no need to figure out a special URL for it. One really nice thing is, besides being 100% synchronized with Google Reader (because it *is* Google Reader) most of the features that I am looking for are part of this package. Of course I’d still prefer to have a dedicated app that integrated with my message application so that I can see when new items become available, and I still have to retrieve everything live, but so far no other app has stepped up and distinguished itself as being superior to Google’s free offering.

So color me satisfied. I’ll check again in another 6 months or so to see if anything has improved, but this seems to be a vastly underrepresented corner of the app market.

Playing with my new BlackBerry Torch

I’ve had my BlackBerry Bold (9000) for a few years now and it was starting to show some signs of age (besides its rather beat up case), dropping calls more and more often and rebooting spontaneously during the day.

So I put in for the new AT&T BlackBerry Torch (9800), being the BlackBerry administrator for your company does have a few perks and occasionally testing cool equipment for use at the company is one of them.

A while ago I had the Storm 2 in my hands for about 1/2 hour when I gave it back saying there is no way I’d recommend that device in our organization and I kept my venerable Bold. Of course some poor souls went ahead and ordered the Storm 2 anyway. I think it was one of the more “swapped” devices in our company as people quickly realized that it was a miserable end user experience unless you spend your entire day consuming “Youtube” videos.

I had the chance to briefly play with a Torch device early last month when a RIM rep came by the office to introduce himself and I was suitably impressed. Having the keyboard as a fallback is ideal because I create a reasonable amount of content with my device and my emails are not just one liners but often span a couple of paragraphs of detail. Not something lightly undertaken with a screen keyboard.

I’ve had the device for a little over a day now and my opinion of it is mostly positive. The Bold is sitting mere inches away from me in case I should change my mind, but the Torch is winning me over.

I had a couple of hiccoughs getting the device set up. After the device transfer wizard and enterprise activation were completed I noticed that none of my email filters had come across. I ended up calling RIM and working with them. Eventually a battery pull and a slow synch resolved that issue for me. Probably the biggest mini nuisance is the fact that OS 6 changed out all the sounds. My beloved “Sonar” was gone and all the dings and tones to which I’d become accustomed were replaced with new ones. While I’ve kept some of these new tones I was able to find a zip file that lets me get many of my favorites back. “Sonar” is short and poignant and has yet to be rivaled as an alert that one of my servers is in distress.

Something that surprised me – and this seems to be OS related rather than anything else – is that all the sounds are initially VERY muted. This can be remedied by going into your profiles and raising them from the “inaudible in a business environment” 2 (which was what “low” seems to have been translated to) up to a 6 or 7. Then things are fine. But I thought my alarms must be failing at first because I was not hearing them above the every day hubbub of my co-workers.

The large screen is really nice. I’ve been using FaceBook and Twitter for a while now and was singularly unimpressed with that experience on my Bold. On the Torch the same apps have much more breathing room and they really lend themselves to the touch screen.

And even over the same network and with a reportedly lackluster processor, moving through posts in either of those apps is very satisfying. I used to just forward any posts that contained links to my email account because reading the linked-to items was annoying. The zoom of the Bold browser (this was with the 4.5 OS – the 5 OS was *just* released this past week by AT&T for the Bold 9000 – laggards) invariably ended up making the text a little too wide to be seen on the screen without swinging the cursor from side to side to see the ends of the sentences. The OS6 browser (combined with the length / width of the Torch screen) AND the infinitely controllable pinch zoom makes that a thing of the past.

And the rendering of web pages appears to be much better as claimed. “Nearly Perky” would be my characterization. In spite of the purportedly overloaded AT&T network and the commoditized processor, the web experience is satisfactory.

The only places where this unit does not shine are:

1) Periodic lapses in performance in the screen interface handling. Sometimes you press a dialog button with your finger and nothing will happen – no feedback, nothing – and then several seconds later that buffered input plus the several other attempts to hit the button will manifest – to your displeasure. And flicking the menus screens with your fingers is often a little sluggish. Not a show stopper but definitely a point on which I will agree with reviews that I have seen that is a low-light in an otherwise satisfactory product.

2) The Keyboard is actually a little hard to slide open. There is no notch or any readily apparent place to easily slide the screen to reveal the keyboard. Maybe I’ll figure out a technique for this but I use Google Voice and HAVE to press 1,2,3 or 4 to acknowledge a call before I can talk to the other party. I’ve set my phone to answer on sliding out the keyboard which speeds up the process but opening the phone with one hand is not an easy prospect. I somehow think a slight notch just below the trackpad would simplify this, but then I’m not a usability expert.

Overall still very happy with this unit and I believe I’ll be recommending it as our “Go To” device (as much as my folks will listen to their technical support services folks…). The acid test will be next week in the business environment. Can I use it as handily as my old unit? I’m confident that it will be up to the task.