Review: Rhythm News Reader 33
While webOS certainly has its share of news reader apps, currently at well over one hundred, we welcome more, especially if they are as innovative and as well executed as Rhythm News Reader. So, news junkies take note, here is an early review of what could possibly be your next webOS news reader.
The app name itself, Rhythm News Reader, is the first indication that this isn't your standard rss feed reader. The association of "rhythm" and news isn't an obvious one, but after using the app the name is actually more than fitting, as information (news) moves fluidly in concert with images. My first impression of Rhythm News Reader was how reminiscent it is of other news apps like NewsRoom, Engadget for webOS, and TED for webOS. Comparing Rhythm News to these well-known apps is setting the bar high. While not yet as fully polished as these apps, the potential is there, making it worthy of comparison.
Rhythm News has many well-designed and well executed features. Most notably, it combines an impressive mix of images and headlines with a user-friendly UI. Unlike many news reader apps, which tend to be either news-heavy with a boring interface or graphically stunning but news-lite, Rhythm News is neither. "Rhythm" is a surprisingly good combination of news and information with an eye-popping graphical interface.
In addition to information, eye-candy and intuitive UI, Rhythm is also highly customizable. Within minutes of first opening the app, I not only had ten or so of my favorite news feeds loaded in order of importance, I also had the app visually tweaked and updating just to my liking. Other features include caching for off-line viewing, multiple viewing modes (portrait scrolling, landscape scrolling, notifications ticker and so on) and a literal plethora of preferences like "night mode" and number of feeds loading per site. Simply put, there is no shortage of customizable features here whatsoever.
Rhythm News Reader also features a few niceties that are uncommon and deserving of special note. First, is how well thought out the UI is. There is logic in Rhythm's ability to deliver a lot of at-a-glance news from many different sources at the same time. At any given time, a screen glance will give you no less than nine stories from three sites, which without changing screens, scrolls horizontally or vertically to quickly scroll more stories or more sites respectively. This is just the main screen view. From there you can branch out in equally logical fashion going directly into specific site views or specific story views. Next in line of niceties, Rhythm's gestures work not only in portrait mode but in landscape mode as well. The app juggles lots of images and info, so, having the gesture area always active is a very nice bonus. (I often won't use landscape in other apps specifically because of the lack of gesture support in landscape mode.) Final note in the niceties department is the special attention that has obviously been given to the graphical feel of Rhythm. Like webOS itself, the UI in Rhythm has a physicality to it. The images within Rhythm interact so well with the touchscreen interface that they seem to exist outside of the virtual world. Nice touches indeed and kudos to the developer for the extra effort on all counts.
For an app this robust it does have a very few functionality issues and minor bugs to work out. Below is a description of what is lacking or in need of improvement in this early iteration of Rhythm News to make it as polished as some the webOS app allstars.
First are the functionality issues. While basic, but an improvement we'd like to see, is a type of back button with memory recalling where you last were as you navigate backwards through the news feeds. Unlike the back button of any internet browser, the back gesture in Rhythm takes you to the top of the main page vs. the point where you left off. If you have a lot of feeds, the back button memory issue will cause you to do more scrolling than a Windows Phone 7 smartphone (dig intended). Lack of functionality in the notifications is another early version weakness. Notifications do work but when compared to the feature-rich feel of the full app, they feel more like an afterthought, as there is little interaction with the full app via the notifications.
Finally, there appear to be some very minor bugs that while they are noticeable with heavy use, they don't affect the app's overall experience. First, tapping the icon from the launcher menu when the app is already open should navigate the app into active card view (normal for a webOS app). For now, tapping the Rhythm News icon under these circumstances does nothing. Then there is an occasional glitch in smooth horizontal scrolling and loading of stories from the site-specific stage of the app.
The list of improvements we'd like to see are minor and could easily go unnoticed by many users. More importantly, any currently needed improvements don't outweigh what is unique and well done overall. Considering how well executed Rhythm News already is for an app just out of the gate, there is little doubt, minor debugging and feature enhancements are on the way.
In summary, Rhythm News Reader makes your news feeds easy to find, easy to manage and good-looking to boot. In a general sense, Rhythm feels like a virtual "news magazine" vs. a virtual "news paper." For the hard-core news junkies the lack of clearly tracking feeds (i.e. new stories, stories read, and so on) may make Rhythm not enough of a nuts and bolts reader. On the other hand, if you're an avid magazine-website kind of reader (eye-candy with your news), then there is no better reader available. Rhythm News Reader is a solid 4-star app in current form with 5-star potential written all over it. It is now available in the Palm App Catalog for the price of $3.99.
Developer note: Earlier this year, PreCentral featured a dev spotlight with the developer of Rhythm News Reader, 15 yr-old Andrew Munsell (aka WizardApps). Andrew is fast making a name for himself within the webOS community with apps like Pixi Dust, a Hot Apps winner ($50,000 third place), and the well-known Stickyman and Weatherman 2.0 apps.