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Thursday, March 21, 2013

Your full-featured Google Reader replacement

With Google Reader set to go away very soon, Feedly might be your best bet as an app that lets you access your RSS feeds while on the go. It looks great, works well, and even features two-way syncing with Google Reader. Also, according to its developers, Feedly will offer a seamless transition once Google's service officially bites the dust.
The first thing you'll notice about Feedly is that, for an RSS reader, it's pretty darn attractive. While Google Reader offers a decidedly basic design, mostly made up of lists and text, Feedly offers a much more polished experience. Its bright colors, clean lines, and sans-serif typefaces make up an overall modern look and feel. And because Feedly uses big images and creative layouts, using the app can feel almost like reading a magazine. So, if you don't mind something that's little more visually arresting than your everyday RSS reader, Feedly is as good a choice as any. That said, if you're a maniac for text-based lists, then this might not be the app for you.
To get started using Feedly, you can log in with a Google account of your choice. You can either type one into the field or select any of the accounts that are connected to your Android device. If you're an existing Google Reader user, all of your RSS subscriptions, folders, and starred posts will automatically be imported. If not, then you'll have to start by giving Feedly a few sites to subscribe to.
Subscribing to sites
Using the Explore panel on the right side of the screen, you can either search for a specific site or browse through different collections of sites based on categories and interests. These collections are curated by Feedly to make it easy for newbies to find sources worth subscribing to. For instance, there are curated collections for Gaming, Business, Design, Gardening, and Lifestyle, as well as featured Etsy sites, YouTube channels, and Vimeo channels. To subscribe to any of the listed sites, all you have to do is hit the "+" sign and categorize it. What the Feedly app is missing here is the option to subscribe to entire categories at once. The desktop browser-based version of Feedly lets you do this, but for some reason the mobile app doesn't.
Feedly's curated collections offer an assortment of interesting sites to get you started.
(Credit: Screenshot by Jaymar Cabebe/CNET)
Another thing I find disappointing about the Feedly app is that you can't reorganize subscriptions. It doesn't let you rename categories or move items between categories. It only lets you delete items or, of course, add new ones.
Reading feeds
When it comes to content, Feedly offers a magazine-style layout and a tiled Card layout, both of which make use of large images. In fact, even Feedly's most basic layout option, List, features thumbnail images that make it more attractive than Google Reader's layout. If that's not enough, you can customize the app's appearance with two different themes, five font styles, and four font sizes.
All of your navigation is organized in the sliding panel on the left, starting with tabs for recent content, content that you've saved for later (starred items in Google Reader), and your different subscription categories. When you pick a tab, the app opens up a nifty magazine-style cover page with the first few posts featured prominently. Then, as you swipe left, you'll see the rest of the posts listed in chronological order. And of course, you can tap on any item to expand it to full-page view, and from there, pop out to a browser view, if you like.
It's important to note that, as you swipe through your feeds, items are not automatically marked as read (unless you change this default setting). You can, however, give a page a quick swipe downward to mark all items as read or a quick swipe upward to undo the action. These gesture shortcuts can be extremely helpful for quickly sifting through content. Otherwise, only when you tap an individual post to expand it to full-page view does it get marked.
What I would love to see in Feedly is the two-panel view that keeps your list of feeds on the left with selected content on the right. This would help me to go through my content source by source, which is the way I like to do it. This view is available on the desktop browser-based version of Feedly, and I hope the company will incorporate it into the mobile apps, especially for tablets.
Feedly comes with a few bonus features that add value to the overall service. One of my favorites is integration with the popular bookmarking service Pocket. From Feedly's Settings screen, you can input your Pocket username and password. Then, whenever you're reading an article, you'll be able to easily add it to your Pocket list with a button up top. You can also do the same with an Instapaper account.
Feedly also makes it possible to share items, and it comes with a nifty homepage widget.

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