For many of us -- hard-core internet surfers, RSS is a familiar term. By the same token, the phrase "RSS reader" isn't esoteric at all. But let me talk a bit about RSS and RSS readers before moving on to the main focus of this post. According to the Pro Blogger website:
RSS stands for "Really Simple Syndication." … It is a technology that is being used by millions of web users around the world to keep track of their favorite websites. In the "old days" of the web to keep track of updates on a website, you had to ‘bookmark’ websites in your browser and manually return to them on a regular basis to see what had been added. … RSS flips things around a little and is a technology that provides you with a method of getting relevant and up to date information sent to you for you to read in your own time. It saves you time and helps you get the information you want quickly after it was published. … It’s like subscribing to a magazine that is delivered to you periodically; but instead of it coming in your physical mail box each month when the magazine is published, it is delivered to your "RSS Reader" every time your favorite website updates.
So it's easy to conclude that an RSS reader is an app which allows you to handle your RSS feeds. It collects website updates in the background at user configurable intervals. You can click each article, news headline or website update to see a short description of that post, and click or open the original news webpage in the mini-browser of an Rss reader or in the default browser.
Setting the scene
Time flies or as the non-translated Latin version says: Tempus fugit.
It was almost 28 months ago that I wrote a blog article on AppleVis titled The optimal RSS reader: life in the post-Google Reader era. There my major -- though brief -- focus was on lire (Full-text RSS) and one of its shortcomings -- lack of server-based feed processing. Fortunately that was rectified in a matter of a couple of weeks, "lire" gained cloud-based feed-processing capabilities, and most of us -- hard-core RSS maniacs -- were happy campers.
"lire" was, at the time, a revolutionary product on our iDevices. Basically it allowed us to fetch the full text of articles without having to open webpages. Perhaps I'm stating the obvious, but these days when something is posted on a website, only few lines of it appear in the RSS section and users have to click on something like a "Read more" link to move to the website, suffer through a fusillade of screen reader-unfriendly ads interspersed around the webpage, and read the original content with pain. So "lire" was made available to rid us of all of those time-consuming issues.
Fast-forward to the late 2015 era
"Lire" was a revolutionary product back in 2013, but that's no longer the case. In fact, these days we have a superfluity of full-text RSS readers on the App Store which isn't a bad thing at all. Competition can help us purchase the best app of this ilk based on accessibility, functionality, and a couple of weird factors which might be regarded as idiosyncrasies. And yes, I said "purchase" because, trial periods aside, it's impossible to find free full-text RSS readers. Providing such a service apparently requires powerful servers and that's why these apps aren't free. The exception to this seems to be the free and ad-supported version of Feeddler RSS Reader for iPad whose ads are inundating and doesn't offer all features of the Pro version.
Anyway, in this article I'll compare 4 of the most popular full-text RSS readers:
- lire (Full-text RSS),
- Unread: RSS News Reader,
- Newsify: Your News, Blog & RSS Feed Reader,
- Feeddler RSS Reader Pro 2.
Most of these apps require a feed syncing server or account to fetch articles from. The most prominent feed-syncing service at the time of this writing is Feedly. Feedly flourished when Google decided to kill its RSS-oriented services. Quite interestingly, the "Feedly" app itself isn't part of this shootout because it has serious accessibility issues and doesn't offer full-text access to feeds. Fortunately we can add our feeds to Feedly through its website if we happen to have their links. Alternatively, we can import our feeds into Feedly via OPML files. So in case you want to become an RSS junkie and don't have a Feedly account, either create one or use your Google/Twitter/Facebook credentials to log into Feedly.
Lire: your app doesn't require a capital letter to succeed
You're dealing with a seriously accessible app here.
Admittedly, as revolutionary as it was and still is in many ways, lire hasn't received rave or multitudinous reviews on the App Store. It used to cost $1.99 and now sells for $4.99. The name "lire" -- which the developer insists on not capitalizing -- comes from a French verb meaning to read.
Lire is an RSS-oriented application, but along with the likes of the fantastic -- though irrelevant -- Voice Dream Reader, it's the archetypal example of what developers can do to implement accessibility. In short, you're dealing with a seriously accessible app here. The Settings window has a dedicated Accessibility/VoiceOver section of its own, all progress bars are nicely and automatically spoken by VoiceOver, and, much to my own surprise, many useful lire-specific VoiceOver gestures are documented in the FAQ section of the app.
Lire offers a stand-alone, cloud-based mode along with access to the more popular Feedly service. Oddly enough, the stand-alone mode, which happens to be active by default when first launching the app, isn't recommended because it lacks syncing options and might also limit access to older articles if we don't launch it for a few days. With Feedly, though, it's guaranteed that are older articles will be preserved as Feedly does the heavy-lifting without the need to use lire on a regular basis. When launching lire for the first time, you can use either the stand-alone mode or the Feedly mode. For the former, one can import feeds via an OPML file by going to the Export/Import section of the Settings window. As mentioned earlier, Feedly requires logging in via one's Google/Twitter/Facebook account. Since lire allows adding subscriptions when operating along with Feedly, one can either add feeds manually or, through Feedly on the web, import feeds via an OPML file. Like the rest of full-text RSS feed readers, lire supports organizing feeds by folders, and starring or sharing articles.
Useful lire settings
Compared with other RSS readers on my list, lire provides the most comprehensive settings, categorized into properly labeled groups. But if I'm asked to name some of my favorite settings, I should point to the following:
Accessibility options: Display images, switch button Off. It's the last item in the Accessibility section.
Caching options: Automatic full-text caching. Selecting this opens a new window which allows us to disable/enable automatic text caching on a per-feed basis.
Caching options: Automatic image caching, switch button off. I'd also select the "Delete all images" option from this window to have all of my previously stored images removed. Processing feeds without downloading or caching images is quicker and helps me preserve hard disk space.
Article options: Open in Full-Text view. If I select this, a window opens which allows me to enable or disable the useful "Text-View mode" for all feeds or modify it on a per-feed basis. I've enabled it for all feeds.
Some lire compliments and gripes
At the risk of repeating myself, I should talk about lire's price a bit. It costs $4.99 and once you pay for it upfront, everything will be unlocked and at your fingertips. If you read the rest of this article, you'll see how great a benefit this one-time payment might be.
Lire is a blazingly fast application which does its job very efficiently. However, in case you're dealing with an article whose different sections appear on multiple pages, lire fails to display the rest of the pages and fetches text from the first page only. This review of Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+ on GSM Arena is a good example which demonstrates how lire displays only the first page of the multipage review in Full-Text mode. Only one of my full-text RSS readers can display all pages of this review properly as if it were a one-page review.
Lire's sharing options, though solid enough, a bit lag behind one of its competitors. For instance, you can't share the short/long title of your articles. Lire makes basic use of the VoiceOver Rotor options to manipulate articles. You can either activate articles via the Rotor options (quite self-explanatory) or mark them as read/unread, and that's all about it. I wish lire could make more extensive use of the Rotor -- like my next app in the list. Furthermore, unlike its competitors, lire sticks to feedly and doesn't support other feed syncing services. While not a definite deal-breaker, some full-text feed readers support services like Feed Wrangler, Feedbin, Fever, and NewsBlur.
Unread: we love your VoiceOver Rotor
The Readability mode doesn't always work.
When I installed and launched Unread for the first time, I pleasantly found myself in a welcome window which explained how I could dismiss that and other similar windows by performing the VoiceOver "Z shape" gesture. This full-text RSS reader has also been designed with accessibility in mind, and in fact it's the only application in my list which makes extensive use of the VoiceOver Rotor options to perform many tasks. Of course, unlike lire, Unread doesn't read progress bars and messages automatically and you can't tell when syncing is done unless you touch the bottom of the screen to check that.
Unread is a free app which allows users to read the first 50 articles free of charge and continue reading 3 articles freely per day after that. If you want to unlock the app -- doable from its home screen, you should pay $4.99. It offers other strange unlocking options such as "Full Unlock -- Hero Price" which costs $12.99. Sadly, Unread's sparse documentation and online help means I haven't been able to understand the difference between the two and the rest of the in-app purchase options.
After configuring Unread to work with one of the available feed syncing services (like Feedly), the app displays the name of that account on its home screen afterwards. Selecting that allows us to see articles, categories (which are folders), and subscriptions. Unlike lire, Unread doesn't allow us to modify or remove feeds. To activate the full-text mode for each article, one should open it and use the VoiceOver Rotor options to select the "Readability view." It's not important where in the article one uses the Rotor options. Apart from the "Readability view," other Rotor options are Activate item, Mark unread, Save, View on the web, Share, and Back to browser.
Useful Unread settings
The Settings window can be activated from Unread's home screen. Unread's settings shouldn't be compared with those of lire. The only 2 settings which I consider important in Unread are "Image caching" which I've set to "Never" and "Title tap" which I've set to "Readability view." Sadly, setting the latter to "Readability view" doesn't always display the full text of articles and one has to resort to the Rotor options.
Some Unread compliments and gripes
The developers of Unread have taken accessibility seriously and their efforts should be appreciated. One can take advantage of the VoiceOver Rotor options both in the list of articles and inside articles to perform various actions. However, Unread's performance falls short of my expectations in some areas. For instance, the "Readability view" cannot be loaded for many articles like this review of Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+ on GSM Arena which I mentioned earlier. Lire grabs the text of its first page, but Unread just displays the article summary and attempting to load the "Readability view" results in the announcement of an error message. This happens on other websites such as Android Police and Reuters and affects many -- if not all -- of their articles. Also, Unreads displays the names of all folders and RSS feeds in uppercase letters and that might generate strange VoiceOver mispronunciations. Unread's sharing options are on a par with those of lire, but one of my next 2 apps is more feature-rich in this regard.
Newsify: when full-text access can cost an arm and a leg
Should access to the full text of articles be so expensive?
Till a few months ago, Newsify was a free RSS app which didn't offer full-text features. It was a feature-rich iOS RSS reader especially considering its $0 price tag. Even now it's considered a powerful iOS RSS reader provided that you don't need its automatic full-text caching and retrieval capabilities. The app is still free to download, but in order to unlock it and take advantage of its full-text capabilities, one has to pay $2.99 on a monthly basis or accept an annual payment of $29.99. Newsify offers a week-long trial period which can be activated from its Settings window.
I should clarify a point before getting any further. I'm not against paying for apps which are deemed expensive by many users. I have the pricey knfbReader on my iPhone 6 plus -- I purchased it when it was on offer for less than $50. However, I hate paying for apps which don't offer any extra or appealing features compared with their competitors. I'd heard that nothing in life is free, but should access to the full text of articles be so expensive?
As far as its automatic full-text caching and retrieval features are concerned, Newsify offers nothing which you can't find in lire, Unread or Feeddler Pro 2. And, speaking of accessibility, Newsify isn't as accessible as its competitors. For instance, when inside the list of articles, you can't use the "z shape" VoiceOver scrub gesture to return to the list of subscribed feeds. That's because instead of the familiar "Back" button at the top left of all screens, Newsify uses a button called "Show subscriptions." It seems that the app had the familiar "Back" button in the past, but it's no longer the case. I know at least one user whose Newsify still displays the Back button, but that may very well be a remnant of its previous releases in the form of an old setting carried over to the current release.
Like lire, Newsify sticks to Feedly and doesn't support other feed syncing services. Other than Feedly, one can select the Stand-alone, cloud-based mode to access RSS feeds which isn't a good idea anyway. Unlike its competitors, Newsify displays all folders and feed subscriptions in one single list on its homepage and doesn't put them in separate folders. On a positive note, Newsify displays the latest news articles on its home screen, separated by headings which say "1 day ago," "2 days ago," "3 days ago," etc. Unread also displays these informative headings inside its article lists, but doesn't display articles on its homepage, meaning Newsify is unique in this regard. And, speaking of accessibility, Newsify doesn't announce progress updates automatically. The progress bar is displayed at the bottom of the screen, to the left of the Settings icon. The Rotor is also used in Newsify to delete or activate articles, and that's all about it.
If you want to view the full text of an article and have an active Newsify subscription, open the article and activate the "Full Text menu" option -- at the top right of the window to the left of the "View original" option. There you can select options like "Load full text," "Re-load full text," "Report full text problem," etc.
Useful Newsify settings
Apart from the activation of the one-week trial which can be done from the Settings window, the "Sync Settings" window of the Settings area offers some useful options. There, for instance, you can disable or limit the caching of images or limit them to Unread/Starred items.
Some Newsify compliments and gripes
Well, I can't say what I like about Newsify other than the titles of the latest news articles which appear on the home screen. Its full text service which is used for automatic text retrieval and caching is outrageously expensive for an app of this sort and offers no tangible advantages over its cheaper competitors. You might very well expect such an expensive app to display all pages of my sample GSM Arena page, but it doesn't. Only the first page of the review is displayed properly. Newsify's sharing options are also typical of a cheaper app and fail to beat lire or Unread.
Newsify, even without purchasing one of its subscription packages, can be used to view original articles with Instapaper, Readability and Google mobilizers. This has some drawbacks. First, you'll get extra HTML codes and tags at the beginning of articles opened this way. Second, my tests indicate that this article-view mode isn't quite unreliable and one has to become accustomed to being hit by "Cannot find server" messages on a regular basis. And third, this mode can't be used for automatic full-text caching. That is, the app requires a few seconds to open articles in this mode. To use this mode, modify the following settings in Newsify:
Open Links: Instapaper Mobiliser,Advanced > Globe Button Action: Open In Web Browser,
Advanced > Open Items: Web Browser.
As far as accessibility goes, you don't get the normal back button in the list of articles under normal circumstances, so returning to the previous window via the familiar scrub gesture is out of the question in most areas. The scrub gesture just works inside open articles. Let's now move on to the last app on the list.
Feeddler RSS Reader Pro 2: the king of feed readers resurrected, sort of
... you should let your Rotor rest, and focus on double-tapping your articles instead.
When Feeddler was released back in 2010, it quickly became the go-to app for RSS feeds on many users' iDevices. Its reviews on the App Store indicated that it had a dedicated user base. Now the sequel, Feeddler RSS Reader Pro 2 released in 2014, seems to be enjoying the same limelight. The app costs $4.99 and, like lire, will be yours forever once you pay for it upfront.
When it comes to feed syncing services, nothing can beat Feeddler Pro 2. It supports AOL Reader, Bazqux Reader, FeedHQ, Feedly, InoReader, and The Old Reader. Granted, most of these are recondite services, but it always feels good to know that our full-text RSS reader supports them. In terms of accessibility, though, Feeddler Pro 2 is a mixed bag. While all buttons are clearly labeled and the VoiceOver scrub gesture works flawlessly, it offers zero support for the VoiceOver Rotor. That is, you should let your Rotor rest, and focus on double-tapping your articles instead. Progress bars aren't read automatically either, meaning you should check the bottom of the screen -- to the right of the Refresh button -- to see what's being updated. It's worth noting that the progress bar isn't available on the home screen.
After logging into a feed syncing service, Feeddler Pro 2 places folders and feeds under their own separate headings. One can easily edit or delete folders or feeds by selecting the Edit button from the top right corner of the home screen. Once a folder or feed is selected, the items inside it will automatically refresh and the status bar which I mentioned earlier appears at the bottom of the screen. Here's some bad news for those who like to flick left and right. Feeddler Pro 2 displays folders and feeds along with their articles on 2 separate controls. That is, if you flick right, you'll hear the name of a feed and another right-flick will move the focus to the number of articles inside it. Double-tapping both of them opens the feed, but you'll have to flick twice to move past a feed or folder.
Another nice feature of Feeddler Pro 2, absent in its free counterpart, is its ability to search for and add feeds via the "Add subscriptions" button, located at the bottom of the screen to the left of the "Mark all as read" button. It provides a nifty keyword-based RSS search capability for those who want to discover RSS feeds.
A few words about settings and full text access
The Settings window of Feeddler Pro 2 can be accessed from the top left corner of its home screen. However, this is sort of a global settings window. That is, settings can also be adjusted on a per-feed basis. If you enter a feed from the home screen, before getting to its articles you'll see a button titled "Settings for subscription." As such, you can ask the app to display the full text of articles globally for all feeds and later disable it for certain feeds, or vice versa. A few settings -- like the one affecting the sorting of articles -- can be adjusted globally and locally this way.
As an image-averse guy, I'd first make sure the "Cache Images" option from the "Offline Reading" section of the global Settings window is set to "Never." Also I'd go to the "Article Display" section of the Settings window to set the "Opens articles as" option to "Full Text." This is to make sure all articles from all feeds are opened in full-text mode. Moreover, the "Headline Display" section of the Settings window has an option titled "Auto-Load" more items. I'd set it to "On." This way if I go to a feed, I can load more articles inside it via the relevant "Load more" button.
Some Feeddler Pro 2 compliments and gripes
There's a lot to like about Feeddler Pro 2. Its fixed, upfront payment is a boon to many of us and the fact that it supports many syncing services along with a powerful feed subscription facility adds to its strengths. Another nice point about Feeddler Pro 2 is its multitude of sharing options. Apart from the usual array of expected sharing options like copy, email, SMS, and a few read-later services (which are also offered by its competitors), Feeddler Pro 2 provides some interesting possibilities. The "Share" button is at the bottom right corner of open articles. When tapped, one can select options like "Copy link," "Copy short URL," "Copy title," and "Copy title and link." These are not provided by its competitors.
Some issues, however, mar the so-called impeccable RSS experience offered by Feeddler Pro 2. To pay credit where credit is due, I must say that Feeddler Pro 2 is the only full-text RSS reader in my list which can display all pages of the Review of Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+ on GSM Arena properly. This is a great achievement worthy of a thousand accolades. However, on the other end of the spectrum there are articles and pages whose full text cannot be displayed by Feeddler Pro 2. A sample of such a problematic page can be found here on iDownload blog. Feeddler Pro 2 only displays the summary and where the rest of the article should appear you'll see the word "Updating." Lire handles this page with ease. This is not a minor problem to connive at.
I've already mentioned Feeddler Pro 2's access-oriented shortcomings. When it comes to iOS accessibility, I tend to call myself a perfectionist. As such, it's not acceptable to see an RSS reader with zero VoiceOver Rotor support. The one-year-old app has matured to the point that one should reasonably expect to see at least some degree of Rotor support baked into it. What's more the fact that folders/feeds and the number of their articles are displayed on 2 separate controls on the home screen can simply be called a bad accessibility decision.
Now who's the winner?
If you've read the article up to this paragraph, you can confidently claim that I'm going to quickly exclude 2 apps from the list. Newsify because of its outrageous price, lack of the familiar VoiceOver scrub gesture in most areas, very limited Rotor options, rather limited sharing options compared with its price, its inability to display the full text of multipage review articles; and Unread mostly because of its rather unreliable display of articles in the Readability mode, its inability to modify or edit feeds, and the uppercase display of the names of folders/feeds which might trouble VoiceOver. Given Unread's extensive use of the VoiceOver Rotor, excluding it from the list is rather painful and I wish its Readability view functioned a bit more reliably.
Now here comes the juicy part. Is lire the king of full-text RSS readers, or is Feeddler Pro 2 worthy of that title? Let's analyze some factors.
As far as accessibility is concerned, lire, with its VoiceOver-specific gestures, automatic progress bar announcements and a dedicated Accessibility/VoiceOver section in the Settings window handily beats Feeddler Pro 2. Feeddler's zero VoiceOver Rotor support doesn't work to its advantage either.
When it comes to full-text display of articles, we have a tie-- sort of. While Feeddler Pro 2 can display all pages of multipage reviews or articles on a single page -- a feature which lire lacks, Feeddler Pro 2 fails to display the full text of articles for certain feeds and websites -- something I've never seen with lire. Here again I prefer lire, but the decision is all yours.
Feeddler Pro 2's sharing features are more comprehensive than those of lire. You can, say, copy an article title and link simultaneously in Feeddler -- something not doable in lire. Feeddler supports more feed syncing services whereas lire offers an extra stand-alone, cloud-based mode absent in Feeddler. Feeddler also has a useful feed discovery feature whereas lire allows users to export/import feeds via an OPML file and download articles using the Epub format. If one uses lire's Share option in an open article and saves it as an Epub file, the newly created file can be easily shared with Voice Dream Reader via lire's Ebooks option, available on its home screen.
So hereby I declare lire the winner of this shootout! Lire is reliable when it comes to the display of the full text of articles, and is avant-garde when it comes to accessibility. I have paid for lire and Feeddler Pro 2 and have no financial interest in promoting either of them. However, I feel that lire's rightful victory can send a strong message to the developers who don't take accessibility as seriously as VoiceOver users deserve.
Finally, an audio surprise
Did you know that lire can also act as your basic podcast player, something missing in Feeddler? I'm a big NPR fan and many of its feeds have found their way into my long list of feeds. As such, if you subscribe to Morning Edition, lire displays both the full text of its articles and the audio "Download" link available on article pages. Clicking that "Download" link brings up a plug-in which can play the relevant audio file for that page. Feeddler Pro 2 can't do this as it simply removes the "Download" link from the pages it displays. Lire isn't a podcast-oriented app and claiming that it is might be dangerous, but at least when it comes to NPR, it can both display the full text of articles and, via a plug-in, play the associated audio files. That's, IMO, a gem.
With everything said and done, do you agree with my findings? As news warriors, are you happy with your full-text RSS reader of choice? Do you know of any other full-text RSS reader? And what's forcing you to stick to your current RSS reader -- if it's not lire or Feeddler Pro 2?