When it comes to buying apps, trust the hive mind. I should have learned that bit of wisdom long ago, but at times I need to learn from my own mistakes. My selection of a blogging editor was one mistake, where I could have just listened to the wisdom that I saw espoused all over the Internet. My selection of a Google Reader app for my Android phone was another. Shortly after getting my phone, I tried out the official Google Reader app, then dropped money on another app that I’ve long since forgotten. Finally, I surrendered and tried out NewsRob, the app that received everyone’s praises. I’ve been using it ever since.
NewsRob syncs both ways with your Google Reader account, meaning that changes on your phone will be sent to Reader, and changes in Reader will be sent to your phone. You can configure this syncing to suit your needs, making it happen at regular intervals (from 30 minutes up to once a day), or set it so that you have to initiate the sync manually. You can also specify whether scheduled syncs occur over any connection or only over WiFi. What I found handy about the app is that the syncing occurs in the background, so you can continue to read your feeds while updates happen. I do find that there is a slight lag, however, if I am using the app while a sync is occurring. My device, a Galaxy S, is a bit longer in the tooth when it comes to smartphones, so newer devices might not have this problem.
You can configure how the app uses your Internet connection even further, and also how it uses your storage. You can set article thumbnails to be downloaded at all times, or only over WiFi. If you’re worried about storage space on your phone, you can select whether the data downloaded is stored locally, or on your SD card. You can also choose how many articles should be kept on your phone at one time.
The app offers other options that are available right from a toolbar. This toolbar can be placed at the top or bottom of the screen, or hidden entirely. With one tap of a button in this toolbar, you can toggle between displaying or hiding read items, sync your feeds and check the sync status, reverse the chronological order of your feeds, or return to your feed home screen.
The app is utilitarian, making it very easy to navigate. By default, I keep read items hidden. This means that when I check the “mark all as read” button for a feed, I’m automatically sent back one level (usually to the main feed list). I can then quickly dive into the next feed.
Your article list is configurable. You can choose whether to display snippets and a thumbnail, or just a list of stories. The app isn’t fancy, but if you have thumbnails enabled, it isn’t hard on the eyes, either. A green flag to the left of a feed or a category indicates whether that feed or category contains unread items.
It remains to be seen how the app will change in light of the overhaul that Google made to Reader recently. Right now, NewsRob still has a button for the normal “share in Reader” option. As long as you have Google+ installed on your phone, though, sharing there is easy using Android’s built in sharing functionality. 11/9/11 UPDATE: I received notification of an update to the app this morning, indicating that the “Share (in Reader)”, “Share With Note” and “Like” features were removed, since Google has dropped those functions from Reader.
The Android Market currently offers a free version of the app, and a paid version that removes the ads. “Power features” are also listed as a feature of the paid app, but there’s no word on what those features are. The paid version, NewsRob Pro, currently sells for $5.99
If you use an RSS reader on your smartphone, let us know your favorite app by sounding off in the comments.