Back when I had an iPad, one of my favorite features was an app called Flipboard, which displays your RSS feeds in a great-looking newspaper style. It’s a really beautiful app and one of the only ones I actually miss now that I am using the Galaxy Tab. A few days ago, Google Currents launched in the Android Market, claiming to be a fast, clean way to read publications on your tablet and phone. Curiosity (and hope) got to me and I downloaded the app. Let’s see what I found.
When I started to use Google Currents, I had three main features I was looking for:
A great way to view content
Integration with Google Reader, and
An easy way to share stories right from the app.
Currents claims to support all three.
As soon as I opened the app, I knew my first criterion was met. The app is incredibly well designed and very easy to navigate. The first time you open it, you’re given a quick walk-through, then it’s onto the app itself.
The main screen is self-explanatory. There is a slider of recent stories from your publications, and right under that is a list of icons for all of your publications and an area for stories that are trending on Google at that moment. After trying the interface on both my tablet and my phone, I’ve got to say that it adapts really nicely to the display of the device. I didn’t feel limited or crowded when using the app on my HTC Incredible at all.
Google Currents Home
All of the app’s controls are placed conveniently at the bottom of the screen, above the device’s control buttons. From the home screen, you’ve got Settings, Refresh, Share, and Search. From what I can tell, the search only looks for articles from the publications you’ve added. Speaking of…
Adding publications is incredibly easy. You press the “Add more” icon in the Publications area and then browse through the categories. There are a few different types of content.
The first is a Publishers edition: content designed specifically for Currents. You get a newspaper or magazine style layout for the content, complete with a masthead or main image and a custom icon for your home screen in Currents. You’ll get that for Forbes, Techcrunch, Saveur, Popular Science, Good, and a handful of other publishers. This is the type of content I’m excited to see more of. There are a few publications I’m really hoping will make their way onto Currents.
Heck, there are even a few I’d pay for, but more on that later.
There are also blogs and feeds, which you can add by searching or by connecting to Google Reader and grabbing feeds right from there. It seems you can’t just bulk add all of your feeds from Reader, but I actually prefer this, since I might not necessarily want to read all of my feeds like a newspaper/magazine. Once you pull the blog/feed, Currents will add an icon that’s derived from one of the images from the latest post on that feed. This is a really nice touch, though I think if they could grab the favicon, that would be even better; however I know this is not possible for websites that use a feed aggregator, like FeedBurner, for their RSS.
PS. That’s number 2 from my criteria that Currents has met!
You can view any content by pressing its icon on the app’s home screen. With Publisher’s edition content, you might get a header with categories/sections and top stories to view. With blog feeds, you’ll simply see a list of stories in the order they appear on the feed.
Publisher Edition Content
Once you press a story, you’re taken to a 2-column layout like you’d see in a newspaper or magazine, and swipe from right to left to move to different pages. If you swipe while viewing the last page of an article, you’ll go to the next article.
I absolutely love the typography they used for the stories. It looks perfect: it’s clean and properly spaced, and the columns have the perfect size gutter. You can tell a lot of time went into getting this page just right. When you tap one of the images in the article, a bigger version that you can pinch-to-zoom will be brought up. You can also swipe left or right to view other images in the same article. It’s a nice touch.
Article View (and shameless promotion)
If you just want to see a quick view of the stories from the feed, you can tap the newspaper icon in the bottom left to bring up such a list – a thoughtful feature, especially if you’re looking for a specific article and want to find it quickly.
The best part? Currents automatically syncs your library for offline use.
Since my first two criteria were met, that leaves the final one, sharing articles from within the app. Currents integrates Android’s (really nice) sharing functionality, and I used this to testing sharing content on three social networks: Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.
Twitter was pretty straightforward, just like sharing any other link on Twitter: it showed the title and a link to the article. It was the same with Google+, thought I would really prefer posting the link as a link, not just a post, so you can see an article preview on your Google+ stream. Facebook seemed to have the most trouble, producing inconsistent results with different RSS feeds. Publisher edition content seemed to work fine.
I’m somewhat on the fence as to whether or not I’d like to see native support for sharing in the app. On the one hand, you’d probably get more consistent results, and not have to rely on whatever third party app the user might have; however, if the user does use Facebook, he’ll likely have an app that allows him to share. If the user does not use Facebook, you’re almost forcing functionality on him – and let’s not forget that this would require more work for the developers when there’s already a decent solution out there.
I really love this app. It is the perfect replacement for iPad’s Flipboard app, and in some ways, it’s nicer. For example, last time I used Flipboard, sharing (if I remember correctly) wasn’t all that great. Google did an incredible job delivering content to the user, and I can see endless possibilities for this app, including disseminating paid content from print publishers like .net magazine and more. I would definitely pay for magazine subscriptions delivered to Google Currents. The interface is beautiful, it has great integration with Reader and makes it very easy to find publishers, and although sharing isn’t perfect, the functionality is there. I strongly recommend checking this app out, especially if you have a tablet!