iPad news magazine apps: my review

I’m something of a news junkie. One of my great joys when reading news on my iPad 2 is the variety of news apps I can use to catch up on what’s going on in the world. Since the iPad was designed with content consumption at the forefront, it makes sense that magazine type apps have moved into this space. This review will discuss a few of my favorites and how and why I use them. It won’t likely be absolutely comprehensive but it should give you an idea of the diversity of apps available.

The apps will be discussed in inverse order (my favorites are at the bottom. Yes, it’s like the Academy Awards: you have to wait for the best!)

SkyGrid

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SkyGrid was first on the scene with semantic news. SkyGrid aggregates content by topic, not source. Instead of clicking on The HuffPost feed, for example, you will click on the “Who got eliminated from Dancing With the Stars” label to read articles on that topic from various sources.

The drawback to SkyGrid is that it’s not terribly timely. If you’re looking for info on a quake just as it happens, it won’t be there. It also trends toward pop culture more than “real” and traditional news. You can “follow” certain topics but you can’t regulate how they are filtered. It’s quirky and fun for a quick hit of “what’s up in the world.”

Fluent News

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Fluent News was an early iPad app that tries to aggregate the news but I’ve never been a fan of this one. It seems like it’s always a step behind.

It should be mentioned that there are (and I use) a number of single-use news apps. These are apps designed to browse the news offerings of a single site. They don’t aggregate a number of sources. These include NPR, Slate, the Texas Tribune and a couple of others. I should point out that I do NOT use the CNN app. There’s no particular reason, other than I just sometimes avoid the “bandwagon apps.” I won’t spend a lot of time discussing these apps because each does it’s thing just fine for their site. Feel free to comment on them though.

Now to the heavy hitters….

Hitpad

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Hitpad combines semantic news with the kinds of presentations you’ll see from this category of news apps. Hitpad follows “trending topics” and then offers news, photos, videos, tweets and articles from the web about that topic. The trouble is that, if what you want to see is not a trending topic, you won’t find it. It’s also hard to navigate their interface. It’s a great concept but it doesn’t work for what I use news apps for.

FLUD

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I bought FLUD after reading reviews on the app store. Presentation-wise, FLUD is a nice app that lets you select the channels you wish to see, including Facebook and Twitter. You can then scroll along the “timeline” from that channel. I’ve had a lot of trouble with FLUD posting to my Facebook account. They say it should be seamless but often it won’t work at all or posts an update without a link. YMMV.

Pulse

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Pulse is another of the “timeline” style apps in this category. Pulse impresses with sheer volume of content. You manage your feeds in pages and that part is clunky but each feed appears in a stylish timeline. All the usual options are present: post to Facebook, Twitter, email, Instapaper, etc.

Taptu

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Taptu has the neatest interface of these timeline news apps. Each channel scrolls horizontally but, as the timeline extends out of the space available, the icons for the stories wrap into a little 3 x 3 grid then out the side. It’s kind of neat and worth a look. The stories and features are exactly the same as the other apps in this category.

Flipboard

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Flipboard is the heavy hitter in this category and probably the one you know best. Flipboard had some heavy PR mojo at it’s launch and has some big backers. It pioneered the “magazine” concept on the iPad. Flipboard is quite nice and I use it, but it’s not the killer news app I longed for.

Flipboard allows you to customize your feed and link in Facebook and Twitter accounts. The strength of Flipboard is it’s ability to show you articles and albums that appear in Facebook and Twitter as just links. It gives you more content than those sites give you naturally. It allows you to subscribe to several featured feeds like an RSS reader.

Flipboard has a distinctive, flip-based layout. It’s very good at what it does.

Zite

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Zite is my favorite of the magazine-style news apps. It accepts my Twitter and Facebook accounts, but only as sources of interest; you don’t see the feeds directly. In Zite, you designate “sections,” similar to the sections of a newspaper. The magazine then finds content from the web according to the sections you specify and lays the articles out in a distinctly magazine-like look and feel. The Home section of Zite presents a sampling of the various articles in sections you’ve been reading recently, along with a few hot topics thrown in.

There are two reasons I prefer Zite above all others.

First, the app shows me more distinctly different content; articles I would not ordinarily seek or find. It’s like a true magazine in that regard. It’s like there’s an editorial process going on behind the scenes and I appreciate it. You have to be careful about what you read on Zite, however, because if you tend toward one topic too much, then that topic becomes ALL you see! It’s best to click on a variety of topics and articles to keep your content diverse.

The second reason I like Zite is that it’s the only one with an option to share and “save” my articles to my Delicious account. Maybe I’m a dinosaur, but I’ve always liked Delicious for it’s elegant concept and I haven’t caught on in the Diigos of the world. Persuade me in the comments.

I also really enjoy the “reader” option in Zite that strips out the site stuff and just (usually) lets me read the story without all the ads and clutter that often accompanies the articles in their raw form. A picture of the reader option is below.

If you prefer timely news, some of these apps will do better than others. Usually, the single-source news apps or Twitter is where the fastest posts occur but after the Virginia earthquake, Zite posted a number of articles in a very timely fashion, somewhat to my surprise.
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A weird one…

This morning’s iIMH is one of the strangest I’ve ever had. I should preface it by saying I’ve had about six hours of sleep in the past two nights. I normally need a lot of sleep but I rarely get it so I’m chronically sleep-deprived but I think I’m a special kind of punchy today.

So, today I wake up with the Beastie Boys “You Gotta Fight” somehow overlaid onto a mellow, new age solo piano track! The weird part was that it kind of worked! But don’t tell that to The Beastie Boys!

Fortunately, I’ve been able to overwrite that mess with one I heard yesterday from the Jacob Jeffries Band. If you like innovative, modern rock, check out those guys. I heard them live at our ADE camp at Full Sail a few years ago and they were great.

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My review of the iPad 2

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while. As the description to this new category reads, I’m a geek and I have the gadgets to prove it.

I should clarify, I don’t have every gadget known to man, but I have lots and I use them.

Many people say that they rarely see me without my iPad and they would be correct. At the Astros game last Friday, I ran into one of my colleagues and she noted that it was the first time she’d seen me without it since I’d bought the first one!

I got the iPad 2 on the first day they were out. I ought not to have bought it but I did. I stood in line for several hours at the Baybrook Apple Store but, 41 minutes later, there was an announcement that they’d sold out of 3G models. 41 minutes! I had a slip of paper in hand assuring me I’d get an iPad that day, but it wouldn’t be the model I wanted. What’s the point? Seriously! It occurred to me that we had a Best Buy across I-45, so I sprinted out of the mall and drove across the highway. When I got to Best Buy, the line was absurdly short. I walked to the end and the guys there apprised me that I’d better talk to the lady at the front who was handing out vouchers. It was good I did, cause she had one left. It was for a white, AT&T 3G model, 64 gb. I didn’t care about the color but I needed AT&T 3G because I have a grandfathered unlimited plan and that SIM card was going into the new unit come hell or high water! I’d intended to get the 32 gb iPad but, since she only had one left, I made the executive decision to get the larger model.

A number of people have asked me for my opinion of the iPad 2, so here goes…

Of course, I like it. It’s not a generational leap, however, and to assume it will be will induce letdown. The cameras are nice, but I haven’t used much of them yet. I know I will, but I still use my iPhone 4 (told ya!) for pictures. I use my Olympus Stylus Tough for underwater pictures, but that’s another blog post! The cameras seem to be of adequate capability, but I haven’t really played with them. I don’t FaceTime much, so that feature has only sparingly been used.

I haven’t really noticed much of a speed boost from the new processor. I’m certain this has more to do with the apps I use but I expected to see some, given I have a number of high-end racing games and simulations but there’s no noticeable improvement that I can see. I’m sure it’ll be visible later.

The feature I’m most excited about is the one you don’t see. Finally, the iPad has VGA (and HDMI) out, on a full-time basis! In the educational world, this is huge. Now, a teacher can open iBooks and read as well as annotate on the screen in front of class. In the olden iPade days, iBooks could not display video out. Now it can. As a frequent conference presenter, I’m excited by the ability to run all of my presentations from the iPad, instead of lugging around a laptop just to run Keynote. (You didn’t think I used PowerPoint, did you? Seriously?) Even though my laptop is a MacBook Air, the iPad is noticeably less to carry around and the sheer “cool factor” of it will be sufficient for me.

Last point of note is the Smart Cover. I got the orange one and I have to say, it’s nice. I like only having a cover for the iPad and not a bulky case. My mobile technology is sleek and light. I’m considering getting an InvisibleShield for the back, just to improve the grip without sacrificing what I think is the cool look of the aluminum case. So far, I have not put a shield on the glass but I’m considering it. The cover does leave some stripes on the glass, though they’re wipeable. There is a wooden cover that does the exact same thing the Apple device does that I’m considering but I’d have to see how much it weighs.

All in all, I’m glad I got it. And, no, you can’t have/buy/steal the iPad I originally had. It’s going to my dad and I’m going to try to convince him it’s the best computer he’ll ever use. Besides, it’s going to be his 75th birthday. So there.

Coming soon: some app reviews and other gadgetry insights.

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Mondays are for music, I guess…

When I started this category, I thought it’d be a daily entry. Funny that when I started writing about it, the iPod was less noticeable! Interesting.

Today’s entry is “Astronomy,” by the Jacob Jeffries Band. Heard that on the Apple TV over the weekend and it’s a catchy little tune. Find those guys on iTunes if you’re in the mood for some quirky contemporary rock! I got to see them live when they performed for us at the Apple Distinguished Educator camp at Full Sail University a few years ago. I’ve been a fan ever since…

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Monday morning blues

This morning’s entry is thanks to my Apple TV, blaring away yesterday as we got tons of projects done around the house. One of the songs that was shuffled up has been going through my head since 3:30 am when I awoke and couldn’t fall back asleep: Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl.” Around here, this is usually sung quite loudly with the lyric modification of “blue eyed girl…” Cause she has blue eyes…

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It’s been a while…

Today’s entry was Blondie’s “Rapture.” Not sure where that came from. The iPod has been quiet lately; maybe it realized I was blogging about it and got shy!

So I’ve decided I’m going to expand my blog focus to include my viewpoint of gadgets and technology in general. It’s natural, since everything I’ve done on this blog has been on an iPad or iPhone. Look for that stuff starting soon, beginning with my impressions of the iPad 2.

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A day on the bayou…

While most of you were glued to your televisions, watching VCU destroy brackets all over the country, Stacey and I hit the waters of Armand Bayou from Bay Area Park in Pasadena for a couple of hours of kayaking. We had a pretty amazing time, as we always do. This was just the second time we’d gotten to put our new Old Town kayaks in the water. We were supposed to go with our buddy Isaac but circumstances dictated otherwise and we were left to our own devices.

Because the wind was out of the south, we headed that way first. That was an important lesson we learned our first time out a couple of weeks ago. From Bay Area Park, that’s the direction of UHCL and Clear Lake. From the park, it’d seem to be the least interesting direction but if you go around a jutting piece of land, there’s a lot of area to explore. The light wasn’t great for photos so we only got a few, but we went far and enjoyed the whole thing.

Only two gators this time. Last time, we saw five. That’s not altogether a bad thing! They freak Stacey out more than me but I’m not crazy like some people we have seen. We try not to mess with them and be quiet and today that strategy worked fine.

All in all, a lovely day out on the water….

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