NetNewsWire for iPad is an RSS reader app for the iPad that provides sync with Google Reader and with a full-featured desktop app on Mac and Windows. On a Mac it syncs with NetNewsWire for Mac. On Windows the sync partner is FeedDemon. Both desktop apps are free / ad-supported.
NetNewsWire (NNW) is among the best-known apps in the RSS reader category. I’ve used it before on the Mac and the iPhone, and found it capable though at times frustrating. It was one of the very first major RSS apps to bring out a full iPad version (at or near launch day) – and I was very keen to give it a try. I’ve been using it for two weeks now, and have some thoughts on the app in general and how it lives up to its premium reputation and price.
I have relied on Google Reader to manage my RSS subscriptions for a long time now, so for me setup of NNW is very easy. I just enter my GReader account details, and it sets up sync for me. If you want to add or remove individual feeds, you can do do so via NNW’s desktop counterparts (or GReader itself) but not via the iPad app.
If you have a large-ish number of feeds (I have around 220) it will take a fair while for sync to occur on the first launch of the app. After that first launch, sync is mostly relatively quick. I have seen it be slow at times, but at least it lets you carry on browsing feeds and doing things while sync is going on.
The view on opening the app defaults to showing the last individual article you were at when you last exited in the main (right-hand) pane, and the Feed list in the left-hand popover area. It displays well in both portrait and landscape mode – though I much prefer portrait because it lets me see more feeds / items at once in the listing.
The Feeds listing shows feeds in this order: Starred Items, Latest News, and then feeds by folder – if you have divided your feeds by folders within GReader. I prefer all of mine in just one bucket, so all are shown just below the Latest News section header.
You’ll notice there is not a Shared Items section listed above. This is because NNW does not yet support GReader shared items at all. More on this below.
You can star and un-star items. You can also share news items via email or Twitter, save them to Instapaper, or open them in Safari.
NNW is a very nice looking app. The icon for it is very sharp, and the inline browser is excellent and displays individual feed items very well.
It handles inline video well also, at least when video is formatted in iPad-friendly ways.
I love the Latest News section, which contains only items added within the last 24 hours from across all your feeds. I find I often get badly behind on my feeds, so having the ability to just look at what is (relatively) fresh from across the board, before taking on the challenge of catching up on all, is a very welcome feature.
The app has been pretty solid performance-wise. Very few crashes and speedy most of the time.
Not So Strong Points, Frustration Points
NNW still does not allow you to see or sync your GReader Shared Items. NetNewsWire for iPhone v 2.0 came out last September, nearly six months ago. That seems more than ample time to me to get round to adding a very basic feature like this one. This is a feature that strikes me as important to many GReader users, and one that is offered by many other iPhone RSS apps, so I can’t imagine there is any issue with Google Reader that prevents this from being implemented in a more timely manner.
There is still no way to choose not to see feeds that do not contain new (unread) items either. In fact, there are just about no settings or preferences at all that you can set for the app.
You cannot add or remove a star on an item within a feed’s listing of items. You have to open the individual article and then star or un-star it. This seems silly, as many other apps offer the ability to add / remove stars within a feed listing.
The check-mark button to mark all items in a feed as read is placed at the top right of the feed listing. In landscape view, when you tap it the ‘Mark All As Read’ confirmation appears just below it – so it’s easy to tap both in succession, as you most commonly do. In portrait view though, the confirmation gets thrown down to the bottom of the screen – so it’s awkward to get both tapped quickly. Although this is small point, it’s a very common pair of actions – one of the most common of all in an RSS app – and there seems to be plenty of room to implement it the same way in both views, so why not keep things nice and easy?
I’ve also seen some worrying flaws at times in terms of its ability to keep up-to-date with feeds’ status. Here’s just one quick example of this. NNW says that Gizmodo has over 400 unread items:
While Google Reader – correctly – shows that there are only 12 new items.
That is a huge disparity – and I have seen this for multiple feeds, not constantly but more than often enough to notice.
I always want to like NetNewsWire more than I end up liking it. It looks good and does some of the basics very well. Its missing features and flaws are frustrating though, and made all the more so by the fact that it carries a premium sort of reputation and price tag.
It is – I believe – the most expensive RSS app for the iPad at $9.99, and I think I’ve heard that there are plans to take it to $14.99 after some ‘introductory’ period (though I don’t see this stated in its App Store page).
UPDATE: The developers do plan to price this app at $14.99 starting in June. The current $9.99 is an ‘introductory’ price as I thought I had heard. See here for details.
I think to justify the premium rep and price, NNW really needs to add support for shared items, give us some preferences that can be set, and work on some performance issues.
For now, I’ll be keeping the app – as there is not a great array of choice in RSS apps for the iPad yet, and I like some things about it a lot. I cannot say I recommend it at $9.99 though – at least not until it addresses what I consider some major weaknesses mentioned above.
You can find NetNewsWire for iPad in the App Store now, priced at $9.99.
*** This app was independently purchased by the post author in the App Store. For further information regarding our site’s review policies, please see the “About” page.