RSS may not be the most popular way to get updates from your favorite sites anymore, but a lot of people, including myself, still use it regularly to quickly peruse and read a lot of information.
The iPad is a great platform for catching up on your online reading, but there are lots of apps out there that do the same job — so how do you know which one is the best? I saved you the time of looking through them all by trying them out myself. Here’s what I found.
Still confused about what RSS is and how it can improve your online reading? We have an article about that already.
Being the app I have the most experience with, I’ll start with Feedly. By capitalizing on the downfall of Google Reader, Feedly quickly catapulted to the upper echelons of the RSS reader scene on pretty much every platform; we even published an entire Feedly guide. It’s a fairly simple, somewhat customizable reader that just works well.
The iPad app is no exception. With day and night themes and three different fonts, it doesn’t offer an exhaustive variety of options like other readers do, but I’ve never felt like I’ve been missing out, either. The different view options let you see large images in a card or magazine style, small images in a list format, or just titles so you can scan through quickly.
Managing your subscriptions is easy with Feedly’s intuitive system, and it integrates with a variety of different apps, from Facebook and Twitter to Evernote and read-it-later services like Instapaper and Pocket.
One of the biggest advantages of Feedly is that it’s totally free. You can read as many articles as you want, share as many articles as you want, and you don’t have to pay for a premium subscription or watch any ads. That alone is enough to put Feedly very high on this list.
Reeder 3 ($4.99)
Reeder is a big name in the iPad RSS game — it’s on the Apple Essentials list, and it’s earned that spot by providing a premium reading experience. You can import your feeds from a wide variety of different accounts, including Feedly, FeedBin, Feed Wrangler, Readability, Instapaper, and many more. It can also serve as a standalone RSS reader that doesn’t sync with any of these services.
The interface is relatively uncluttered, and trades large feed names for small icons next to each feed, which is nice when you want to scroll through and get an idea of what you’ve missed on your various different feeds.
Reeder feels a bit more responsive than other apps, which is nice, though it doesn’t seem to pull in images and videos quite as well. There are five different black-and-white themes, two font sizes, and seven font styles, making this more customizable than Feedly, but not quite as much as some others.
Overall, Reeder doesn’t feel very remarkable — it pulls in your feeds and stays out of your way while you read them. It’s relatively uncluttered, opts to go with black-and-white colors almost everywhere, and works quickly. Its unremarkability is actually one of its greatest assets. The $5 price tag might be difficult to justify against Feedly’s free app, but if you use a wide variety of feed aggregators, it could be worth it.
Unread (free trial, $4.99)
Of all the apps I tested, I was most surprised by this one, and it might be the one that I stick with. It has one of the cleanest and most pleasing interfaces, with plenty of white space, bold black titles, and brightly colored feed names. You can choose to show thumbnails, which don’t add much clutter. Of all of the options, it’s definitely my favorite list interface.
Article views are similarly great; plenty of white space, nice fonts, and a tri-color scheme make it easy on the eyes. You can’t skim quickly through as many titles as you would in Feedly or Reeder, which may influence how you feel about Unread. You can double-tap to mark an item as read, which doesn’t feel quite as fast as Feedly’s left-swipe, but works just as well. You also need two taps to add the article to Pocket or Instapaper, instead of one.
Navigation is made easy by using swiping gestures to access menus and go back to the previous screen, and the menus are easy to use, too. There are seven themes available, and they provide a lot more variety than Reeder’s themes (personally, I like them a lot). However, there’s no local RSS reader, and no ability to add content, so you’ll need to manage your feeds through another app, like Fever or Newsblur (or, of course, Feedly).
Overall, it’s a really nice-looking app, and will work well for people who read through all of the articles in their feeds or don’t skip around too much. Its focus definitely lies on reading, and not on managing. Also, it’s free to try — the first 50 articles and 3 articles per day after that are free — and then you’ll need to pay $5 to unlock it (or $4 if you’re unemployed, a senior or a veteran).
Ziner (free trial, $3)
If you like a magazine-style interface, you’ll like Ziner’s focus on big graphics and bold text. Three themes, as well as the ability to auto-select the theme, allow you to customize the brightness, but there are only two font options to choose from at present. No local feed manager means you’ll need to use Feedly, FeedWrangler, or Feedbin to manage your feeds.
There really isn’t a whole lot to say about Ziner, other than that it has a nice magazine-like display in the list view. It’s simple, doesn’t feel bogged down with extraneous UI or sharing features, and seems to work well. It’s not great with images in posts, though. If you’re looking for simplicity, and Feedly doesn’t appeal to you, Ziner could be a good option to consider.
The only drawback is that its freedom from advertising is only temporary; after five days, you’ll start seeing adverts until you pay $3 to upgrade to the premium version.
Feeddler RSS (free with ads, $5)
Feeddler’s default text-only interface lets you flip through a lot of stories really quickly, and will appeal to readers who don’t like images, icons, or colors getting in their way. The minimal design looks a lot like some native iOS apps, so if you like that style, this could be a good choice.
With a number of supported feed aggregators (including AOL Reader, BazQux Reader, InoReader, and The Old Reader, which don’t see much support elsewhere), you can pull in your feeds and manage them directly from the app, which is a nice feature. Night mode is good for reading before bed, though options for customizing the list and article views are very sparse: you can change the size of the list view font, and that’s it.
All in all, Feeddler doesn’t have many features, though its very compact design may be appealing. It also displays banner ads across the bottom of the screen unless you upgrade to the pro version for $5.
Of all of the RSS readers that I tested, these five are the best. All of the others had some sort of difficulty or annoyance that relegated them down to this section. Newsify, for example, seemed a little buggy, as article titles and snippets disappeared after I used it for a couple minutes. Its nine fonts were nice, but not if you couldn’t see them on the list view.
xFeed lets you to look through its featured feeds to add them to your account, but the feeds included were really strange; GWAR was one of the four feeds listed in the Art section. Don’t get me wrong; I’m a fan of GWAR, but in the art section? If you aren’t familiar with GWAR, you’re missing out. Check out the video below and decide for yourself if it belongs in the Art category.
IMPR was bad at pulling in feeds; when I told it to get the news from Singletracks.com, it pulled in the entire site, so their “Reviews” and “Community” were displayed in my RSS feed. Flipboard is a cool idea, but it’s a pain to manage your feeds on the iPad app (and even online). AirSS included pop-over ads that took up the entire screen, so that got tossed out immediately.
Unread and Feedly top the list, with Unread giving the best reading experience and Feedly being fastest for browsing and managing. The best way to decide on which iPad RSS reader to use is to try a couple out; the images above don’t do justice to the apps, because their advantages and disadvantages lie in how you interact with the app.
Of course, there may be other great RSS readers out there that I haven’t found yet. Which apps do you use to read and manage your RSS feeds? Or do you prefer another solution, like using Evernote as an RSS reader? Share your favorites below so we can check them out!