Bamboo Feed Reader is a Firefox extension that brings all your favorite RSS and Atom feeds together for a convenient reading experience. When it comes to reading your feeds, the most common solutions are the ever-popular Google Reader, and other Web and mobile apps such as Flipboard, Pulse and others. While I have no bad words to say about any of these options, they might be a bit extravagant and over the top to some.
Bamboo Feed Reader, which I found on our Best of Firefox add-ons page, is a simple and no-nonsense reader that focuses on the important part of RSS feeds – the reading. You won’t find too many fancy options, eye-catching themes or colorful buttons, but Bamboo Feed Reader provides what it sets out to deliver – a clean and simple reading environment. It won’t be a great fit for everyone, but like any add-on, it takes seconds to uninstall and uninstall, so go ahead, give it a try.
Getting Started With Bamboo Reader
If you’re set on trying to read your feeds in your browser, you can have Bamboo Reader set up in a matter of minutes. After installing the add-on and restarting Firefox, launch the reader by clicking the RSS icon on the left side of the address bar. On paper, you can also use the Ctrl+Shift+B keyboard shortcut, but this shortcut is already taken by the bookmarks library windows, which is a Firefox default. How the developers of Bamboo did not notice this is a wonder, but there it is. If you really care, you can download the Customizable Shortcuts add-on and free up the Ctrl+Shift+B shortcut.
Once opened, you’ll notice that Bamboo Feed Reader comes with several Firefox-related feeds built in. You can now either start adding feeds manually, or import your existing feeds from another reader. Most readers should have an export option, which spits out an OPML or XML file. In Google Reader, for example, you’ll find the export option by clicking the cog button and choosing “Reader Settings”. Head over to the Import/Export tab and click on the “Download your data through Takeout” link.
When you have your exported file, open Bamboo and click on Import. From here you can choose to import an OPML file, or to import feeds from Firefox Live Bookmarks.
When importing your feeds, you can choose whether they’ll be added to the default feeds or override them, and also whether the new feeds will be placed in a new group. After that, your feeds are exported and updated, and within 2 minutes from starting, you’re good to go.
Bamboo’s interface is pretty intuitive, and while you might find yourself groping for options for several minutes, you’ll quickly find everything you’re looking for. On the top left corner you’ll find several important options: Display toggle between list and content view, a filter to show all items or only unread items, a filter to show only your favorite items, and a search. All these options are also accessible through keyboard shortcuts which you can find in the Options.
Through the top menu you can add more feeds, and play with the add-on’s options. When it comes to adding feeds, Bamboo is unfortunately not as efficient as Google Reader. There are two ways to add a new feed: subscribe to a currently open website or entering a feed URL. The first one didn’t work when I tried it with MakeUseOf, and as for the feed URL, you really do need the feed URL – it won’t work with a plain website URL.
So why would you want to use Bamboo Reader? There are several very cool features that make trying it out worthwhile. To start, having a constant reminder of your unread items in the toolbar is useful, if you like having your feeds at zero at all times.
In addition, Bamboo offers some interesting ways to read your feeds that don’t exist in other popular readers. For example, when in List view, you can hover over an item to get a preview of the post (this doesn’t work as well with every feed, however).
You can also easily save items in a “saved items” folder, or open articles in a separate reading box by clicking the magnifying glass icon. You can visit the feed’s website with one click, and open an article’s original page simply by pressing Enter. For reading, you can choose between several font sizes, and also several color schemes for the background and buttons. Unfortunately, the themes apply only to the reader itself, and not to the articles, which is kind of weird.
The aforementioned filters are also really useful, letting you control which items are presented to you with a single push of a button.
Of course, if you’re not a Google fan, and don’t like having everything stored in Google’s cloud, Bamboo is an excellent option which doesn’t involve Google (well, the search is powered by Google, but what did you expect).
Unfortunately, this isn’t a very short list either. While Bamboo is a great reader if you’re using only one device, it has one glaring omission: there are no sync options. So if you’re using Firefox on several devices, your read items will not be synced.
In addition, you might find that some of your feeds can’t update and display an error. If this happens, you will have to either add these feeds manually, or email the add-on’s support to add the feed. To top it all off, the add-on increases Firefox’s CPU usage, which is almost always around zero, to anything from a steady 6-7% to, over 30% when actually using it (these numbers are true for my Intel Core 2 Duo 2.26GHz machine, running Windows 7).
The Bottom Line
Bamboo Reader is a clean and useful reader that provides a great alternative for the big names. It does have its problems, but these can be overcome with some knowhow. Because of this, Bamboo is probably not the right reader for the average user and below, but is a great solution for the power user, or even for users who would go through the trouble of syncing the add-on’s information manually through Dropbox and about finding actual feed URLs.
Have you had the chance to try Bamboo Feed Reader? What do you think of it? Are there any alternative RSS readers you love? Share in the comments.