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Review: Google Reader app for Android

Google this week released its Reader app for Android phones. The app helps aggregate news content.
Google this week released its Reader app for Android phones. The app helps aggregate news content.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Gahran: Android Google Reader app is a big improvement over mobile Web version
  • It's much easier to share content from the app version of the news aggregator
  • App incorporates bookmarklets, tools into my phone's "menu"
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Editor's Note: Amy Gahran writes about mobile tech for CNN.com. She is a San Francisco Bay Area writer and media consultant whose blog, Contentious.com, explores how people communicate in the online age.

(CNN) -- It sure took them a while, but this week Google finally released an Android app for Google Reader, the company's free news-aggregation software.

I've been waiting for this. I'm a longtime user of Google Reader, and find it especially useful when I'm keeping my eye on niche topics, rather than general news. Until now I've been mostly disappointed with the mobile Web experience of Google Reader on smartphones (first on an iPhone 3G and then on the Droid Incredible). But this app is a huge improvement.

Here's what I like about it, and what I don't:

The app's interface is much easier to work with than the mobile Web interface. To annotate, e-mail, or share an item in the mobile Web version of Google Reader, I had to click a tiny "more" drop-down menu option at the bottom of the item -- and about half the time I'd miss that and simply click on the next item in the feed. In the Android app, those features are offered when you hit the phone's "menu" button, and they're much bigger and easier to use.

The Google Reader Android app features better integration with social media, social bookmarking, and other ways to share information, including text messaging. I'm not talking about the "share" function built into Google Reader, which only publishes that item within Google Reader, and which I never use. Rather, this is about using the sharing tools that I like to use.

For example, I'm an avid user of the social bookmarking services Diigo and Delicious. They're my "backup brain" for all the interesting or useful stuff I find online, and I use them to collaborate with colleagues on research projects.

Previously, when I used Google Reader via a mobile Web browser, if I encountered a feed item I wanted to bookmark in Diigo, I had to click through to load the full page where that item was originally published -- which could take a while -- and then hit the "menu" button to access my "share to Diigo" bookmarklet. That annoyed me.

In contrast, the Google Reader Android app incorporates all my sharing bookmarklets and tools into the options available through my phone's "menu" button. This means I can share a specific item to Diigo directly from Google Reader without having to jump to a Web browser. I can also share feed items directly to Facebook, Twitter, Evernote, or a blog -- or transmit items to people via e-mail or text message. This saves me time, and I like that.

I'm disappointed that, so far, there doesn't seem to be a bookmarklet-style feature available in Android to subscribe to a feed in Google Reader. Here's what I mean:

Often when I'm checking out the Web on my phone's mobile browser, I encounter a site whose feed I'd like to follow via Google Reader. I'd love it if there was a "Google Reader subscribe" option available through the menu button, which would check the current page for available RSS feeds and let me subscribe to them via Google Reader -- similar to how I might bookmark a page in Diigo on my phone.

However, as far as I can tell, the only way I can subscribe to a site's feed in Google Reader on my phone is to first copy the page's URL from the browser, then launch the Google Reader app and hit the "subscribe" option, which is only available from the app's home screen, and then paste in that URL. The app then auto-discovers available feeds on that page and lets me subscribe. But that seems like a lot of steps.

I really dislike having to jump from app to browser, or browser to app, when integration seems possible. I hope Google adds this later.

ArsTechnica, a CNN Tech content partner, has a more-detailed review of the Google Reader Android app, which discusses some of the pros and cons of how this app caches data, and how it performs on an Android tablet. And if you want other RSS reader options, in August TalkAndroid published its list of top five Android RSS readers.

[TECH: NEWSPULSE]

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