Online news outlets can be happy about one thing. With the advent of tablets and smartphones, consumption of their content is set to explode soon, if it hasn’t happened already. News reader apps make the experience of reading and discovering content a breeze. Currents from Google is a new entrant in the already crowded news reader space.
I can’t see a major source of revenue anytime soon for a company the size of Google from this vertical, but here they are competing head to head with tiny startups. Is it awesome enough to dethrone Flipboard, Pulse and the like? Time to find out!
Unlike most other competing apps, Google has made signing in a mandatory requirement. The sign in page is a web page wrapped by native elements for some reason, like the iPad Gmail app. Thankfully, at first glance you will see that the Google Currents app isn’t a major disaster like the Gmail app.
The help wizard that shows at launch is actually helpful, briefing the functionality of the app in a few slides. If you get past that, a rather minimalistic two columned user interface is unveiled. The left column is meant for featured news items from a variety of sources and they are constantly rotated. You can swipe across to go through the listings quickly.
To the right, is where your content library has to be built. When you start it will be empty (duh!). The quickest way to start reading content is by tapping on the featured content from the left pane or by accessing the trending section at the top.
Google Currents prioritizes both the user-built library and the trending topics library. The trending section isn’t empty and by default, top 5 topics that are hot right now are displayed. Where the app really excels is in the level of flexibility it offers the user to customize the trending content library. You don’t have to consume what the app feeds you.
Instead, you have the option to choose trending topics from a bunch of categories. Five items per category is neither insufficient nor is it too much.
Items from trending topics are neatly stacked one after another and each topic is accompanied by a relevant thumbnail too. At times, I found the thumbnails weren’t particularly relevant to the topics, but it isn’t a deal breaker or anything.
Google Currents does a dynamite job in making the content work for you. The content is divided into three major categories – Stories, User generated and About.
Articles about the topic in question are listed in the Stories section of the app. Sources of these articles were mostly popular and I found a major push of content from the country you are from. I guess this is done based on the IP address and is a bit intriguing why an app that’s locked to most of the world would do this.
Don’t have the time to read through articles? Head over to the User generated section to check out videos related to the topic.
The about section is an interesting and thoughtful addition. For those not familiar with a trending topic or want to learn more about it, the About section will be of great help. Links to content from online knowledge archives like Wikipedia, About.com etc. can be found here.
Building a Custom Library
Building a library of content from sources of your choice is as simple as a clicking on the plus icon. A comprehensive list of categories are available for you to peruse and each category comes loaded with top notch news sources. Just tap Add and you will have a new addition to your library.
Another fun way to discover content is by following and subscribing to the library of curators. Geeks and subject matter experts of repute form the curators pool, so you won’t be disappointed by their selection.
Not being able to add your own sources is a bummer. But, you can circumvent this shortcoming by using the Google Reader integration.
As of now, Google Currents is not available for iPad users outside the US. This is a major irritant because unlike video and audio, I don’t see any major bandwidth burn from unprofitable territories. Besides, it isn’t like the content is restricted geographically by the publishers, as almost all of the news outlets are available for free on the websites and blogs.
In most cases, competitors to Google Currents offer almost the same sources and those apps can be downloaded by iPad users from anywhere in the world.
Now that I have offloaded my disappointment, it’s time for a couple of accolades. First, Google Currents is a fantastic news reader, which is simple to use and easy on the eyes. Emphasis is on the content and not the eyecandy wrapper, which many startups in the arena generally focus on.
And secondly, discovery is done right. Both established news houses and blogs that serve a niche audience are made available for you to find and read. There are no intrusive ads or suggestions, yet. Forget all the news reader apps I have reviewed and recommended over the last few months, Google Currents is the go to app of mine to consume news. It’s such a delight to use!