Google Currents: A Second Read

One of the merits of mobile technology is its ability to be used as a source of information, no matter where you are or what you’re doing. In the era of mobile technology we currently find ourselves in, there’s so much information to digest that it becomes rather overwhelming. Lucky for us then, that there are some very intelligent app developers that create methods in which to control the information overflow.

Between Reeder, Instapaper and Flipboard, it’s easy to find an content delivery app that’s best suited to your personality. Another option to consider is Google Currents, which was introduced in September 2011. The app has been a somewhat popular choice amongst iPad users (currently the 81st most popular free News app in the App Store), but a recent update to version 2.0 aims to bring Google Currents on par with the aforementioned apps. Hit to jump to learn if Google Currents is now in fact one of the best news consumption apps for the iPad.

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Background

In a previous review from our own Justin Stravarius, he states that Google Currents is “a fantastic news reader, which is simple to use and easy on the eyes.” He also highlights some additional strong points, which include the app’s emphasis on content discovery by making established news sources (e.g. The Huffington Post) and blogs available for users. He also points out that the app is free from intrusive ads and suggestions. I most certainly invite to readthe rest of Stravarius’ review to get a better contrast on how the app has changed in version 2.0.

The UI for the previous version of Google Currents.

The UI for the previous version of Google Currents.

The Editions Sidebar

In the previous version of Google Currents, content was accessed on the home page in one of two sections: Library (contains thumbnails to user-selected content sources) and Trending (top trending news stories generated by Google). This method of providing content has been done away in version 2.0 in favor of the Editions sidebar. Editions are individual news sources (e.g. CNET, Men’s Health, Game Informer) and are also referred to as subscriptions (in hopes to adequately confuse users, I suppose).

The Editions sidebar makes it easy to jump between news sources.

The Editions sidebar makes it easy to jump between news sources.

The sidebar separates editions by categories (e.g. News, Lifestyle, Sports), which can be expanded and minimized by tapping on an individual category — an action that should be familiar to those that have used the YouTube app. The app provides a set of editions to get you started, which can removed by tapping the Edit icon (it looks like a pencil), tapping the delete button control and then tapping the Delete button.

The process for deleting editions should be pretty standard to most iPad users.

The process for deleting editions should be pretty standard to most iPad users.

The switch from a home page to a sidebar is definitely a plus, as it provides the ability to quickly jump to different editions with ease. However, an annoyance of the sidebar is that you can’t easily delete an entire category at once, which would be helpful when you’re starting out. I imagine this lack of functionality is a safeguard against accidentally deleting all of your editions at once, which seems unnecessary when you consider that it requires two taps to delete anything. I’d also like to see an option to rename editions, which would be particularly helpful when adding subscriptions from Google Reader since customized names don’t carry over.

Adding Subscriptions (Editions)

One area of Google Currents that should be a seamless experience is adding new editions, but alas, that’s not the case. The process begins by tapping the Add Subscriptions (why not Add Editions?) button in the Editions sidebar. From here, the page will need a few seconds to load a list of editions for each category. The main page provides three options for each category, and you can tap the arrow icon in a category’s header to browse a list of additional options.

The Add Subscriptions page features a wonderfully designed interface.

The Add Subscriptions page features a wonderfully designed interface.

If you spot an edition you like and would like to make it available in your library, tap the “Add for free” button. I often had to tap this button a few times to get it to register, and ultimately found it best to perform a tap and hold until it turned a darker shade of blue. Overall, adding new subscriptions works pretty smoothly, but I encountered a major issue when attempting to add feeds from my Google Reader account. After tapping the “Add for free” button, it would change to indicate the feed was added to my library, but would revert back to the “Add for free” button almost immediately. Most often the feed would be added, but in one case I unable to add a feed, even after several attempts.

The use of "library" is only used in the Add Subscriptions section, which falls in line the inconsistent naming scheme.

The use of “library” is only used in the Add Subscriptions section, which falls in line the inconsistent naming scheme.

Browsing & Reading Articles

The manner in which you interact with content has changed quite a bit in version 2.0. Borrowing from the Google+ app’s UI, article previews are now displayed in a grid as thumbnails that vary in size, and thumbnails perform a zoom and fade effect as you scroll. If provided, you can narrow the stories by a specific section, like the Reviews and Features section of Engadget, by tapping the edition’s icon in the header (another UI feature borrowed from Google+). If you wish to switch editions, you can do so by flicking left or right.

The new editions layout.

The new editions layout.

Once you’ve found an article that you’d like to read, tap the thumbnail and the story will load. Similar to Flipboard, articles are spread out in pages (indicated by a progress bar at the bottom of the screen) and require you to flick left to switch pages; the same action will also transition into the next article once you’re on the final page of the current article (or previous article if you flick right from the article’s first page).

You'll need to flick left to go to the next page in an article.

You’ll need to flick left to go to the next page in an article.

The Menu button in the lower left corner provides a single column menu of a few choice stories in each section of the edition. When you return to the main page of an edition, you’ll find that thumbnail image of articles you viewed change from color to black and white, which is a really cool method of visually indicating you’ve already read that story.

Giving users the option to browse articles without leaving a story is a nice touch.

Giving users the option to browse articles without leaving a story is a nice touch.

All in all, I found the the navigation scheme to be a bit daunting at first, but ultimately easy to get the hang of it after a short time. The overall browsing and reading experience, though, has a few gaping issues. As I scrolled between articles, I’d come across multiple blank pages that would eventually lead to the next article. Attempts to use the search function in order to find stories would often lead me to staring at my iPad while an article refused to load. The oddest issue of all, though, were instances in which I would tap an image for an expanded view and a different image (often having nothing to to do with article) would load instead, or the image simply wouldn’t expand despite multiple taps.

I know Google apps use a lot of white space, but they may be overdoing it here.

I know Google apps use a lot of white space, but they may be overdoing it here.

The Bottom Line

Even though Google Currents is has been upgraded to version 2.0, it feels half-baked. Along with issues previously detailed, the app would often freeze up for multiple seconds, especially after adding a new subscription. Perhaps this is a personal preference, but the app is also missing an option to sort content. By default, articles are sorted by popularity with no option to sort chronologically. As a source of providing news, it seems odd that articles from the previous day would take precedent over more recent stories. Another personal annoyance comes in the form of a single sound effect that’s used whenever you tap anything, but luckily it can be turned off in the settings.

If the Google developers in charge of Google Currents were to correct these issues, there’s no doubt that the app would stand toe-to-toe with the likes of Flipboard. The design of Google Currents is beautiful and minimal, and navigating content is a breeze once you’re familiar with the new scheme. But, as it stands now, Google Currents just has too many bugs and flaws to be considered anything else but a somewhat decent option for a news consumption app.


Summary

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