Reeder vs. Byline - Mobile RSS Reader Review

by Mike Levin SEO & Datamaster, 08/12/2010

I read my custom tailored news every morning on Reeder on my iPhone, for its wonderful one-swoosh mark-as-read feature. I do this offline on the subway one-handedly, with my large Dunkin Donuts coffee in the other. Thanks to Friendfeed, I share my interesting articles as I go to Twitter with the app’s Google-share button, and curse Reeder for not letting me send items to Instapaper for later offline full article reading.

As a small consolation prize, I send the interesting article links to my work email address, since that feature works offline, and lament that I’m not using Byline anymore, which could send items to Instapaper while offline. Of course it just synced up when online–but that’s the exact right behavior. But I’m choosing Reeder’s one-swoosh mark-as-read feature over Byline’s offline Instapaper tagging.

( UPDATE: I discovered a seemingly undocumented “one-swoosh” mark-as-read feature in Byline, if you start your finger in exactly the right spot over the blue dot. There’s no visual feedback, except for the blue dot disappearing if you do it right. It’s nowhere near as nice as Reeder’s great visual feedback, but given Byline’s offline goodness, I just may be going back. )

Byline also has a wonderful right/left swooshing motion reminiscent of eBooks to flip between ARTICLES once you’ve drilled down into the article–but if you have hundreds of articles to catch up on, this is very tedious and inferior to Reeder’s swish convenience on the headline list.

So in other words, Byline is better if you’re offline a lot, have fewer articles to read, like the flipping-between-article experience, and are often interested in the full version of the article later on in Instapaper. This is all the more true because Byline by default caches the entire full version of the article. I rarely let it do that, unless I have WiFi. But bottom line is that Byline is better for getting at the full article, both from offline Instapaper tagging and built-in full article caching.

Reeder is better if you have hundreds of articles to read, but mostly only skim headlines, and are much less interested in the in-article experience, and are willing to jump through hoops for Instapaper. Despite all the wonderful advantages of Byline, I still fit into this later category, and Reeder is hitting my sweet spot. I simply have to scan a large set of headlines and mark them read as quickly as possible (without article drill-down). As much as I want to keep Byline, Reeder has the killer RSS feature for me. It was so much the case, that I had actually deleted Byline from my apps.

I should have prefaced this article with the fact that I started out with on the iPhone with NetNewsWire on day one, moved to NewsStand, then to Byline, and briefly tried out a host of others like MobileRSS, Feedler and Pulse (yes, I have an iPad too). I used to socially share my news merging my shared items from Google Reader and NewsGator with Yahoo Pipes and format it through a PHP proxy for widget-like integration on my website. I’ve been doing this since the Samsung i700 PDA phone, and later on the Sony Ericsson Headline app. So as you can see, I am a long-time hard-core addicted RSS news consumer.

But what inspired me to write this review this morning is actually a new situation that both pleases and frustrates me. And that is the discovery of HackerNews from Paul Graham’s YCombinator. I’ve heard about it for awhile, and finally gave it a chance in my RSS reader, and the good is that it covers dozens of articles of great interest to me that I usually miss. The bad is that the RSS feed only contains headlines, but no article content, and therefore requires ANYTHING you’re interested in to be processed for later reading.

That is EXACTLY the sore-spot of Reeder, which I have settled on. If I were on Byline still, this would be no problem, because I’d just tap the Send to Instapaper button that works offline. But in Reeder, it’s a pain in the ass, sending myself emails and emails, then having them waiting in my in-bin when I arrive to work for subsequent drill-down into a Web browser and then Instapaper bookmarklet clicking–while at work.

The solution is half-assed, but I’m doing it now anyway. I’m re-installing Byline on my iPhone, and filtering out everything but HackerNews. Now, whenever I go down into the subway, I have two RSS feeders that I have run to let grab and store the latest RSS feeds while I wait in line for coffee.

UPDATE: After having re-installed Byline on my iPhone 4, I have found that it has made HackerNews usable. HackerNews has THE BEST article headlines listed for my entrepreneur / developer demographic, but no article content. Having the offline Instapaper feature, plus caching of full-article content when broadband is available, is absolutely perfect with Byline, and I find myself once again cursing Reeder and Byline for not being the combined ultimate app. So for now, TWO RSS readers, it is.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Good trails are worn into trails through habit. Reeder is still winning, due to its superior user interface. It’s silly, but the left/right swooshing motion turns out to be more important than the full-article caching on sync, namely because the Hacker News feed has become just so overwhelming that if I go a few days, it has to resync a thousand articles. As a solution, I googled how to manage Hacker News overload. I am consequently trying to get Byline into my daily habits through a much smaller list of “voted up” articles. If Byline is listening, you could become my favorite iPhone RSS reader simply by letting you mark articles as deleted without drilling down on the article, and without making it feel like a smacking a pinyatta blindfold (tapping blue dot and swooshing right with no visual feedback until you succeed).