It’s old news now that Google Reader is being shut down on July 1st. It’s also old news that finding the perfect news reading apps for your Mac and iPhone is a bit harder than you’d think at first. There’s a ton of options, but if you just want an easy way to get your news fix and keep your read status and subscriptions synced between your devices, it’s not so simple.
Most of the best options today are new web apps, some of which sync with native iOS apps but few of which have native Mac apps. Stalwart Mac RSS apps like NetNewsWire and Reeder are working on their own syncing solutions which will hopefully come before the July 1st deadline.
But NewsBar, a simple Mac and iOS RSS reader, has its own native RSS engine and can keep your subscriptions, read state, and favorited articles synced between your Macs and iOS devices via iCloud. Today. We’ve looked at NewsBar before, but let’s take another look and see what a year — and iCloud sync — has brought to the equation.
A Notification Center for News
For a news reader that keeps you updated without making RSS feel like yet another email inbox to keep up with, NewsBar is a great option. It lives along the left side of your display and is pinned to your desktop by default, so other windows will always float over it. You can tweak that, too, letting it sit on any of your monitors (if you’re lucky enough to have more than one), put it on the right side of your screen, or even put it in a more typical floating window. It’ll also let you tweak the colors and transparency so it’ll fit right in with your wallpaper.
What’s important, though, is how it works as a news reader. First off, syncing works great, quickly fetching updates for the dozen of sites I’m subscribed to. You can read articles right in the app, either by clicking on them or by hitting your spacebar if you turn on the keyboard shortcuts in the settings. The read view isn’t the nicest you’ve ever seen, but it gets the job done, complete with images and clickable links.
Then, NewsBar is deeply integrated with the latest OS X features. There’s an option to send links to Safari’s Reading List, as well as options to share links via iMessage, email, Facebook, or Twitter with native sharing. Beyond that, though, there’s no support for any other bookmarking, reading later, or sharing services. Then, NewsBar looks much like its own Notification Center for news, but you can also set the app to send you push notifications in your OS X Notification Center whenever any new articles come in, or just ones that contain the keywords you’re watching (more on that later). With that, you could possibly just keep NewsBar running without having it open, and use Notification Center itself to keep up with what’s important.
…with a Side of iCloud
If you only needed a nice way to keep up with your RSS feeds on one Mac, then there’s plenty of tools that’ll do that today. The old NewsBar worked for that, as would more popular apps like NetNewsWire and the minimalist Leaf. But today, NewsBar has a leg up on both of them — and most other Mac RSS apps — thanks to its iCloud syncing. The RSS sync engine itself is native to your Mac, but then iCloud is used to sync your feed list and folder structure, starred items, and each item’s read status.
iCloud sync is nice to have even if you only read RSS feeds on your Mac, since it’ll keep your feed list and more backed up in iCloud automatically. It’d also come in handy if, say, you have an iMac at work and a MacBook for on the go, as it’ll keep your feeds and more synced between them both. But, it’s most handy when paired with NewsBar’s $3.99 iPhone app.
iCloud has become somewhat notorious for not being the most flaw-proof syncing service out there. I use iA Writer iCloud-based document sync daily in my workflow, but for many, database based syncing in iCloud has been so bad that it’s had to be cut from may apps from sheer unreliability. NewsBar seems to have avoided the worst of those problems, though, by bypassing Core Data sync and using their own data format for synchronization. NewsBar’s developer, Andras Porffy, told me via email that “There were some minor difficulties related to iCloud, but this is to be expected because sync is never an easy task.”
He’s apparently done quite the good job with tackling the syncing nemesis because, in my tests, NewsBar’s iCloud sync has proved perfect — if perhaps a bit slow. It’s kept new feeds and read status synced between my Mac and iPhone within several minutes of changes on either one, which is definitely nice.
More than Just News
NewsBar has another unique feature in its Notification settings. You can add keywords for topics that are most interesting to you, and when NewsBar syncs an article that contains that word in its title or article content, it’ll both highlight the article in your reading list and will send you a push notification. That feature’s not in the iOS app yet, but when it’s added, the developer promises to add keyword syncing to the default iCloud syncing so you’ll keep up with the most important stuff everywhere.
Then, there’s keyboard shortcuts you can turn on to browse your feeds with your arrow buttons and preview articles with your spacebar. There’s also options to organize your feeds into folders, or import an OPML file of your feeds. You can finally tweak everything in the app’s appearance, from its placement as mentioned before to the colors and fonts used in the app.
And before we forget, NewsBar is perfect for moving away from Google Reader. If you use it today, you can sign in with your Google Account and import all of your RSS feeds and favorites (folders, unfortunately, aren’t synced over). Then, you can turn off Google sync, and everything will be kept in NewsBar, synced via iCloud and ready for Google Reader’s demise.
NewsBar isn’t particularly aimed at RSS power users, or those who are the most demanding of their news app’s features or UI style. It’s rather aimed at getting you a stream of news from all of your RSS feeds, notifying you when really important stuff comes up, and keeping your feeds synced on your Mac and iOS devices sans Google Reader. And for that, it performs admirably.
It’s definitely an app you should try out if you haven’t yet found the perfect Mac alternate to Google Reader, especially if you want one that doesn’t require signing up for yet another web service.