RSS and news apps make up one of the more crowded categories at the App Store, spanning the ranges of quality and price. Despite the abundance of RSS apps, they tend to all have similar feature sets, and differentiate themselves based on their interfaces (and often a few gimmicks). NewsBar enters this crowded market with a unique approach to displaying your news feeds, so let’s find out if it’s more than just another flashy fad RSS reader.
News readers tend to use one of two interface approaches: the ‘email-style’ approach, where you have a list of subscriptions and badges letting you know when there are new articles; or the ever-popular ‘paper’ visual metaphor, attempting to replicate the experience of reading a newspaper. NewsBar has a different approach—an auto-updating, unobtrusive vertical bar at the side of your screen, where new stories scroll in at the top the list, and you can read a preview of the article in a bubble displayed when clicked.
The app window has a very minimal UI, with small buttons for minimizing, searching, subscribing, viewing starred articles, or changing settings, and does not behave like a normal app window in that it sticks to the side of the screen and does not have a standard Mac toolbar. Clicking an article brings up a preview in a bubble, and you are given the option to open it in your browser (which you can also do by double-clicking the headline), but unlike many popular RSS readers, it does not support reading the full article within the app.
Disappointingly, NewsBar does not feature keyboard navigation, so you have to scroll and click through the articles. This is definitely a deal-breaker for some, though developer Andras Porffy says it will be included in a future update.
Google Reader Sync
The first task with using an RSS reader is adding subscriptions. In NewsBar, you can either add subscriptions to the app by itself, or sync with Google Reader. If you choose to sync with Google Reader, you have several options for managing your subscriptions (Preferences->Google Reader): importing of all your Google Reader feeds (replacing whichever ones you have added locally); replacing your Google Reader feeds with those you’ve added to NewsBar; or merging NewsBar and Google Reader feeds without removing any of them.
These sync options are one-time actions, meaning there is no constant communication between NewsBar and Google Reader, the syncing only occurs when you tell it to. Depending on your preference, this may be a positive or a negative. Personally I prefer it this way, because I feel like I have more control over my subscriptions. However, if I frequently read my RSS feeds from another location, I’d definitely prefer if subscriptions and read articles synced automatically.
Like most RSS apps, you can add a new subscription with the plus sign at the top of the window, and the URL field will usually be auto-filled from your browser if you have the feed page open.
Subscriptions added to NewsBar are not automatically added to Google Reader, you have to open tell NewsBar to “Sync Now” from the settings menu.
Though its functionality appears very basic at first glance, NewsBar has a lot of customization features that allow you to get the most out of your news.
My favourite feature of NewsBar is the ability ‘watch’ for certain keywords. When an article containing one of your keywords comes in, you can get an alert to sound, and the article will be highlighted in your feed. I found this extremely useful while making travel plans, because I could set it to filter through the many travel deals sites I’m subscribed to.
NewsBar gives you a lot of customization options for both appearance and behavior. You can customize nearly every detail of its appearance, including colors, fonts, opacity, icon size, story height, and highlighted stories. You can choose a refresh rate, a maximum number of stories to display, when to scroll to the top, maximum age of articles shown, and more.
You can also customize the appearance of individual feeds (Settings->RSS then click the ‘Settings’ button while a feed is selected) and adjust font and background color, refresh rate, and number of stories. You can also customize the feed icon by dragging and dropping an image from any source on top of the current icon beside a story.
- Horizontal swipe on trackpad to hide read items
- Marking articles with stars
- OPML import/export
- Multiple display support (though I haven’t tested this)
- Very low CPU usage
Coming in Future Versions
- Auto-removal of read items
- Quick share functions
- Organization into categories
- Twitter integration
NewsBar certainly isn’t for everyone, and doesn’t have a lot of the same features as the most popular RSS apps, like social media integration, Instapaper/ReadItLater support, cloud syncing, or in-app article reading. It’s interface also won’t appeal to some users who like to go through their news items one at a time in an organized way. It’s more suited to those who want to casually browse through headlines without being bothered by alerts or unread story counts. The sticky window also might not appeal to people with limited screen real estate, and would definitely be best on a bigger monitor. I’m also really missing keyboard navigation like I enjoy in Reeder.
Other than the keyboard navigation issue, these ‘missing’ features likely won’t bother the type of user this app is targeted to. NewsBar isn’t a one-size-fits-all reader, but what it does do it does well: lets you scroll casually through headlines, while still making sure you see what’s important with keyword alerts. Add in the extensive customization options and NewsBar starts to look like a serious competitor in this crowded field. You can get a feel for the interface by downloading NewsBar Lite, which will limit you to two feeds. If you’re looking for something a bit different in your RSS reader, I really recommend giving NewsBar a try, it’s a surprisingly powerful and enjoyable little app.