The Mac has yet to see a ton of brand new RSS reader apps to fill in the gaps left by Google Reader’s death. There’s the new NetNewsWire 4 beta, and a handful of other apps with native RSS syncing, but old giants like Reeder still haven’t updated to sync with the most popular new RSS services. Instead, ReadKit has emerged as the best app to sync with the major RSS services today, despite its roots as an reading later app.
And now, another reading later app has added RSS syncing: Words. It was already a reading later app that synced with Instapaper, Readability, and Pocket that we’d covered before that’s now added native RSS syncing.
A Focus on Newspaper-style Reading
Words App has grown up a lot from the first time we reviewed it. It’s always been an app to bring Readability, Pocket, and Instapaper to your Mac, but originally only gave you a very basic reading view. It then got a fully new UI when version 2 was launched, one that makes it perhaps the most unique reading app on the Mac. Since then, it’s gotten brand-new article view templates, each with a light and dark reading mode and optimized for single or multiple-column reading. It’s with multiple column reading that Words app really shines, as few other apps are designed for this. With multiple columns and the Traditional theme, you could be forgiven for thinking you were reading an article in a real newspaper.
There’s one thing you might not expect, though: dynamic fonts. Similar to iA Writer, Words automatically resizes the text of your articles based on the window size. The changes aren’t too drastic, though, so there’s an option in the settings for standard or larger base text. There’s also no way to change the reading fonts, as they’re hard-set to the themes. The good thing is, the themes’ font choices look very nice, so there’s little to complain about there.
What you can complain over, though, is that Words app doesn’t ever remember the window size you used last time when you reopen it, so you’ll always find yourself stretching it back out to get your fonts readable. That’s a mild annoyance we’d like to see fixed.
Then, the new headline feature is that Words app now has its own built-in RSS syncing engine. You can’t sync with any RSS services, but rather can add your favorite sites’ RSS feeds individually, or import your OPML file from Google Reader or other RSS services for native syncing. There’s only one setting for your feeds: an option to turn on or off Automatic Rendering. By default, Words will fetch the full article from your feeds, not just the text contained in the RSS feed. That way, if someone you follow shortens their articles in the RSS, you’ll still get the full article in Words. Or, if they make a link post (as John Gruber’s Daring Fireball is known for), Words will show the original post rather than the link post summary.
Once Words syncs your feeds, you’ll have the same great reading view for everything your favorite sites publish online. Words works best with long-form articles, especially since the reading settings for your read later services and RSS feeds are the same, but that generally works out ok since it fetches the full articles from link posts.
The only problem is, Words is rather pokey at syncing feeds. It’s good for reading, but is far from real-time. It also doesn’t give you any way to send articles to your reading list in Instapaper or Pocket, which seems odd considering that it does let you drag-and-drop articles but doesn’t seem to do anything when you do so. You’ll also find an option to “like” and “archive” RSS feed articles, but it doesn’t seem to do anything with your liked and archived articles, unlike in the reading later section. The RSS side of things definitely needs a bit of attention — it works, but it’s not quite ready for primetime.
Words App isn’t perfect, but there’s a lot in it to love. Its new themes, responsive text, and nice multi-column reading view definitely makes it stand out in a market saturated by Reeder lookalikes. The option to parse the full linked articles in RSS feeds rather than showing the original link post is neat, though it’d have been nicer to have a way to see both the linked post and the original post.
It’s not the app for people who live and die by RSS feeds. If you really want the very fastest native RSS reader, you need to get the new NetNewsWire 4 beta. And if you want an RSS reader that’ll sync with the best new RSS services and reading later services, you need to get ReadKit 2. Those are the best — the apps to beat — right now.
But, everyone doesn’t need that. Some just want to keep up with a few feeds, in addition to the articles you’ve curated in your reading later service. For that, Words is perfect. It gives you a nice place to read, one much more like a newspaper or magazine than other apps. Even if it’s slower than the competition at syncing feeds, that won’t matter if RSS isn’t the biggest deal in the world to you.
Now, we just hope it takes the features it has right now, and irons out the bugs and speeds up the sync engine to make it an app that’s easier for anyone to love.