Leaf: A Tiny, Beautiful News Reader

News started on paper, then it went to the television, and now we have digital print. People still read the daily local newspaper and some even request a print edition of The New York Times or Wall Street Journal. It seems to be only a matter of time until print newspapers are completely discontinued. When it is, we’ll all be reading digital articles. So you may as well start finding a nice RSS reader, because it gets awfully tiring visiting all your favorite publications when you wake up.

I was looking around in the news section of the Mac App Store the other day and stumbled upon Leaf, a straightforward approach to news reading. After a bit of usage, I’ve gathered my thoughts on the app.

The Simple Interface

A nice user-friendly interface.

A nice user-friendly interface.

Leaf is beautiful a beautiful little app, though colored more like its namesake in fall than the green you might think of by default. Leaf isn’t designed with skeumorphic or flat beauty, either. Instead, the designer has taken an OS X approach, keeping the app at bare minimum with a nice red bar at the top and round icons for the featured images of articles. I really like the way this design takes no focus away from skimming the titles of what you want to read.

Instead of cluttering your whole feed with author info and timestamps, Leaf puts them both in a nice light font color that draws no attention away from the bold title and featured image. It’s nice to see that the app isn’t trying to be a lot of things, but is instead focusing on one: being a news feed.

The Reading, Searching, and Starring

A short read in a tidy box.

A short read in a tidy box.

From this “news feed” you can click an article and read it in a nice pop-out. Instead of moving to a separate window or transitioning to a new screen in the current one, Leaf’s reading pane is a lot like the small info boxes scattered throughout OS X, like the one you’ll find in the profile picture selection screen of the Contacts app. It’s a sort of micro-browser that Apple started using in Lion. The developers of Leaf have taken it a little further to provide minimal reading experience. When you click an article, the text pops up in a scrollable window to the right. All links will open in your browser. This is a great way to quickly go through the news without having to read each full article.

Leaf uses Notification Center to alert you when news has been posted. The tri-tone sound may be annoying, so just disable sound effects for the app in Notification Center’s System Preferences if you don’t like it.

Searching for news on that PlayStation announcement.

Searching for news on that PlayStation announcement.

So say you read something earlier that you didn’t think about too much then, but later think of it and want to find it again. If you don’t remember what it was, how can you find it? Simply use the search function at the top of the app. It’ll go through everything in the past few months and hopefully you can find what you’re looking for.

Starring an article for reading later.

Starring an article for reading later.

To avoid losing an interesting post, remember to star it either by hovering over the featured image and clicking, or by right clicking the text and selecting Star Article. You can easily access these by clicking the red star button in the top left of the screen.

You can share links with Twitter or Facebook by hovering over the bottom of the reading screen. There’s even an option to copy a link to the article or add it to your Safari Reading List.

The Settings

Since this is an app of minimalism and simplicity, there aren’t many options to name. The ones that are available include refresh intervals, the max number of items per feed and of start items, and even a way to automatically open new articles when they arrive. Sadly, there are no font size adjustments or different sound effect choices for notifications — like maybe the bird sound from Tiny Wings. It’s limited, but that doesn’t mean there’s not more to come.

The App

It's a three-star app. (Out of five.)

It’s a three-star app. (Out of five.)

Just a quick warning: I noticed that Leaf automatically subscribes you to the RSS feed of the developer’s blog. It’s probably to tell you about updates, but there’s no reason for an RSS app to do this.

As a simple reading app, Leaf is great. However, my one major complaint — and I’m sure many others will agree with this — is that it doesn’t support save-for-later services. If you wanted to, say, send that article to Instapaper for a peruse when you get home from work, you’ll have to open it in the browser and go from there. The developer definitely took a minimal approach to things, and sadly, it hurts the app in some areas which it needs to be strong.

I really like the app for use in my daily reading, but what do you think? Let us know in the comments.


Summary

It's probably the most minimal approach to news reading that there can be on a Mac. That's good for most of the app, but when you discover that there's no Instapaper support, it's hard to take the app in as one of your own.

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  • http://sasmith.org Steven Smith

    Yup, looks good. Will wait and see what v1.1 brings to the table.

    I do disagree with: “It seems to be only a matter of time until print newspapers are completely discontinued.” But that’s a whole other conversation.

  • bArt

    Um, no television did not do away with print (including newsprint) and the internet with not cause either television or print to be discontinued either!

  • grandcheval

    Hello there,

    I’m interested in Leaf because the interface seems to be really nice. Ok if you have a different thought of that, loving or not an interface is a personal question of taste.

    I am looking for a nice looking reader to read all my news and I thought Leaf would be the one… but after having a deeper look on their website I found what is for me a killing feature : “A (free) Google Reader account is required to use this app.”
    Here I mean “killing” in a natural way : it has killed my interested for Leaf.
    Why ? Because I’m an anti-google guy. So when I see something require any google stuff… bye bye.

    • http://www.thepapermail.com Jacob Penderworth

      I’m sorry to hear that. Google Reader is used by almost every RSS reader as a way of keeping the feeds in sync. It definitely shouldn’t be a requirement, but I don’t see a problem with using a Google account for just this.

    • quo

      Completely agree with you on this one. I’ve been using Pulp (one of the few RSS readers left that don’t require a Google Reader account), but I find the huge UI a bit overwhelming, especially since I’m using a display with a low native resolution. In addition, according to his blog (http://blog.acrylicapps.com), it seems Pulp won’t be actively developed anymore since the dev is now working at Facebook.

      Too bad, perhaps Leaf may shed the requirement for a Google Reader account in a future update.

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  • http://www.rockysandstudio.com/apps/leaf Rocky Sand Studio Developers

    Version 1.2 of the app is now RSS based instead of Google, and has Pocket sharing.
    http://www.rockysandstudio.com/apps/leaf
    Besides we’ve made the Google based version free, and keep on implementing new sharing features as well.

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