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News apps! Get your News apps!

MSNBC recently added an iPhone app to the store, so we thought it was a good time to take a look at a few news apps.

The gold standard for news on the iPhone is the USA Today app. Love them or hate them, the USA Today punchy writing style feels right at home on the iPhone. News can be received from a wide range of mobile sources, and it's the design of this app that makes it stand out. I would love to have the authors pack my suitcase the next time I travel, since they have found a way to cram an incredible amount of information into a very small package. Using persistent buttons on the bottom of each screen, you can get to Headlines, Sports Scores, Weather, Photo Galleries, and Snapshots (which are a set of insta-polls), from anywhere.

What makes it special is that, along with the local weather, at the top of most category screens there is a sliding set of sub-categories allowing you to get to just what you want in no time. For example, if you wanted to get the score of the Yankees' game, just tap Scores, and the sub-categories of NFL, MBL, NBA, NCAAF and NCAAB appear at the top of the screen. Tap MLB and there it is. Two taps total.

Similarly, tapping Headlines brings up sub-categories of: Top News, News, Money, Sports, Life Tech and Travel. When in any category, tap Top Stories and you can set a default for the type of story you would like to see first. For example, under the sub-category of Money, you can choose to set the default to: Top Stories, Markets, Economy, Cars, Personal Finance or Industry. Set it up once and you'll be able to drill down to specific results in a universe of information with just a few taps.

Tap on Share Article and you can Email, Text, Twitter (your Twitter client can be chosen in the setup pane), or log into Facebook. in all the apps covered here, you can share, but this has the most robust feature set of the lot. The fit, finish and depth of the app is, okay I'll say it -- awesome. Weather is location enabled, the Picture Galleries are extensive and under Snapshots there are nine running polls in each of the four sub-categories of News, Sports, Money and Life. USA Today is not just for hotel rooms anymore.
The brand new MSNBC.com app is smaller in scope but quite a nice addition to mobile news. Upon launching, you are presented with a scrolling list of top stories that can be paused and viewed. The speed of scrolling is customizable. Tap on Menu and you'll know you are in the world of NBC since all the topics are presented on an individual feather in a colorful circle of NBC peacock feathers.

The feather motif is continued throughout the app. Choosing Twitter, for example, brings up the Twitter feeds of nine NBC accounts. The list includes personalities like davidgregory to shows like todayshow, which doesn't happen to be on MSNBC last time I looked, but it's all in the family. You can also choose to read all of them. Adding Twitter feeds and blogs are nice touches providing personality to news reporting. Most Show leaves bring up videos, which can only be played on Wi-Fi. This is somewhat of a limitation. Tapping on Share lets you either Tweet or Email a story. Overall it's a solid and well designed app.

The Rachel Maddow Show app, like that of her parent network MSNBC, was developed by the Zumobi network. In both, the graphic branding is similar. This app looks like the Maddow show with little torn off notes seemingly stuck to the flag background used on air. The content feels like the Maddow show, smart and a bit whimsical. When launched you are brought to a screen with the Mind Over Chatter snippet most prominent.

You can scroll right or left to see more of the screen and find more snippets titled: Photos, Twitter, Media, Newsvine, Wikiquote, Guest List, Podcast and Air America. Since the main screen is really three screens large, it would make sense to use landscape mode, but neither this or any of the other apps mentioned use landscape mode for anything other than playing videos. I would love this to be corrected in a future version. The videos in this app are not limited to Wi-Fi, and work fine on my 3G connection. Under Mind Over Chatter there are tabs containing videos of repeating segments of the show including, Talk Me Down, Scrub, Rinse and Repeat, and Just Enough, along with a segmented version of the latest show.

Being a digital version of the Rachel Maddow Show, it's not surprising to find that the app is a 24/7 Twitterfest. Under just about anything you'll see a Tweet This button and when it's not there (as in the Media category, which brings in show related stories from various places), you'll find it right at the top of the screen as a button. If you choose Twitter you'll get Rachel's feed with a Tweet button on top that will let you send a Tweet, but not read it after it's sent.

There are a few things that can't be tweeted; quotes from her Wiki, or Podcasts which provide either video or audio of the last full show (a nice touch, by the way). On the downside there are a few missteps, like choosing Newsvine which purports to contain related links for each show. What you find, however, aren't links at all, but a few topics covered on the show in plain text that often seem cut off in mid-stream.

I like this app quite a bit. It's not as polished and strictly organized as the USA Today app, but it feels like the show, wry, friendly and welcoming, nailing the personality of the Rachel Maddow Show perfectly.

OK, after so much from the left, what has the right to offer? Fox News doesn't really have a news app. What they do have is the Fox News U-Report app which contains no news at all. This app accesses the camera to take a picture that can be sent to Fox News for potential on-air usage. That's it.

I've listed the apps in order of how much real news they provide with USA Today's being all news, MSNBC being news and commentary and Rachel Maddow's being news, commentary and attitude. Personally I'd like to see more attitude. It's fun and makes the news so much more entertaining. I can't wait for Keith Olbermann to release an app. I can already see the picture of my iPhone screen cracking.

Note: we covered the AP News app back in May, although the latest version adds push notifications.

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