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TUAW review and giveaway: Pulse News Reader

A few days ago, I did a quick first look at Pulse News Reader for iPad. It's a very different RSS reader for the iPad platform, developed by two Stanford grad students. Since that post, I've had enough time to really give the app a try and I'm happy to say it's now my RSS reader of choice.

The concept of Pulse (US$3.99) is different from most RSS readers. As you can see in the gallery at the bottom of this post page, Pulse provides a manageable grid of boxes on the iPad display instead of trying to cram as many post headlines into as little space as possible. Each row of boxes is a feed, with the most recent post in a box on the left and older posts streaming to the right.

The app is fast. One of my major complaints about some of the other news readers is that while they're out pulling in new feed info, they just bog down. Likewise, some of the other iPad news readers I've used have a tendency to really slow down when they're syncing read status.

That's not the case with Pulse. Since it currently allows a maximum of 20 feeds and the last 40 posts for each feed, it's fast to update. In fact, it's usually done updating feeds by the time the Pulse splash screen disappears.

As I mentioned during a demo of Pulse during yesterday's TUAW TV Live, not everyone is going to like this app. But for those of us who want to view their 20 favorite feeds in a easily readable manner, Pulse is an outstanding choice.

When Pulse is launched, there's about a three-second wait while many of the posts are loaded behind a splash screen. When the feeds appear, you immediately see three of them listed in landscape mode or four in portrait orientation. I love the clean interface of Pulse; it's not cluttered with buttons or icons, but filled with news and pictures. The two visible buttons in the main interface are a gear (settings) and a heart (about/feedback). Tap the heart, and you see a short About screen with a "Got Feedback" button. Tapping the latter button opens Mail so you can send the development team your ideas or questions.

Under settings, there are four main tabs -- Manage, Search, Featured, and Google Reader. Manage is used to delete feeds or change the order in which they are displayed. Want to move TUAW to the top of the list? Just tap on the right side of the TUAW feed button and drag it to the top. Want to delete Gizmodo? Tap the minus button.

To add news sources to your feed, use the Search tab. Pulse makes finding feeds as easy as searching keywords. I wanted to add one feed about the Denver area to Pulse, so I searched "Denver." A list of feeds appeared from various sources, so I picked one and added it in. Total time from deciding to add a Denver news feed to reading it? About 7 seconds.

The third tab, Featured Sources, lists a bunch of feeds you should read. Finally, there's a Google Reader tab that integrates Google's Web-based RSS reader into Pulse.

When you tap on any one of the boxes containing a post, the text of the post (and a thumbnail image) are displayed in a large window. In portrait orientation, the post takes up most of the screen. Three buttons appear at the bottom -- one is used to adjust the text size to your liking, the next allows you to share a link through Twitter, Facebook, or email, and the home button closes the post and takes you back to the full screen.

You also have your choice of reading the post on its original Web site. Tap the Web button at the top of the post, and the page immediately appears. Tap Text again, and you're back in text-only mode. When you're looking at a page in Pulse's built-in browser, there's also a button to view it in Safari if that's your desire.

While in portrait orientation, there's a way to make the text or Web version of the post "take over" the entire screen just by touching a small blue tab on the name of the feed. Touch it again, and the entire feed stream appears again. I usually prefer to use most iPad apps in landscape orientation, but Pulse works so well in portrait that I almost always use it in that orientation.

Is there anything I don't like about Pulse? Well, I would like to see them raise the seemingly arbitrary limit of 20 feeds, unless that slows down the app. I noticed that the author information for posts is not visible, and I've asked the developers to add that vital bit of information into a future update. I'd love to be able to view video in the text view of a post, something that the developers are apparently working on. Finally, the border of the settings popover is black. The background on the feeds is black. Setting the border to a dark gray would be nice so that the settings popover and the buttons at the bottom don't blend into the feeds. Other than those four changes, I seriously hope they don't tamper with success.

In comparison with my previous iPad news reader, NewsRack ($4.99), Pulse seems more like an Apple app -- in other words, it pares down functionality to just the bare necessities. Sure, NewsRack let me add Twitter and Delicious feeds and bookmarks, but I found that was just bogging me down from what I wanted to do, which was read news. NewsRack took a lot of time to mark items as "read," something I don't worry about with Pulse. NewsRack does allow the viewing of videos that are in specific posts, which was nice.

The NewsRack interface is just cluttered and somewhat confusing. I can tell that the Pulse developers put a lot of thought into every element of the user interface and did away with unnecessary buttons, windows, and screens. Do I miss some of the functionality of NewsRack? Not really. I felt that reading feeds in NewsRack was almost a chore; with Pulse, it's enjoyable. The result? I use Pulse a lot more than I ever used NewsRack.

Now here's the fun part! We want to give away copies of Pulse to a pair of TUAW readers. Check out the details of the giveaway below:
  • Open to legal US residents of the 50 United States, the District of Columbia, and Canada who are 18 and older.
  • To enter, leave a comment with the name of the RSS feed you would like to read in Pulse
  • The comment must be left before midnight on Sunday, June 6th, 2010, 11:59PM Eastern Daylight Time.
  • You may enter only once.
  • Two winners will be selected and each will receive one promotional code for a copy of Pulse for iPad
  • Click Here for complete Official Rules.
Good luck!

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