The makers of Flipboard weren't the first to add a well-designed interface to the typically boring realm of newsfeed delivery, but its app is now the one to beat. Building on the idea that your friends are the best news curators, Flipboard not only presents the links shared on social networks, but also the content behind it.
Click to enlargeFlipboard's interface is second to none. When you first open it, you see blocks that lead to the different sections beyond. The elegant UI offers an enticing visual layout and smooth animations for changing orientations, opening items, and displaying web pages. Unlike with Pulse and Taptu, individual items aren't laid out in uniform blocks, but in chunks of different sizes that emphasize the content in intuitive ways.
Once you tap an item, it expands to show a longer text excerpt, a larger version of an image, or a playable video, depending on the type of content. If the original source is a web page, Flipboard will sometimes load it below the excerpt so users can scroll down to continue reading. If this isn't possible, there's a link to the original page, which opens in a simple in-app browser. All of this navigation is seamless and intuitive.
Flipboard's strength lies in balancing the amount of content to show as a teaser/excerpt. Readers need more than just a few characters to get a good sense of an article or post, but some content providers don't want to give away too much for fear that readers won't click through. When testing the app, we found that we were more likely to click through to the full article and share links than when just reading our Facebook or Twitter newsfeeds.
Users can add multiple sources to Flipboard including social networks (such as Facebook, Flickr, Instagram, and Twitter), RSS feeds imported from a Google Reader account or added individually, content by topic (Art & Photography, Design, News, Sports, and more) and content curated by Flipboard staffers. Each content type gets its own block on the front page (up to 15 per page) and users must browse them individually. You can't look at Facebook and Twitter updates simultaneously, and you also can't view Google Reader feeds and another other RSS feeds at once.
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We're surprised that Tumblr and Reddit aren't among the social networks on offer given the image-heavy nature of the former and the emphasis on link-sharing in the latter.
Click to enlargeFlipboard makes it easy to share content as well. Depending on the source (social network, RSS feed, etc.), users have the option to like, retweet, favorite, or mark items to share with friends. Users can also click the Action icon to e-mail a link to the item or share the link via Facebook, Google Reader, or Twitter. We like that the share interface looks like a postcard.
While Flipboard caches some content for offline reading, the experience is obviously geared toward reading while connected. Users don't have any control over how many items Flipboard pre-loads. The app only loads more content once you get to the final page of each section, which can't be done offline. Also, the cache is limited to text--when offline, only the picture represented on the home page is available once you enter a section. The app isn't even able to save metadata about posts when offline; we couldn't like Facebook posts, mark tweets as Favorites, or star Google Reader articles.
Flipboard isn't just a pretty face. The well-designed interface is backed by a robust feature set, making reading news items and viewing web photos a great experience. We wish the app had better offline support so that travelers and commuters could enjoy it even when the Internet isn't available, but Flipboard offers the best combination of customization and user-friendliness among the news aggregation apps.