Review – NewsBreak 2.0 – A Major Upgrade!


I’m an RSS addict, or something close to that. Maybe an RSS Fiend at the very least. I don’t know if there are any support groups for RSS addicts or fiends – maybe there are, but with no meetings just an RSS feed (Eek).

Just on my Cingular 8525, I run NewsBreak, Spb Insight, and NewsGator Go, and as of recently, Netvibes Mobile. On the desktop, I use Netvibes with a ton of feeds as my home page, and also frequently look at Bloglines, Google Reader, and NewsGator.

I honestly think RSS, while being simple, is probably one of the top technical advances of the last 10 years (or however long it’s been around). It is our most effective weapon in the fight against Information Overload.

So, I have long considered NewsBreak a real Best Friend application. It has traditionally been my favorite and most often used out of all the RSS apps I’ve mentioned above, counting both mobile and desktop apps in the mix! There are very few mobile apps that I genuinely use heavily every single day – Pocket Informant to keep my life just about organized, PhatNotes, and NewsBreak to keep me in touch with all the news I want to follow. And out of those three, I think on a lot of days, NewsBreak gets the most use.

So an update to NewsBreak feels more ‘personal’ to me than upgrades to most applications do, a little like a best friend signing up for an extreme makeover. Will its strongest points remain intact, or get weakened by a shift in focus or the addition of new features?  Will the update be a damp squib – leaving you wondering where any real change or improvement has come?

Read on for my thoughts on this major upgrade to a best friend program …

 

NewsBreak – What Does It Do?

Our own dgoldring has done a great review of the previous version of NewsBreak just a month ago – so I won’t spend too much time here introducing what the application is all about.  It’s an RSS reader and aggregator – helping you to find, organize, update, and keep up with all of your favorite and essential RSS feeds.  For further background, see dgoldring’s review HERE.

What’s New

Here’s how I would summarize the most striking things about this new version:

  • Podcast and Video Support
  • Much, much prettier
  • Added MS Live Search as option when looking to add channels
  • Don’t re-invent the wheel

Podcast & Video Support:

This was NewsBreak’s one weak area prior to this new version. It did not really handle audio and video content at all before this. As an increasing number of feeds offer podcast and video content, this became more and more of a nuisance. To be fair, very few mobile RSS products really handle this area very slickly – that is to say, several offer audio / video handling, but (in my view) they don’t do it that well.

NewsBreak 2.0 now does audio and video support very, very well. It has very slick icons to clearly indicate when there is audio or video content attached to a post, and allows you to download this content (very rapidly on the two devices I’ve tested on) while happily carrying on browsing other channels and reading other content.  As with nearly everything in NewsBreak, you can make use of the Soft Key menus to choose to download, save, and play audio and video items.

 

You also get a nice little status bar to show how far along your download is.  

Once your podcast (or video) is downloaded, you can choose to save it (to main memory or card of course) or to play it directly. NewsBreak does not yet have its own player built in for this purpose, so it takes you out to Windows Media Player when you choose to play an item. I am fine with the jump to Windows Media Player for playing content – I’m not concerned about Ilium developing its own (almost inevitably) clunkier little in-program player to use for this.

For any feeds that you know regularly have audio and video content that you’re interested in, there are a specific set of options for you in terms of whether you would like to set NewsBreak to automatically download this content, and if so, whether to do this always or only when connected to your PC (as shown below).

It’s Much Prettier

Don’t get me wrong. NewsBreak was never ugly or terrible to look at. It just always struck me as pretty basic, a ‘Plain Jane’ sort of appearance.

Version 2.0 has significantly enhanced the look and feel of the program. Even the new program icon is a lot fresher and cleaner looking. To give you a little better idea of how much nicer NewsBreak looks across the board now, here’s a couple of comparison screencaps – from Dgoldring’s review a month ago on the old version (on the left) vs. the new version in some common program areas:

Channels Listing:

Individual Article:

 

The new version seems to just be a lot stronger at delivering graphics within the news items.

Other New Enhancements:

Some of the other more notable enhancements in NewsBreak 2.0 are:

- Microsoft Live Search included for adding new channels
- Save podcasts for later use
- Schedule when and how to download podcasts separately from channel updates
- Choose the maximum memory usage for podcast storage
- Store podcasts in main memory or on a storage card
- Improved menus for one-handed navigation
- Set the maximum number of channels to save
- New keyword icons plus 6 additional icons and an updated appearance

The addition of MS Live Search on the search for new channels is a very welcome change too. The searches seem to bring back more and richer results (by far) than I can recall getting in previous versions.

Oh … and one other little change that I have to give a thumbs-up to – Just Another Mobile Monday has been added to the list of feeds under the PDA category when you search for new channels from a known list. You’ll want to place a check in that box for sure!

Don’t Re-Invent The Wheel

Wisely – very wisely I feel – NewsBreak have not tried to revamp every single area of the program in this new version, or radically change many of the standard ways you work with it.

In my view, NewsBreak has for a long time been THE standard-bearing mobile RSS app. It has always been a rock solid application – as in nearly never crashes, plays nicely with other apps running, does not hog system resources and so on. And it’s always been incredibly easy to use. No manual required to get going and using it within minutes. Oh, and exceptionally easy to use one-handed. 

And in this new version all of those things are still true, perhaps even more so – as Ilium have made one-handed operation even better – with nearly every activity and operation within the program geared towards one-handed use, and with excellent usage of the Soft Keys. I pretty much never get a stylus out when using NewsBreak.

One thing I have always loved about NewsBreak is that it allows me to easily do something with news items, not just look at them. In very few taps, I can email myself or a colleague a link to an article, for example. I do this all the time, and find it immensely useful.  This is something that nearly all other mobile RSS apps have failed to incorporate. They force you to follow a link out to Pocket IE in order to do anything with an item – defeating the purpose of having a simple, speedy RSS app to work with.

NewsBreak also offers a great range of options for how often you let it automatically update itself, and when (if ever) you want notifications from it. Most of these options can be set by individual channel as well as globally.

There are also just a wealth of great little ease-of-use features built into NewsBreak – many of these are simple things, but simple things that make using the app a pleasure. Just as one small for-instance, the quick one tap choice of displaying all channels, or only those that have new / unread content:

Nobody’s Perfect

Despite all its charms, there are a few places where NewsBreak could still improve.  My top wish list items would be:

  • ‘Sort By’ preferences should be something that can be set globally. Sort By is where you determine in what order the news items for a channel are displayed – from newest to oldest (or vice-versa), by status (read or unread), or by keywords (as in, items that contain any keywords you’ve defined, are displayed first). At the moment, you need to set these preferences for each channel, and the default is by status. My preference is always to see the items displayed from  newest to oldest – I want to see newest / hottest news first. And when you have a large number of feeds in your channel list, it is a pain to have to switch the default on each one.
  • The Today plugin is not up to much. It does not have very many options to set and I never use it.  It needs to either be dropped altogether, or to have more options and ‘bells & whistles’ added to it.
  • It would be great if there was a desktop or online application to sync NewsBreak with. 

Conclusions:

As I’ve said, I’ve been a long-time fan of NewsBreak and a firm believer that it is THE leading mobile RSS application. Version 2.0 has only made me a bigger fan and more convinced that NewsBreak continues to be the leader in its field!

My good friend’s makeover was not extreme, it was just right. One major weak area (audio and video handling) was addressed and is now a real strong point for the program. Ease of use and handsomeness of the UI were enhanced. And all the wonderful, solid things about the application remain intact or steadily improved.

If you’re already a NewsBreak user, this upgrade will make you happy if just for the slight UI tweaks and the excellent podcast handling.  If you’ve never tried NewsBreak yet, well then you need to!

I believe that Mobile RSS apps is a category with rich pickings for users – there are a large number of worthwhile products in this area. But … NewsBreak is still The One that all the others need to keep pace with. And NewsBreak 2.0 has just set the bar a little higher for them.

Vital Statistics:

Name: NewsBreak

Version: 2.0

Platform:

  • Windows Mobile Pocket PC 2003, 2003SE and Windows Mobile 5.0
  • Windows Mobile Smartphone 2003SE and Windows Mobile 5.0
  • Windows Mobile 6 Classic, Standard and Professional

Developer: Ilium Software 

Available From: Ilium Software

JAMM Store

Price: $7.95 on special offer until March 15 – see Ilium link for full pricing details

NewsBreak is a JAMM Essential Application.  Purchase it at the JAMM Store and use the coupon code JAMM-Essentials to receive 15% off the purchase price.

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  1. #1 by spmwinkel on March 6, 2007 - 3:32 pm

    I’ll read this soon Patrick, but I really appreciate a review so soon after the release. :)
    Not a lot of time now, but thanks! ;)

  2. #2 by Brandon Steili on March 6, 2007 - 9:52 pm

    Great stuff Patrick. Just bought my upgrade…. Looking forward to what this can do on the BlackJack!

  3. #3 by Rich on March 7, 2007 - 8:00 pm

    I can’t live with a mobile RSS reader that doesn’t sync to my desktop subscriptions. If I read a feed in one place, I don’t want to reed the same entries in the other.

    I use Google Reader, and though the mobile version is OK, what I really want is a native app that syncs with it.

    Anyone solve this problem?

  4. #4 by dgoldring on March 7, 2007 - 9:09 pm

    There is a mobile version of Google Reader??

    To be honest, Outlook 2007 has a great RSS reader. If Newsbreak would sync with that…that would be perfect.

    Doug

  5. #5 by Iliumsoft on March 8, 2007 - 9:59 am

    For those of you who want desktop sync, we hear you. It’s something we’re thinking very hard about over here so if you’ve got ideas, requests, or suggestions send em (support@iliumsoft.com)! We’ll listen!
    - Marc @ Ilium Software

  6. #6 by dgoldring on March 8, 2007 - 10:06 am

    Thanks, Marc.

    One thing I can say about Ilium Software. When they say they will listen, that is not just lip service. They really do a great job of paying attention to their customers and tailoring their programs to include the options their customers need most. I saw this with the jump from eWallet 4 to 5, and again with NewsBreak 2.0 which was released this week.

    Ilium’s attention to their customers is second to none.

    Doug

  7. #7 by JonM on March 9, 2007 - 12:35 am

    Hi Rich –

    FreeRange is currently beta testing a new version (Java and Blackberry only at the moment) that syncs with Google Reader. You can download the software OTA to your phone from http://f.mwap.at

    Once you have an account, you can go to our server from your desktop, log in and select Google Reader as the management option. Enter your Google Reader username and password and they will be synced.

    It’s not quite as tight an integration as NewsGator GO, but it’s great if you like Google Reader.

    Thanks,

    Jon Maroney
    FreeRange
    http://www.freerangeinc.com

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