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Google Currents (for Android) Review
Google Currents for Android is a slick news reading app that beautifully presents stories for mobile devices; it may not have the social features or style of Flipboard but it is a strong competitor.
- Enjoyable reading experience
- Slick design
- Some Google Reader integration
- Google News’ breaking headlines
- Already a part of Google
- Includes translations
- Tricky navigation
- Can’t add social media feeds
Google can’t stand to have users doing anything on other platforms, which is perhaps why it launched a free Flipboard (free, four stars) competitor called Google Currents for Android. After a fairly major update, the Currents app still isn’t as social as Flipboard, but it’s getting better and delivers a stylish, magazine-like reading experience on Android phones and tablets.
Flipping Through Currents
Users on Google Play have praised a recent update to Currents that changed the app’s user interface. A hidden left tray, revealed by swiping to the right from the far left, shows several content categories such as business, news, lifestyle, etc. Each of these include subscriptions from major publications, including ABC News, Huffington Post, Popular Science, Saveur Magazine, Forbes, Fast Company, and others by default.
Select a publication, and you can scroll up and down through the stories. You can also select a category, and swipe left and right through the various publications for more of an overview. Each category ends with a “breaking news” section, culled from Google News.
Most stories are visually appealing on Currents, with lots of space, pictures, and comfortably sized text. While browsing, categories are demarcated with a large, beautiful picture, while stories carry a headline, an image, and a blurb. Individual stories are paginated with a large image on the top, and you swipe or tap the left side of the screen to move through the story.
Be careful not to swipe too hard in a story, or you’ll jump into the next in the publication. This quirk can be irritating, but Currents remembers your spot in each story so you can simply jump back into the one you left. On the plus side, it lets you quickly escape a dull article and jump into another.
Current’s navigational paradigm feels a bit problematic at first. The ebook-style format for stories works for articles, and the combination horizontal and vertical scrolling works well for the higher-level view, but together they can be confusing. When I started with the app, I frequently lost my place, and kept panic-mashing the “back” button on the Galaxy S III. After some getting used to it, though, the app feels quite natural.
Adding new publications is easy in Google Currents. A large plus sign on the top of the left-hand tray launches a new pane filled with recommendations, a search field, and categories with more publications. You can also add RSS feeds by searching for a URL. On the Currents website, you can subscribe to publications from a list, and if you’re a publisher, access tools to get your media into the app.
A Flipboard Foe
While Google breaks subscriptions into categories, you add new subscriptions one at a time. This is a critical difference between Currents and Flipboard, which focuses more on adding broad, curated channels than media from publications, and could be a smart move on Google’s part as it may give individual publications more exposure.
Some publishers do a better job adapting their content to the Currents platform than others. ABC News, one of the default publications, has beautiful, high-resolution images for each story. PRI, on the other hand, seems to favor low-res images, all of which look awkward and pixelated in Currents.
Flipboard and Currents also diverge sharply with social media. Both allow you to share stories to Twitter, Facebook, and even online storage services like Google Drive. Google, however, has no place for Twitter or Facebook within Currents. Flipboard treats the services like just another feed, so you can see Facebook updates and Twitter @ replies in your curated Flipboard magazine-esque content, for example. If you want familiar voices in your feed, Currents will leave you wanting.
You can also save stories for offline viewing in Google Currents, but that’s almost not necessary. When the app starts up, Currents appears to immediately download the text for all subscriptions. I found that despite not being connected to a data network, the full text for stories still appeared, sans images. Flipboard, on the other hand, won’t allow you to view anything but headlines without a data connection.
The Benefits of Google
One of the major benefits of Currents is that it’s already part of Google. New users simply need to log in with their Google accounts and start reading.
Google attempted to leverage the success of its online RSS aggregator Google Reader into Currents but with mixed success. You can add RSS feeds from Reader by clicking the plus button at the top of the hidden left-hand navigation tray. Scroll all the way down, and you’ll see a list of your RSS feeds from Google Reader.
Unfortunately, that’s where synergies between the two services end. Read stories don’t sync between Reader and Currents, meaning that you’re effectively choosing one over the other. What’s more, RSS feeds aren’t like the purpose-created publications for Currents, and don’t look nearly as nice. Some of them are just a paragraph with a link to the story online, and may not even have images.
Google leverages another of its technologies by adding a translate option. In the settings menu, users can designate a secondary language from a preset list from a list of over two dozen options. Users can switch language modes from the options menu, translating everything on the page (where available). Of course, if I am correct in assuming this is powered by Google Translate, who knows how accurate it is.
Despite strong features, Google Currents for Android doesn’t feel as focused or polished as Flipboard. Google Currents has its own unique design, and is enjoyable to read, with nicely formatted articles from top-tier sources to draw you in. It fits seamlessly into your existing Google footprint (though perhaps not seamlessly enough, in the case of Google Reader). If you’re a Flipboard user, and it works for you, stick with it. If you’re looking for a new way to read the news on Android, flip through Currents.
By Jeffrey L. Wilson, PCMag
- Type: Personal
- Free: Yes