Byline iPhone App Review: For People with Dozens of RSS Feeds to Read, Byline Does the Trick.

Google Reader has become one of the most popular RSS feed readers available. It’s clean, comfortable to use service that funnels content from all of your favorite websites into one convenient location. To find a comparable iPhone application is not a simple way. Enter Byline ($3.99) by Phantom Fish Software, a Google Reader client for the iPhone and iPod Touch.

Google Reader has Never Been Cleaner:

What is immediately noticeable when Byline first launched the sparseness of the application’s home screen? Rather than clutter the interface with free buttons and other assorted eye-candy, Phantom Fish created a UI that is both easy on the eyes and easy on the fingers. Each menu option is large enough for even the pudgiest of fingers to touch accurately.

By default, there are folders for “New Items,” “Starred Items” and “Notes” that correspond to their Google Reader counterparts. If the user has created any other folders in the Google Reader web application, those will load on Byline’s home screen. Folders comprise of unread items which shows little blue badges and inside white unread counts, in the base of the screen, a toolbar displays options to refresh the feeds and add new notes.

Syncing Done Right with Byline and Google Reader:

Byline delivers on its promise of seamless synchronization with Google Apps (Gapps) Reader. When the app launched, all unread and starred, stories are downloaded and cached locally. Once an account is marked as “read”, then that change is sent to the Google Reader (as long as an Internet connection is present). Also, any notes created on the device are automatically synced back up to Google and vice versa.

If the user lacks cell phone reception or a Wi-Fi connection, any changes made on the device will sync up as soon as the signal restored. Automatic data synchronization is the killer feature for Byline, as it would be frustrating to catch up on 200+ articles via the web-based Google Reader, only to have to weed through them again on a third-party iPhone application.

Byline Takes Your Feeds Offline:

Downloaded feeds, including all images and text, are cached locally on the user’s iPhone. Clicking on a link within a particular news item will open the page using Byline’s built-in web browser. All pages (and their content) accessed via this browser are also cached locally, making Byline the perfect RSS reader for frequent-fliers.

The user has to download the content before a flight, then catch up on unread feeds with the iPhone in airplane mode. When the plane lands, the user can turn off airplane mode and have everything automatically synced back up to Google. Syncing works exceptionally well and is almost instantaneous, depending on the available connection.

Byline’s Not-So-Minor Problems:

Phantom Fish incorporated a useful landscape mode for reading feeds and navigating the app but didn’t think to include it in note creation. The user must still fumble with the finicky portrait-oriented keyboard to compose new notes.

Besides, when the device turns on its side, the home screen’s bottom toolbar vanishes, taking with it not only the “New Note” button but also the “Refresh” button. To restore this toolbar, the user must reorient the device vertically.

Finally, while Google Reader allows feed items to be marked as unread, or send them to services like Instapaper and Twitter, Byline does not offer any of those options. Many people use Instapaper or Read It Later to store long articles for postponed reading. For Byline to be a truly killer RSS app, it has to let users mark items as unread and save them to external web services, just like Google Reader.

Final Thoughts about Phantom Fish’s Byline:

Other than the flaws above, Byline is the RSS app other RSS apps aspire to be. With its ability to mail links to articles, share articles with notes attached and cache all content for offline viewing, Byline will surely replace most users’ iPhone-based RSS readers (including the mobile version of Google Reader).

There’s no reason to exclude landscape mode from new note creation while the rest of the app has it. Perhaps in a future update, that feature will be included, as well as the ability to send articles to Instapaper, Twitter and Delicious. However, what Byline does, it does well, and that’s giving readers a clean, slick way of catching up on their RSS feeds.

Hardcore RSS subscribers should feel comfortable spending $3.99 on Byline. Those who only subscribe to a few websites or to websites that don’t post new content too often might want to find a lower-priced/free app or stick to Google Reader altogether.

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