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Review of NewsBreak v1.0 from Ilium Software for Pocket PC

I recently downloaded a trial edition of NewsBreak, an RSS reader for the Pocket PC from Ilium Software. After about 5 minutes, I was absolutely convinced this was the RSS reader I've been looking for! I've tried others, including PocketFeed, but none compare to NewsBreak in terms of features, simplicity, and stability. Let me underscore that point about feature richness - I've used it every day for 2 weeks now, and I'm still uncovering new features and new ways to optimize my RSs experience.

Getting Started
When you first launch NewsBreak, you're prompted with a list of 4 options for adding feeds:

New Feeds

  • Choose from a list of known Channels - lets you browse a built-in list of channels to quickly get started.
  • Search online for Channels - Uses Syndic8.com to search for feeds containing keywords you specify
  • Import from a file or URL (OPML) - This is the easiest way to import feeds from your desktop reader.
  • I know the Channel's URL (RSS) - Manually enter the URL of a feed

    Of course, searching for feeds requires an Internet connection - either WiFi or docking to your PC will do. I did a quick search for the keyword theremin and came up with 4 matching feeds. Note, this feature occassionally causes NewsBreak to hang on my Pocket PC. When this happens, I have to soft-reset my Pocket PC to recover since the cancel button didn't seem to do anything.

    Once you have a list of feeds, you can assign categories to them:

    Feed Categories

    This is useful later for viewing or downloading only feeds under a certain category. If you're like me and you have close to 50 feeds in your list, it's especially handy.

    Syncing Feeds
    NewsBreak will automatically sync on the schedule you set, provided you have an established internet connection. Or, you can use the refresh button on the menu bar to manually refresh feeds. Here's a shot of NewsBreak downloading content:

    Syncing Feeds

    The red icon to the left of the feed name indicates a sync is currently in progress. The numbers to the right indicate the number of new items and the total number of items downloaded.

    Reading Content
    To read news items in a feed, just click on the feed name. You will then see a screen with all new items in bold and all read items in normal text:

    Feed Content

    Unfortunately, you cannot mark individual news items as read/unread - just the entire channel. Hopefully a future version will offer this. I would also like the ability to mark an item to be saved in case I find it interesting but don't have time to read it just yet & it gets deleted on the next sync.

    Supported Feed Formats
    I've pointed NewsBreak to feeds in RSS 0.92, RSS v1.0, and RSS v2.0, and it handles them all nicely.

    For MS Mobile Smartphone users out there, IliumSoft tells me they'll have a smartphone edition available some time in December.

    To summarize, here's a quick breakdown of NewsBreak v1.0 features:

    Pros:
  • Scroll button usage - scrolls the current page until you get to the bottom, then scrolls to the next news item. Enables complete pen-free navigation!
  • Customer support is extremely responsive and welcome to bug reports and features suggestions. You have to love great customer support!
  • A built-in list of RSS feeds to get you started
  • Allows you to arrange and view your feeds by category or only view feeds with new content
  • Specify keywords to filter on and get notified when new feed content is available containing those keywords
  • Allows you to set hwo often you want all your feeds (or individual feeds) to be updated
  • Works great in hi-res mode on VGA-enabled devices

    Cons:
  • If you select a feed in the channels list and then use tools->Mark All as Read, it marks ALL items in ALL feeds as read. I've lost my "new" item status for a bunch of feeds this way a couple of times. It'd be nice to have a verification prompt here.
  • "Search for Feeds" feature occassionally hangs and requires a soft reset to recover
  • You can't mark individual feed items as read/unread - just all items in a channel.

    Wishlist: (in my own priority order)
  • A desktop version of the reader with an ActiveSync connection to the Pocket PC version. That way, I can either browser stories on the desktop or on my device, and they both stay up to date with what I have and haven't read yet.
  • A Today-screen plug-in indicating how many channels and items I have unread.
  • The ability to cache images in feeds for offline viewing
  • Podcasting support - e.g. ability to sync and play back audio content from RSS feeds
  • The ability to right-click a feed item or an URL in a feed item create a task to go browse an article later when you have time, in case the article dissapears from the feed before you get a chance to read it. Maybe just the ability to right-click a news item and mark it to be saved would suffice.
  • An option to show feeds in the channels list in bold only when you have unread items in them.
  • Context-menu add-in for Pocket IE to right-click on a link and add it as a feed to NewsBreak
  • Remove the "mark all as read" menu item on the feeds list. I can't tell you how many times I've accidentally marked all my feeds as read when I really just wanted to mark a single feed as "read".
  • An option to store all content on a storage card.
  • A context menu on individual news items to mark them read/unread. Today, I can only mark all items in a feed as read/unread
  • A "screensaver" mode that would fade in/out all the headlines of my unread items. I think that'd be an interesting way to use the Pocket PC while it's sitting in its dock next to my laptop during the day. If an interesting headline catches my eye, I could tap the screen w/ my finger and it would take me right to the feed item. In general, there aren't many apps that help the Pocket PC add value to your day while it's sitting in the dock. I think this could really be a catchy stand-out feature of NewsBreak.
  • Another "in-dock" feature: A "finger" mode that scales up all the fonts, scrollbar, etc. that would let me easily navigate with my finger as it's sitting in the dock. It'd be much faster than taking time to remove the stylus, which often moves the PPC enough in the dock to break the connection to my PC (the stylus in my Axim is VERY tight and difficult to get out quickly).
  • Text to Speech feature to read my unread feeds out loud to me while I'm driving home.
  • An SDK so I can write some of these features myself :)

    Current Mood: thirsty thirsty

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