All News Is Good News
A review of top news applications for Windows Phone 8.
“If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed. If you read the newspaper, you’re mis-informed.”
– Mark Twain
I haven’t read a print newspaper in years, and rarely visit the major news outlets’ websites. I do like catching up on my phone though. I tested several news apps on the platform, and landed on one fairly quickly. Then, Bing News became available. Can the newest news app of the platform take me away from my top pick in the space?
I like to receive push notifications for breaking news. I dive into interesting articles when I have down time. I launch my news apps a couple times a week, unless breaking news alerts prompt me to learn more immediately. The live tiles are very important to me, as I rely on them for regular updates and interesting tidbits. Live tiles are key until Windows Phone gets a true notification center. Lock screen updates are nice, but I prefer the Bing Image of the Day to any other option.
The Apps and Experiences
Bing News is the newest addition to the platform. It is a fast app that offers news from various sources (too many to count). Starting the app up, brings one to the “Top Story” which is also the one shown on the live tile. However, Bing News never has a top story that I feel is deserving of live tile placement, nor front-page view. The live tile seems to be stuck on a top story longer than any other app. Syncing with the desktop client is not present, but not a deal breaker by any means. Breaking news alerts are fortunately infrequent.
Consuming the news is a real treat with this app. Scrolling through long articles is fast and responsive, and you can even swipe left and right to find other articles to read. Out of the box, top news typically comes from The New York Times, The Associated Press, and Reuters. Photos are presented inline, and can be clicked on for access to the article’s photo gallery (if present). Pinch to zoom is supported. You can change font sizing on the fly. Sharing options are non-existent however.
Default sources are provided, but they can be modified to fit your personal tastes. Everything is there, from top new agencies, to tech blogs, style publications and local offerings from Chicago, NY, LA and more. Searching of the sources is supported as well. Topics can be added manually. These really help to personalize the experience. Finally, videos from the top sources are listed separately. It is very nice to see video from multiple sites all listed together. However, the quality seems to be lower than other apps.
CNN was the first news app I installed on my Windows Phone, and on every other phone before it. The app starts very fast, but pauses to load new articles. It is basically an all black application, with white text and red CNN branding. Articles and their reader comments can be consumed quickly. Sharing options are present and focus on Facebook, Twitter and SMS messaging. You can even save an article to SkyDrive for later viewing. SkyDrive support also allows the syncing of your settings between installations of the CNN app. CNN’s live tile is not much better than Bing News, and rarely changes.
The Latest News section (and the other sections) is separated into articles and videos. There is no easy way to switch between articles, as one must go back and forth manually. The Sections area includes a listing of Saved Articles, and the ability to pick from major categories. Video quality is superior to Bing News, and present snippets of news items that were previously broadcasted on CNN.
CNN offers a basic news app, and the breaking news alerts are the most frequent, yet not as overwhelming as they are on other platforms. The app provides the news, along with some video, but it all feels very curated. It is probably perfect for some, but those that want control of their news will find themselves enjoying Bing News more.
NBC News has a gorgeous live tile that always displays headlines that matter. It updates regularly, and flips through more than one story. The live tile looks great in both medium and wide mode. A clear change from CNN, this app is mostly white, with light blue highlights and branding. Although labeled simply NBC News, content is pulled from the Nightly News, Dateline, Today, and Meet the Press.
The articles are beautiful and allow sharing via Facebook, Twitter, Email and SMS. The app offers the option to have articles read aloud to you. Text to speech seems accurate, and it is a great feature to have. I find myself using it more than expected. You can even navigate the app using your voice. It is yet another unique offering. Instead of swiping for navigation, buttons are present to allow access to the previous and next articles.
Slideshows are present, but pinch to zoom is not supported. The topics for the slideshows always feel a few days behind, but vary nicely. TV shows have their own section, and playlists are provided for each show, but you can skip to the segments you want to see. The Today show has the best content, covering many stories from the news of the day. Meet The Press is great for the political pundits out there.
Video quality starts poor, but immediately turns to high quality mode once a little buffering takes place. The videos tend to include commentary from the broadcast anchors, and are basically mini segments from the network. I enjoy them thoroughly, and the Today show team is usually good for a few laughs.
USA Today presents a live tile look and feel throughout. Although the app’s start screen live tile feels boring in comparison to other apps, it does flip to show current weather conditions. The current temperature is visible on the home page of the app as well. Sections are color coded, and the app feels like every other USA Today offering. Snapshots are a unique feature that allows you to vote on national polls and quickly see the results. The Photos are beautiful, and can be viewed without text present. However zooming is not supported. Videos come from various news outlets. Today in History feels like a PBS style segment. Overall quality is lower than the other apps in this round up.
Reading articles is a nice experience, with the font set rather large by default. It can be changed to your personal liking. Swiping left and right works for navigation, with buttons also present. Sharing is there too, with the usual suspects available. Some articles have videos in place of the opening image. Scrolling is buttery smooth throughout, with articles in being shorter than those found in other apps. Everything can be accessed quickly and easily, and is present in a bite-sized fashion. This is the USA Today, and it is perfect for glance and go reading.
These are all great apps for the platform. Personally, the NBC News app is on my start screen and is what I use. The text to speech, voice navigation, sharing features, and high quality video all make it stand out. Also, the commentary along with the news offers up a feeling of a modern media experience. The NBC News live tile is the nicest to look at, most frequently updated, and conveys relevant news items. However, USA Today is great mix of news and weather on both the live tile and within in the app. CNN is as simple as it gets, and is a preferred choice for many on other platforms. CNN’s saved articles features is nice to have, along with SkyDrive syncing. The Bing News app is for the power users out there, and anyone in love with the Windows 8 version of the service will be pleased. It offers the broadest range of news, while being highly customizable. Bing News almost has it all, but the lack of sharing options and poor video quality keeps me from staying around.
All of the apps are free and were tested on my Nokia Lumia 925.