Earlier this year, we listed several services and apps that'll potentially replace Google Reader. Now that the Reader shut down is imminent, we are taking a second look at some of these services (and a few new ones) to see which companies have scaled up enough to become a true Google Reader replacement. In this next post in our series, we will look at AOL Reader, a new RSS service from AOL. Note: TUAW is a part of AOL Tech.
Initial Setup and Impressions
AOL Reader will allow you to login to your Google Reader account and transfer your feeds and folders. You can also bulk import your feeds via an OPML file. Tags and starred items are not imported from Google Reader. RSS subscriptions can be added manually by typing in the site name or RSS URL. If you like to browse for new feeds, AOL provides a catalog of suggested sites that you can add to your AOL Reader account. AOL Reader does not allow you to export your feeds via OPML or any method.
AOL Reader's UI is straightforward with a left navigation bar that houses all your RSS feeds and a main pane that previews all your content. You can choose from a few different layouts including a list view, a magazine-style card view (shown above), a three-column pane view and a full view that shows the entire article. There are ads on the right side of the screen, which showcase other AOL content like AOL On.
Each view allows you to easily mark an item as read and unread, but the read/unread behavior is inconsistent. You can mark an entire folder or an entire feed as read, but this change is permanent. You cannot go back and mark individual items as unread. You can, however, mark things as unread when browse through your articles one at a time. When you read your feed on an article-by-article basis, each article is marked as read automatically, and there is a toggle that lets you mark it unread if you want. As shown above, I find it very unusual that this mark unread toggle is there when you read individually and gone when you digest your feeds in bulk.
AOL Reader allows you to star articles you want to remember and add tags to help organize unruly feeds. The web app supports folders, called categories, and imports them in nicely from Google Reader. You can organize your subscriptions and manage these categories in Reader Options > Organize. Note that AOL Reader is different from other readers when it comes to deleting folders. Many other readers will delete the folder and all the feeds inside of it. AOL Reader removes the category, but saves all the subscriptions within that folder as individual feeds. This can be nightmarish if you delete a category with 30 feeds and then are left to delete the leftover subscriptions one feed at a time.
Here's a rundown of the major features of your average RSS reader and information on which ones are supported by AOL Reader.
Google Reader Import: Yes, automatic by logging into Reader using your Google account. Also supports OPML import. Does not import tags or starred items. AOL Reader does not allow you to export your feeds via OPML or any method.
Folder Support: Yes, imported from Google and create your own. Deleting a folder/category only removes the folder. The app keeps the RSS feeds that were formerly in the folder.
Authenticated RSS feeds: No.
Keyboard shortcuts: Yes.
Tags: Yes. You can create new ones, but they are not imported from Google Reader.
Resizable elements like fonts, columns: Yes, you can change the font sizes and toggle between a dark and light theme. Column width is fixed, but you can switch the views between List, Card, Full and Pane.
Mark all read/unread: You can mark all the items in an RSS feed and all the items in a folder as read. This change is permanent, you cannot go back and mark them as unread. If you read articles individually and they are marked as read, you can go back and mark the individual articles as unread.
Search/Sort: There is no RSS search. Surprisingly, the search field at the top of the Reader app searches the web. You can sort articles so the newest or the oldest is at top. You can also sort by read/unread status.
Star/Favorite: Yes, you can star items. Starred items are not imported from Google Reader, though.
Read Later/Offline: None.
Social networks: You can share articles on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google +. You can also send via email.
API/Third-Party: API for developers and third party apps (available now, free during beta)
Other features: AOL Reader has a handy setting that'll let you scroll through a feed to mark it as read. Scroll to read only works in Full View.
Pricing: AOL Reader is available for free. There are smallish, visual ads on the right-most column.
Mobile apps are not yet available, but coming soon for iOS and Android. In the interim, you can use your mobile browser as the UI for Reader is tablet-friendly.
The two biggest items missing from AOL Reader are search and an option to read offline in a service like Instapaper or Pocket. AOL Mobile apps are also MIA, with the promise that they are under development.
ConclusionThe new AOL Reader is a decent first effort, but it lacks the polish of other readers like NetNewsWire, Feedly and Digg Reader. The UI can be inconsistent regarding read/unread, and there are no mobile apps. On the plus side, the service does have a tablet-friendly layout for your on-the-go reading, and performance is responsive.