Today SPB Software has released SPB News version 2.0, an excellent RSS Reader for Windows Phones and formerly know under the name SPB Insight. I installed this RSS reader on my Windows Mobile 6.1 powered HTC Snap and will discuss the product features in a short review, below.
Background information on SPB News
Good friend Clinton Fitch from ClintonFitch.com has conducted a thorough review of the initial release of SPB Insight 1.0 for Windows Mobile Professional. The review is quite extensive and already provides a great deal of information, so recommended to read.
“Overall, Spb Insight is a great application and is one of the better RSS/Atom applications that I have reviewed. It is fast and reliable and does a good job of making use of your device’s connectivity options as well as providing all of your content offline so you can read it later.” [rev02]
Jaap van Ekris from ModernNomads.info provides an overview of RSS Readers for Windows Mobile and describes SPB News / Insight as:
“A noteworthy innovation in this field is SPB Insight, which not only downloads the feed but also the associated article to allow you to have a full browsing experience even while you are disconnected from the internet.”
Both nail down the key feature of SPB News, namely the full offline availability of an article on your Windows Phone. Despite we often have flat-free mobile data subscriptions, I find this feature very convenient since you simply update your channels and don’t have to connect anymore for reading individual articles. SPB Software summarizes the application as:
“SPB News 2.0 – formerly known as SPB Insight – is an intelligent news reader that makes full-text articles (including images) available for offline reading on Windows phones.” [ref01]
Furthermore I really would like to complement SPB Software for adopting a multi-platform approach, which could be seen in almost any of their latest releases. In this case SPB News 2.0 is available for Windows Mobile Professional and Windows Mobile Standard, providing a same look and feel.
“Spb News 2.0 is available for Windows Phones running Windows Mobile 5 and later Professional and Standard editions.” [ref01]
New (key) features in SPB News
SPB News has more good features than just “full-text articles for offline reading”, and below you find a short list of the key improvements in the latest version of SPB News.
- New touch-oriented user interface;
- Left-right gestures for quickly switching between articles;
- Automatic update;
- Smart scrolling in articles;
- A lost of fixes and stability/performance improvements;
SPB News in practice – Installed on my HTC Snap
SPB Software provides both a desktop installer, and an over-the-air cab-installer for the SPB News 2.0 application. Personally I downloaded the cab-file into my Microsoft Live Mesh and synchronized it on my Windows Mobile 6.1 Standard powered HTC Snap. I installed SPB News 2.0 in the main memory, but luckily there is an option to put the channel-data on you storage card.
Adding a new channel
There are already a few example channels embedded with the SPB News application, there are several ways to add a new channel: (1) browsing an online catalog; (2) by entering the rss-feed url; (3) search online; (4) import from an OPML-file. For testing purposes I simply entered the rss-feed url by hand, but it’s very convenient to import an OPML-file exported from FeedDemon for Windows Desktop.
It furthermore is possible to review the channel properties, rename the channel and take various actions from the right softkey.
By hitting the right softkey you can manually update the channels, after which all the channel articles are completely downloaded onto your device. This means it will be available offline as well, and embedded pictures are included.
In the screenshots above you can see that the number of articles is shown behind the channel description, while the right screenshot shows the article overview of the channel mobilityminded.com. I would like to emphasize the great clean and sleek user interface. For example look at the scroll bar and the included thumbnails of each article.
In this example the article “Windows Marketplace for Mobile – Payments and Operators” is used. A screenshot in Internet Explorer 8 of this article is shown at the start of the paragraph. When you look clearly the article is completely downloaded onto the HTC Snap including links and images. And compare the desktop screenshot with the SPB News screenshot above, and amaze yourself about the similarities.
As you can see in the screenshot above you can personally adjust the text size. In my case I changed it to smallest (from medium) to get more information on the screen. With the Jogg Ball on the HTC Snap you can incredibly fast scroll up and down within the article. The smart scrolling feature, enables the links when the “scroll bar” passes the link on the screen. You could see it as the “link-hopping-feature” in the preInternet Explorer 6 for Mobile versions.
Scrolling left or right lets you jump quickly to the next article in the same channel. On a Windows Mobile Professional devices the sweep gestures canbe used, and support the same functionality.Normally when you click on an article headline, you are redirected to the web again and start opening the article in your mobile webbrowser. Not the case with SPB News 2.0, so you can directly read on your devices without changing application !!
Overall reading and navigating among the different articles is very fast and very easy. Here SPB Software really makes a strong point, although I miss the categories structure form within Newsgator FeedDemon for Windows or Iliumsoft NewsBreak a little. Is the number of channels you follow just a few, than you won’t run into problems.
Settings walk through
A significant part of the SPB News cleverness is embedded in the settings menu, which consists of four different “categories”: (1) Network; (2) Content; (3) Updating; and (4) Cleaning.
Within the Network-tab you can select options for some well thought out mobile scenario’s. At first you can select the option to use only free connections (connected over Active Sync or WMDC to your notebook, or Wi-Fi). This option is very helpfull when you travel abroad and can’t use you data-connection all the time. This limits high costs simply of automatic dowloading the channel data onto your Windows Phone.
You can also set the option to automatically start downloading the channel articles when you cradle your device (which in other words is connecting your Windows Phone to your notebook over Active Sync or WMDC).
I already quickly discussed the Content-tab, where you can set a location to store the channel data. If you would like to change the location the channel data so far will be moved. I tested this with changeing the content location from the main memory to the storage card.
The Updating-tab also consists come helpful options, which are closely related to the options in the Network-tab. When I’m on the go abroad I can choose to not download the images of the article and limit it only to the full text. When you are using a mobile data-connection this means you save the picture-traffic on your bill.
Furthermore you can set to manually initiate the update process of the articles and channels, or you can choose to automatically update the channels. Since I personally think that reading your RSS Feeds is an ad-hoc non-continuous process I don’t have set the automatic download frequency. I just update the channels manually, when I have the time to read the content.
Finally there is a Cleaning-tab, which let’s you configure the maximum number of articles in a channel and the maximum saved number of articles. In other words these are automatic cleaning-”mechanisms” which are helpfull to keep the amount of stored data limited.
Overall SPB News has embedded some helpful and realistic options which make life more easy !
Thoughts and conclusions
Let me start that the name-change of the SPB News application (from Insight to News) is a good thing, since it covers a little more the goal and means of the application: reading news in an intelligent way. I furthermore hope that this opinion is also shared by the general public.
Second my compliments for the multi-platform approach that SPB Software is taking, since I same look and feel is created among different platforms. In that respect SPB Software is focussing on the user experience as well, and they really do a great job on the user-interface level !!
Using SPB News 2.0 on my HTC Snap for some days now, I simply must conclude that this is one of the better RSS readers for Windows Phones I have used. Not only because of the key-feature providing full-text articles, pictures included, offline when you are not connected to the internet, but also because of some clever settings and the fast navigation between channels, articles and an easy to use user interface.
However I want to share some thoughts as well. In FeedDemon I have organized the RSS Feeds into categories, which makes it easier to scan and priorityze te RSS Feeds. I think categories are critical in structuring and organizing a large number of RSS Feeds. In this version SPB News 2.0 just supports a list view of all the RSS Feeds, while Iliumsoft Newsbreak already offers the categories sometime.
Eleborating a little more on the multi-platform approach and some of the current SPB Software titles with a desktop client. You might now the approach of Newsgator, who offer FeedDemon for Windows Desktop, and the Newsgator Mobile applications for Windows Phones. These synchronize your RSS Feeds and its statuses with an online account, with the result you don’t read articles twice.
With SPB Software developing applications for various platforms this might be a smart way to go, and supporting synchronizing of these multiple platforms with one desktop client.
“A free, 15-day trial can be downloaded, or SPB News 2.0 can be purchased for 19.95 USD, from www.SpbSoftware.com. Users of Spb Insight 1.X are entitled to upgrade to SPB News 2.0 at no extra charge.” [ref01]
Summarizing, SPB News 2.0 is a great fast and easy to use RSS Reader for Windows Phones, which provides all the content details you get on your Windows Desktop. However there are some cool opportunities the look after for future developments of this application. Download SPB News 2.0 for Windows Mobile Professional or Windows Mobile Standard from the SPB Software website.