Following on from my post about my experiences with the iPod Touch, this is the first review of a third party application. Byline by Phantom Fish (link opens in iTunes) is an RSS reader for your iPhone/iPod Touch which synchronises with Google Reader and allows you to read RSS feeds whilst offline as well as online.

As mentioned in previous posts, I fairly recently changed RSS reader from Bloglines to Google Reader. Although not the main reason, one contributing factor to this move was the functionality of Google Reader when accessing the mobile version on my iPod Touch.

Google has an iPhone optimised reader which allows you to read posts, star them, and write notes. You can choose to read all new posts or you can view them by the folders you set up in Google Reader. Here’s a screenshot of what it looks like:

Google Reader iPhone interface

Google Reader iPhone interface

Although this is great, you can only read items when you are online. This is fine for most iPhone users who are pretty much always connected using 3G/EDGE. But for iPod Touch users like myself (or iPhone users who sometimes have no internet connection such as those who travel via underground), it means you can only read your feeds whilst you’ve got wireless access.

Over Christmas I found out about Byline (link opens application details in iTunes), an application which synchronises with your Google Reader account but also enables you to read your RSS feeds offline.

You can open the application whilst are connected to the internet to synchronise with your Google Reader account; Byline downloads any new feeds and archives them so that you can then read them offline. It’s great for me because I can sync at home in a morning before I go to work and can then catch up with my feeds whilst I’m travelling to work (I travel to work by public transport). In order to update your Google account you need to sync again after you have read them (I usually do this when I get to work).

Functionality is very similar to the Google site – you can star items, mark them as read/unread, write notes about them, and view new items either all together or by viewing specific folders.

The look of the application is very unusual; I quite like it but there are some negative comments on Apple’s store about Byline are due to the look of the application. It has a wooden textured look, as shown in the screenshot below:

Home page of Byline - with options to view all new items or those from one of your Google Reader folders

Home page of Byline - with options to view all new items or those from one of your Google Reader folders

From the summary view of the feeds, you can see details of the title of the post, which blog it is from, when it was posted, and the first couple of lines of the post. You can also mark items as read/unread on this page by swiping across them with your finger (like you do to delete e-mails).

Another thing I like about Byline is that you can order posts so that you see the oldest first. This is not normally something I need, but it is useful when you have quite a few posts and not much time as you can just read the first few oldest posts, then synchronise later on to read the newer items either in Byline or at your PC. I tend to find this useful in a morning when I’m not sure whether or not I will get time to read all the posts. I read what I can, and then sync at the office to read the newer posts later.

The screenshot below shows the New Items screen which lumps all new feeds together. From here you can choose to read particular posts and mark others as read/unread.

New items page in Byline (those with a dot are unread)

New items page in Byline (those with a dot are unread)

If you’re using it and you have access to the internet (if you’re on an iPhone for example or an iPod and in a wireless area) you can also view the original post within Byline and click to follow any links in the post which will open in Byline instead of launching Safari. This is really neat as you can check out interesting points from the article taking you all over the internet, and then just click the down arrow in the Byline header when you’re done to move straight to the next item in your new items list.

You can also choose to read Byline in either portrait or landscape mode – landscape is often easier for reading longer blog posts.

View of Byline in landscape mode

View of Byline in landscape mode

There are other products that synchronise with Google Reader too, this is the only one I have tried. I decided to purchase Byline (currently £2.99) after reading the reviews on the App Store and I certainly haven’t been disappointed. It’s a nice way to read your RSS feeds even when you do have access to the internet – personally I prefer using a dedicated application to opening Safari and going to my Google Reader bookmark. Being able to also read your RSS feeds when you don’t have internet access makes it a perfect application for those with an iPhone/iPod Touch who want to catch up with their RSS feeds whilst away from an internet connection.

Has anyone else tried any good RSS readers for the iPhone/iPod Touch? Let me know in the comments if so.

  • Ian

    I have only just started to organise my RSS feeds, but I have just added an application appropriately called ‘Feeds’. Been quite happy with it so far, although it doesn’t have the detail of Byline in the summary screen. It cost £1.75 so not too bad.

  • Thanks for the recommendation Ian, I might have to give that a go.

    I’m still pleased with Byline but syncing can be very slow so I might see if Feeds is any quicker.

  • Follow up:

    I’ve been trying Feeds as an application on my iPod, and it is a lot quicker to sync than Byline.

    However, there are niggles I don’t like about Feeds which have taken me back to Byline for the moment. The first is that it keeps crashing when I try to move from one folder to another. I have upgraded to the new version which was supposed fixed this issue but I still get it sometimes. I also don’t like how I can’t see which blog the post is from when I’m reading a post – something I really miss and didn’t realise I relied on so much. The other slight issue is that on my iPod it goes offline as soon as I have synced even if I am reading it online (i.e. at home) – this means I can’t mark all as read and it doesn’t sync what I have read with Google until I shut it down and start it up again. I have it set to sync every 10mins but I don’t think it is doing, I’ve changed it to 5mins to see if that makes a difference. For the time being I’m using a bit of both as neither are perfect; Feeds is good for quick syncing if I am on my way out, Byline is better if I’m reading at home.