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Sparse RSS Newsreader - Elf M. Sternberg
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Sparse RSS Newsreader
I rarely rate apps, and almost never rave about them. But I have to rave about Sparse, the RSS Newsreader for Android, because compared to LinkedIn's rapidly decaying Pulse Newsreader, Sparse is a miracle of modern software design.

The biggest difference comes from the mediation Pulse provides that Sparse wisely ignores. Pulse makes everything you want to read flow through LinkedIn's servers; your feeds are registered with LinkedIn and maintained by LinkedIn. Pulse uses this to extract information from your feeds like headline images, which it can then analyze for "interestingness" (an algorithm I have passing familiarity with) and provide you with a pretty UI with headline images sized and cropped for your phone. But in doing so, if Pulse loses track of a feed, you lose out on content. This has been the case with several feeds I follow; right now, my Programming Zeitgeist feed has been showing me the "Let's Encrypt Schedule" press release from June for over two months. All those bells and whistles slow Pulse down terribly.

Sparse collects everything on your phone. You don't get pretty headlines. You just get headlines. On a per-feed basis, you get a list of articles to read, and nothing more. Clicking on an article takes you to the article. That's it. In terms of access to on-line newsfeeds, Sparse is the epitome of the maxim "Great design is not when there's no more left to put in; great design is when there's no more left to take out." Sparse allows you to specify on a feed-by-feed basis whether or not the feed should update over WiFi only, which is a data quota lifesaver.

Pulse achieves uniformity of feeds across devices by storing your feedlist on their servers, so every device you use has the same feedlist. But it doesn't track what you've read, so every device has to be "caught up" manually, and Pulse doesn't track well what you've read on a given device. Sparse achieves uniformity of feeds the old-fashioned way: export your file, the file most readers use to store your list of feeds, and import it to another RSS reader. Sparse does a much better job of keeping track of what you've read, and can be configured to float read stories to the bottom of the list.

Sparse isn't perfect; it has some CSS display problems when feeds have color changes encoded into their text (such as sometimes happens with blockquote), and its display of video is rough, but you can always click the "(eye)" symbol and pull the article up in a native browser. Sparse doesn't do any image processing, so its cache can take up quite a bit of room on your phone. But compared to LinkedIn's Pulse it is a miracle of great design for a modern RSS Newsreader for Android.

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