N900 RSS

by Tina Holmboe 27th of May 2010 (archive)

I’m pondering RSS feeds — or more precisely: I’m contemplating whether or not the N900 would be a nice little device for newsfeeds; RSS, Atom, or WhicheverML.

This is somewhat new to me. I «consume» quite a few feeds on my desktop computer(s), but until this spring the idea of an always–on Internet device such as the Nokia fell on the fact that I’d pay through the nose for the data traffic.

With a flat fee subscription…. I’m pondering.

There are, after updating to PR 1.2 and enabling the extras–testing repository, five available tools: feedcircuit, feedhandler, FeedingIt, penguinreader, and ReSiStance. As is my habit I’ll test’em on the basis of most–interesting–name–first.

PenguinReader

Version 0.4–1 exists in extras–devel. Dare I? But of course. Cute icon of Tux reading a book … and warns me on start that I should install «PenguinTV». Not so much, no. However it would appear that without said TV application I can’t do much with this.

No go, then. Not for now, anyway.

ReSiStance

Version 0.4–1 as well, also in extras–devel. This makes me suspect something wonky going on with the version system. According to its description it’s an RSS feed reader for Maemo 5. It installs cleanly, but I got to say that the icon is … not as cute. No. Orange blob which, after refocusing, turns out to be a stylised human reading a newspaper on, well, the loo.

Not my kind of humour, that. Let’s see how it does: blank screen, menu, new feed — I give it maemo.org/news/items.xml. The URI is corrected to the more proper «http://maemo.org/news/items.xml» and the feed name automatically retrieved.

I have, so it informs me, twelve unread messages. The list of these follow theming, is simple and gives a good overview. Bonus point for a feature I sorely lack in other applications: the ability to turn the font size down.

Selecting an entry presents me with the summary, the date, and the ability to move up and down through entries. Bonus again for not forcing me to go back to the list to see the next or previous item.

Slightly less karma for not including a link to open the full article in the (a) web browser. Images load, if specified in the options; it’s speedy and above all simple. No fancy half–a–screen sized buttons. This one might just stay … if only it had a desktop widget.

FeedingIt

Version 0.6.2–2 in extras–devel. Glad to see the versioning isn’t broken. This one claims portrait support and a widget — so let’s have a closer look.

The icon is a pacman–like figure eating a feed symbol; somewhat poetic in its yellow simplicity. Quite fancy that one — although I admit that the instant device freeze when trying to start it wasn’t on my list of amusements. BRST time, and I do not say that lightly.

It might be a coincidence, but FeedingIt comes with one pre–installed feed: Slashdot. That might not be a hot idea.

You add and manage feeds through the «Organise feeds» menu choice. Fair enough. You specify name, and URI. Then you exit the wizard, and … nothing happens until you either «Update all feeds», or select one and tell it to update itself.

Auto–update is off by default, but can be turned on and configured. Bonus points for good font settings, extra point for different fonts in the list view and entry view, and negative karma for 3D–buttons instead of simple list items. Touch–enabled does not translate to «taking up half the screen».

The entry view lacks the next/previous function of ReSiStance, but has «open in browser» and «add to archived articles»; both good.

And it has a widget. Which nicely display the feed name, and the number of unread entries … but not the headers. Clicking the widget twice will bring up the app. Not sure how I feel about it; not yet.

FeedHandler

Version 2.2 in the repository. This program is a generic feed handler for the browser — which, in other words, means a small application which provide glue between the browser and the RSS reader application. It supports FeedingIt, Google Reader, gPodder, and, which we’ll get back to later, the RSS Reader that comes with Maemo (You didn’t think I’d forget? ;)

It installs cleanly, but never show up in the application list. So I’ll point it at the maemo.org site, click the RSS icon and, well, have the XML file open in the browser.

Nothing in the status bar. Nothing in settings. Nothing in browser options. Time to move on. Bad karma :(

Feedcircuit

Version 0.8.3–1 in extras–devel — an application to grab RSS and Atom feeds for offline reading. Bonus points for actually considering those who do not have flatrate.

The interface is complicated, to say the least, but the functionality is fine once that is overcome. You specify a feed — remember to include the protocol (http:) or else it won’t work — and the application download and convert to suitable HTML stored locally under /home/user.

Without, it would appear, the images. So far I’ve not found any way to make it include those. It’s not a showstopper, but it is annoying. Some of those pictures are not just for show, y’know.

Feeds can be updated automatically. Font sizing is up to the browser zoom feature. No widget exists, but that’d be a minor miracle. There’s not much to see — but I’d use it if I were to travel, for example, and needed to reduce traffic charges.

All of this brings us back to the RSS App that comes with Maemo 5.

Maemo’s RSS Reader

The «built–in» application is a split–screen thing, with a button to switch to list/viewer only mode and back. It can save entries, it can open them in the browser, sort and search.

Adding a feed is easy enough — and you can, after the fact, edit such things as name and whether you want images to be shown. Plus for that.

Negative karma, however, for not a single font setting and icons the size of my thumb.

Auto–update is included, but can only be set globally. This is a minor problem, but when used to, say, Opera’s per–feed refresh mechanism it does nag at the edges.

Now for the tricky part: the list of items is, as a matter of fact, one big scrollable page of headers and content. This could be a result of some very odd feed handling on the part of maemo.org, something which is supported by the fact that it deals well with BBC News online. It does make me fear for large, odd feeds.

And there’s a desktop widget — which shows headers on a pretty, opaque background. Selecting an entry opens the feed reader to the entry in question. Bonus for this — and more negative karma for opening said reader in the split–view mode no matter what I do to it.

It nags, tho, it really does. The desktop widget does not auto update. I kid you not. Add to it that the «up» and «down» arrows, which allow you to scroll the list of entries, wrap … with no indication of when you are at the top … or the bottom…. It’s annoying, no way around it.

Conclusion

I haven’t got one. Sorry. I’m tempted to stick to the desktop for feeds, yet can’t shake the idea that a reader for the most important (to me) news could be useful.

But none of the above tick all my boxes. Alas.

The built–in reader handles widgets the best — but not perfectly. ReSiStance is the best reader, but has no widget.

My only conclusion is that I need more testing time, to see if I can adapt my perceptions to the way these applications work. Time will tell.