So it was with eager anticipation that I downloaded the original news aggregator to my Nokia 3650 to see what Sybase's latest acquisition had done to translate one of my favorite Palm apps to the Series 60 platform. It needs a ridiculous amount of space for a Series 60 app: 1200KB, so I haven't been able to try it up until now but with my 16MB MMC card ready to go, I was able to load it up quickly on my new phone and try it out. Well, the results are in and though there are some interesting things about the app, it's definitely a 1.0 release and needs some tweaking to be really useable. Here's the review:
First, you could say "with a connected device why bother aggregating news?", but the fact is that the idea about AvantGo on your mobile phone doesn't need a lot of argument. To be able to download a bunch of articles from your favorite news sites to have for those times you're out of coverage - say in a metro, mountains or mineshaft - makes a lot of sense. Now that AvantGo is officially supporting the Symbian version, you just have to go to My AvantGo, sign in and it's one of the available apps you can download for the Windows platform. I was amazed that my 4 year old log in that I haven't used in at least 2 years still worked... but it did, bringing up a bunch of subscriptions that I had forgotten about and saving me the time/effort of finding and adding more.
After I downloaded the app, I threw it onto my phone via Bluetooth and went through the 3 step installation process - which included typing in my IMEA number into a form on AvantGo's web page. Problem #1: For some reason the client doesn't like Bluetooth Networking. It's not the only app to dislike this way of connecting - FastChat is also giving me Bluetooth fits as well. This is a real bummer as one of the other arguments for aggregating news on your phone is that you can use it just like the Palm app: Download the data from home where you have decent bandwidth at muuuuuuch cheaper rates than your average GPRS and have it ready for you later when you're on a bus somewhere without worrying about dropped connections or gaps in coverage.
Anyways, once I turned off Bluetooth so my phone would connect via GPRS, things went very smoothly. The app connected, downloaded the data it needed in about 4 or 5 minutes then presented me with an advertisement for FTD Florists!! "Enter your email here and click the submit button for a coupon worth $10 off your next order". Wow - mobile advertising is here and now.
Once I got past the ad, the interface is very similar to what I remember from my Palm. You are immediately inside AvantGo's custom browser which is at "full screen" where you are presented with a couple of very small picture ads and a list of links of the news sources that you downloaded. Clicking on the links brings up the summaries of the news items and clicking on the summaries brings up the stories. For my 4 minutes of downloading (and who knows how many KB) I am pretty impressed by the amount of news that I've got on my phone now.
The custom browser pretty much sucks. The black text doesn't leave any pixels between it and the black border around the phone's screen, so you end up losing part of the first letter in each line to the darkness. You navigate by paging only when there's no links, otherwise you jump from link to link (like NetFront's Browser) highlighting the links with a thick-yellow outline making it very disconcerting to use. And in general the whole browser is slooooow and takes its time to both bring up pages as well as scrolling (whereas a browser like Opera or ReadM's eBook reader is pretty much instant). There are no options to improve any of this like in ReadM (a FREE app) where you can add border space, etc.
The rest of the functionality is very much like the Palm. You can manage the size of the cache, add/remove channels, check out pending submissions (for the next time you "replicate"), etc. This to me is the good stuff - it makes it easy for me to "live" within the app and not have to go back to my PC to manage my subscriptions etc. Too bad there's no way to schedule my downloads so I don't need to think about connecting every day, but as it is now, it's definitely a "pull" system where you have to actively start the download process.
AvantGo definitely needs to improve their browser a bit and decrease the basic size of their app (it shouldn't be THAT big!) however, in general it's pretty well done. I'm not going to delete it anyways... and that's always a good sign. But like I posted before - where's the RSS support? This is really required in order to be considered by me a "real" aggregator, otherwise it's a relic of the past.
Still - great to see these guys providing this app for Symbian. Look for a LOT more Palm staples like this to be ported soon is my prediction.