“The more wonderful the means of communication, the more trivial, tawdry, or depressing its contents seem to be.” Those are the words of Arthur C. Clarke in 2001: A Space Odyssey, a book I highly recommend. In this day and age where everything lives and dies by the smartphone and there’s literally an app for everything, they couldn’t have been more accurate. Despite all the technological advancements, it’s so easy to get lost in the sea of news content, some fake, most sensational and some utter gibberish, that one encounters when they go online.
Over the course of time, I have come to rely on a handful of applications to deliver the news that matters to me as often as I need them to do. Here are those apps:
This app is top on this list because I believe it is the number one news app I am using.
There is no easy way to present news but Quartz seems to have found the secret and the Quartz Android app, which has only been out for a few months, is the answer to all our complaints about information overload. It is interactive, something that most news apps aren’t and knows just how to strike a balance between work and play.
News is disseminated in the form of short, easy-to-digest but detailed snippets. Not many people fancy reading 600-word news articles so some algorithms do their magic behind the scenes and an interactive bot does the work of the newspaper delivery guy by delivering bite-sized news updates.
The more that one interacts with the bot, mostly in the form of the on-screen emojis it presents, the more content on a particular news item that one gets.
Those that love their long reads, like yours truly, can always click on the snippets to go ahead and read the detailed pieces.
The Quartz app also has timely alerts through the notification shade, throws in charts showing stock trends and GIFs for just about anything.
In an age where we all admire the work of the amazing team at AJ+, this is surely the way to go. Every news organisation should be taking note.
The only problem? Once you have moved on to another news update, there is no way to go back to the previous one.
Before Quartz brought its acclaimed news app to the Android platform, my go-to news application, besides Twitter and Facebook, was Nuzzel. Nuzzel is, in short, an aggregator of the content shared by your social media connections. So if a story happens to have been shared widely by the people you follow on Twitter, it will be on top of your Nuzzel feed. That’s just how it works. And I like it that way since that is mostly the kind of news I am interested in now that Twitter doesn’t have an algorithm like Facebook that knows me so well, why not use my connections to determine my interests?
So much has been my reliance on Nuzzel that it has been the one that delivered major world news to me. Like when Muhammad Ali passed on. I was travelling somewhere deep in rural Coast (Kenya) with hardly a stable network connection. When I finally got to town later that evening, it was Nuzzel that had the New York Times‘ deep obituary as the first item followed by links to the news of the legend’s passing.
Nuzzel thrives on email. I use its daily email alerts more than I use the app. The app allows users to discover, and follow, other users’ curated news lists. I’ve been able to discover quite a bunch. Like Martin Bryant’s tech newsletter and several others.
Just like the Quartz app, and Instagram and several other notable apps, Flipboard was a preserve of iOS for quite some time. All of us who were using Android smartphones then (circa 2012) badly wanted it. Then it came. It wowed us at first and the likes of Samsung still preload it todate (Briefing, the news app on most Samsung premium phones is just a customised version of Flipboard) before settling in to be something ordinary: bloated and overrated.
A design upgrade early this year makes Flipboard, one of the news apps I have used for a long time, desirable again. Make no mistake, though, Flipboard is still the data hog it has always been so if you go that route don’t start complaining that your data bundles vanish into thin air without an explanation. None is needed.
News content on Flipboard is organised by category and users have an option to follow “magazines” which live on in the app that is actually inspired by the way we used to traditionally consume news, by flipping from one page of the newspaper/magazine to the other.
4. Yahoo News Digest
4 years ago, Yahoo, then desperate to crack the market, acquired Summly, a mobile news reader that was the brainchild of then 17-year-old Nick D’Aloisio. Yahoo News Digest is exactly what became of Summly after that acquisition. Yahoo refined the idea behind Summly and came up with a brilliant Android news app.
Like its name suggests, Yahoo News Digest really is a digest. You can read through all the bite-sized news content delivered by the app in no time. Maybe over a cup of coffee in between meetings, making it all the more important and a must-have.
News Digest blends useful information in the form of maps, charts and quick facts and figures to make news content interesting. For most news stories, a carousel at the bottom of every story adds some much-needed flair to articles that a teenager would likely never bother with if they were reading it directly on the Reuters website (what would they be doing there in the first place?). Teenagers aside, its short but detailed information add-ons at the end of most news stories is many an ignorant 20-something-year-old’s saving grace as it brings the reader up to speed with even the most basic of information.
News Digest is not an app for everyone but I have become used to its two daily updates for the last 3 years that I am just fine with it.
5. The Guardian
The Guardian, a United Kingdom-based newspaper, has done well transitioning to the new digital age. Its Android app is one of the best that one can find from a major news organisation that is very well done.
I have been using the Guardian app for over 3 years now and it gets better with each update. It is quite stable and delivers on all fronts that I expect it to: customization options for the user, notifications, offline articles etc.
That it shows me a chronological order of the articles I have previously read on the app is a major plus since this is one of the few reasons I prefer to read content on a browser than on an app. I love sharing what I read on the many Telegram channels I have and groups on Telegram and WhatsApp that I am a part of. To be able to trace something I read like a week ago for sharing is always a daunting task if a news app is involved. On the browser? Just a simple search or a click on the history tab. The Guardian app addresses that without a fuss.
Bonus: Google Play Newsstand
Google Play Newsstand is what, 3 years ago, we all knew as Google Currents. Okay the two are different apps but Google shuttered one in favour of another.
It is probably an application that you have installed on your device against your wish. It most likely came bundled with other Google apps on your device. Guess what? You need not give it a side eye. Google Play Newsstand is actually a really nice news app. I never liked it at first as I was still nostalgic about the good days we had with Currents but Newsstand has been updated regularly to the point where it can rival other well-done apps like Flipboard.
See for yourself:
What about you? What apps do you use to read the news online? Your browser, Facebook and Twitter don’t count. We all use those to get news too.