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A week with Feedly: A Google Reader junkie's journey

After an extended test drive, a longtime Reader addict finds Feedly to be a more-than-serviceable replacement.

Like many RSS junkies, I reacted with shock, anger, and anxiety to the news that Google will kill Google Reader on July 1 of this year.

I love Google Reader--far more than a grown man should love any Web application in the full knowledge that it can never love him back. But alas, we must bear our disappointments and move forward.

To that end, I decided to try my luck with Feedly, a service that has quickly grown to prominence as the go-to replacement for Reader. After a week of test-driving the service in its Web and app versions, I have found it to be a serviceable--and in many ways, superior--replacement for my soon-to-expire Reader.

A strange, alluring new landscape

Moving from Reader to Feedly was surprisingly painless. A few clicks imported all of my Reader content (both feeds and subfolders) into Feedly, following a quick authentication process. One thing to note: If you leave pinned tabs open during long periods of inactivity, Feedly will occasionally deauthorize them. But since authorizing via Google is easy enough, this behavior wasn't a big problem for me.

The team behind Feedly has placed a welcome emphasis on design. Whereas Reader is functional and utilitarian, Feedly is silky-smooth and modern. Initially, Feedly's interface seemed quite alien to me, but I quickly adapted my habits and made the space my own.

Many users will enjoy Feedly's magazine-like, image-centric display options. Not me. When plowing through content, I was drawn to the minimalist Titles view (you can alter this view in the little gears icon in the top right corner).

Titles is the just-the-facts-ma'am view that, like Reader, presents the headlines chronologically by publishing date. Most Reader fans will find this the most familiar and comforting landscape.

Optimizing real estate

One of Feedly's best design innovations was its decision to keep the subscription list hidden until the mouse hovers over the three-line icon at the top left. I didn't feel at ease with this feature right away, but it turned out to make a big difference.

The subscription list commands a big chunk of the screen, so freeing up this real estate leaves far more room available for importing images and text. The result is a clean user interface that makes Reader's version seem downright sloppy.

Feedly further optimizes space by placing the share, hide, and bookmark buttons in a menu that pulls out from the right side when the mouse hovers over a post.

After clicking a post, you'll see a number of well-integrated options, including bookmarks (a feature that functions in the same way as Reader's starring posts), social sharing, tagging, and even a link shortener. On the top right, another hidden menu (unveiled by hovering the mouse over an arrow icon) contains options for shipping the story to read-it-later apps such as Evernote, Instapaper, and Pocket.

Content on the go

I test-drove the Feedly mobile app (available on both Android and iOS) on my Android phone and found that it synced seamlessly with the laptop experience.

The mobile version of Feedly offers only three views: Both the Lists view and the Magazine view seem to offer the same presentation of small images and headlines, except that Magazine presents the top story on an initial full-screen.

The third view, Cards, fills the screen with one post at a time, displayed as a lead image and headline (as shown in the image at right). You can then flip to the next story by swiping your finger horizontally.

I especially liked the Cards view when using Feedly on the go. For me, reading blog content on a phone isn't a matter of necessity--it's a waiting-in-line-at-the-pharmacy type of activity. The Cards view on mobile provides an aesthetically pleasing and reasonably fun way to peruse content.

If you decide to click through and read a full post on a site, the mobile app wisely opens the website inside its app instead of sending you to the phone's browser. The result is a quick and tidy experience.

The beginning of a beautiful friendship

After spending a full week with Feedly, I came to realize that Reader had been lagging behind for some time. I had remained loyal to it chiefly because it always worked well enough and doing so allowed me to avoid the scarier prospect of transitioning to an unfamiliar RSS service.

If you're a Reader junkie, too, you'll probably discover that spending your time with a Web application that emphasizes design and functionality is far more rewarding. Though I will always cherish the hours Reader and I spent together traversing the blogosphere, I had to endure the break-up of that relationship before I could realize that, in my heart, I was ready to move on long ago.

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