As Google Reader gets ready to join that big obsolete app store in the sky on July 1, RSS-addicts like myself are on the search for a suitable alternative. Previously, I test-drove the popular Feedly app and website for a week and found it to be a worthy Reader successor. For this go-around, I've spent some time with Pulse, an RSS-catcher that is heavy on design, but short on versatility.
Not quite ready for the big screen
From all appearances, the Pulse team has placed far more resources into the mobile reader app than the Web version. I'll jump into the mobile experience later, but readers who plan to spend any time perusing content on the Web will find Pulse wanting.
Like Feedly, Pulse allows users to automatically input their Reader feeds and subfolders. But unlike Feedly, Pulse adds an additional barrier by forcing you to sign up with an email/password or Facebook account. It's not a serious issue, but it's an extra step. One of the few drawbacks of Feedly is that it occasionally gets deauthorized from my Google account (and my Reader preferences) following periods of inactivity. Pulse, however, kept me logged in until I signed out.
Pulse is also more image-centric than Reader's headline-focused display and was obviously designed with tablets and other touchscreen devices in mind. This isn't inherently a bad thing. For casual users who have a limited number of feeds that they check only sporadically, this will probably suffice. But heavy content junkies like myself--those with a few hundred RSS feeds--will find in Pulse a lack of content mojo.
A major shortcoming of Pulse is its unfortunate lack of customization. While Feedly offers a Reader-like minimalist headline experience in addition to its magazine displays, the Web version of Pulse only offers magazine displays. In fact, it only has three untitled viewing options featuring large image blocks, medium image blocks, or small image blocks.
The platform is also not always able to import an image from every story (a bug on both the app and Web versions). Pulse's story blocks appear to be in chronological order, but you can't see the date or time of when they were published until you click on the posts.
Not tuned into the pulse of Reader users
There are a number of other frustrating shortcomings in Pulse that's unexcusable for heavy RSS junkies. First, Pulse maxes out at 12 feeds per any one subfolder. For example, in Reader I have a folder "Tech News" with 22 feeds. I know it had exactly 22 feeds because Pulse automatically separated the folder into two smaller folders: "Tech News" and "Tech News 2" with 12 and 10 feeds respectively. The same automated subdividing occurred with all my imported subfolders with more than a dozen feeds (which is most of them).
Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.