I’m a big fan of Google products, and for many years I’ve used the web versions, since they’ve met my needs as well as or better than native apps have. When I upgraded to Windows 8, I quickly found an acceptable mail substitute with the default Mail program. My Google Reader was not replaced so easily.
While I’d tried over a half a dozen RSS feed readers for Windows 8, all of them were shoddily made or lacking in features. But finally, I’ve found one that improves on the default web interface of Google Reader: NextGen Reader.
NextGen Reader oustrips every other RSS client I’ve tried on either Windows 7 or 8. It’s carefully designed — matching the look and feel of Windows 8 as well or better than the default apps that the operating system ships with, even — and is a joy to look at. It’s clear that the designers themselves spend a great deal of time reading RSS feeds. This design is a joy to use. The typography is careful and a pleasing size, and options are carefully placed and easy to access.
The biggest feature of NextGen’s design is its two modes. This is a genius adjustment by the designers that I believe will soon become a standard across the Windows 8 app ecosystem. A simple quick on the NextGen logo in the top-left corner toggles the app to ‘mobile view,’ which features a more standard grid of articles, below:
This option allows the same app to work equally well on tablets and on desktops — a challenge that many Windows 8 apps do not meet so well. I don’t own a Windows 8 tablet, so I’ve not used that view extensively. It is more touch-friendly and makes more use of Windows 8′s app bar which is better accessed on a tablet. The desktop view places more commands in immediate view and packs feeds into a denser but no less readable view. In an operating system where a lot of Windows 8 apps feel like simple mobile programs, it’s nice to get an app that’s full-featured and usable on a desktop.
Overall, the design is beautiful and usable. While many apps offer examples of just how badly Windows 8 design can be done, NextGen Reader is the complete opposite. It’s truly a joy to use, and you will have no problem spending extended periods of time reading in it.
But just because it’s optimized for the desktop doesn’t mean that NextGen Reader skimps on any of the new features Windows 8 brings — it is still a Windows 8 app, after all. The settings are extensive and easy to access on the charms bar. The accent color of the app can even be changed to several different options. The settings are there to be played with and make NextGen very customizable.
The articles themselves are nicely readable and it’s easy to switch between articles. NextGen Reader even offers you the option of switching mobilizers if the default (Readability) doesn’t cut it for you. I love Readability, but there’s also Instapaper and Google mobilizer if you are attached to one of these services. It’s a handy feature that illustrates just how flexible NextGen reader really is.
There’s also the options for extensive control over your feeds themselves. You can select how they appear: in summary form, mobilized form, or webpage form. NextGen also provides handy links to search and categorize your feeds in the Google Reader web interface. Eventually, it would be nice to see the program perform this functionality itself.
Sharing and Other Goodies
NextGen Reader is also one of the few apps on my Windows 8 PC where I make use of the sharing charm. It’s one of the clearest benefits of the charms bar that’s system-wide. Without leaving NextGen, I can easily share an article to Twitter, email it to a friend, save it to my OneNote, or share it using the People app. Everything ties together so that within seconds I can share the article with the people I need to. For my web design reading, when I am often very social in my reading, this is a very useful feature, and Windows 8 ties everything together seamlessly.
Keyboard shortcuts round out the deal. Pressing ‘?’ in the desktop view brings up a list of all of the keyboard shortcuts NextGen supports to make you even quicker in getting around the program.
It is simply awesome to see this level of detail coming from an app developer. So many apps in the Windows store already are junk, or were rushed to the store before they were fully ready. Microsoft, in their rush to boost the numbers in the store, has made the mistake of allowing many low-quality apps into the store. It’s good to see a few that buck the trend.
NextGen Reader is not a standalone client — it requires Google Reader to function properly. While this is great for people like myself, who use Google Reader, an option to make NextGen a truly standalone client in the future would be a good thing. That being said, if you are connected to Google Reader, NextGen Reader offers extensive syncing options.
NextGen Reader is a clear example of just how good a Windows 8 app can be. The Next Matters developers have really outdone themselves this time. The 305 ratings averaging four and a half stars are a good indicator as well: this app is worth buying. The amount of detail and care packed into this one small package — with an unlimited, free trial no less — is incredible.
If you get an RSS Reader for Windows 8, this is the one to get (And if you’re a Windows Phone user, check out our review of NextGen Reader for Windows Phone)