Browsing the App Store for a decent RSS app brings you little else than Reeder, which is an amazing app, and its hoard of clones, which tend to be not so amazing. As great as Reeder is, it seems to have given developers a mad case of tunnel vision that they just can’t get over.
For this reason, I’ve been pretty excited about Caffeinated, a soon to be released Google Reader client from Curtis Hard. Though it builds on the advancements of Reeder, it stands on its own as a gorgeous new take on the RSS reader. We recently got our hands on Caffeinated for a review, read on to see it in action.
Caffeinated uses a familiar three column interface with your subscriptions on the left, the individual items in the middle and the article preview on the right.
At a glance, Caffeinated looks like your typical Mac-style interface. However, once you spend a few seconds with it, you can see that it’s somehow much slicker and more refined. There are subtle gradients and hints of texture that really give Caffeinated a polished feel that you don’t get from other apps.
There’s a sort of layered appeal that makes the interface seem slightly three dimensional without taking skeuomorphic metaphors too far (the preview area is a different story, more on that later).
In the screenshot above, you can see the typical RSS app workflow: you’ve got unread, all articles and starred sitting above the folders that you’ve set up for your subscriptions. In addition, without any articles selected, the main content area shows the super attractive Caffeinated icon with an unread count.
There are a lot of little UI touches that make this app great. For instance, if you select an article from the second column, it not only highlights but also rises above the other content and stays fixed while you scroll. This allows you to easily see which article you’ve selected from any point in the list.
There’s also a search bar at the top of this list that allows you to quickly filter the content. It’s not where you’d expect it to be, but it’s prominent enough that you can’t miss it.
The real thing that sets Caffeniated apart is the reading experience, which definitely breaks the typical mold.
As you can see, this area is super attractive and bursting with custom detail. Here we see the app flirting with some of that faux realism that Apple has decided is its new preferred method of UI design. I’m not too crazy about it in iCal and Address Book, but I think this app implements the same idea in a nicer, more subtle fashion (perhaps a little too much texture on the paper).
Reading articles in Caffeinated is a pleasant experience. The contrast ratio is just about perfect, the images are attractively styled with a thin white border and hint of a shadow and the content column (including both text and images) responds immediately to window size changes while the other columns in the app keep their size.
Customizing the Text
In truth, I found the default text size to be a little small in Caffeinated. Further, every time I see Arial I can’t help but think, “Why not Helvetica?”
To me, a good interface is one that I can make my own and fortunately the developer of Caffeinated seems to agree. Right-clicking on the preview area allows you to customize the text to your liking. Addressing my issues with the font took only seconds.
Caffeinated is stocked full of all the features you need and want in a Google Reader client: plenty of sharing options, Read It Later/Instapaper support, control over refreshes and how long to keep old articles, there are even options to turn on and off animations and control the full-screen look.
More to Come
Interestingly enough, the features that I’m most excited about weren’t even ready for me to try yet. Namely, custom theming and third party plugins.
The mere presence of these two items means great things for this little app in the future. As soon as the API is released, you can expect to see a nice influx of new visual options and awesome features. I can’t wait to see how the app evolves with these additions in the future.
Still In Beta
Keep in mind that Caffeinated is still very much under development and not ready for a public release yet. Consequently, I did run into a major issue that led to an extremely lengthy initial launch that maxed out my CPU and pretty much crippled my machine.
However, once I played with the app long enough to get everything loaded and limit the number of unread downloads, everything sped right up and it’s been downright zippy ever since. Other than that, I haven’t experienced any other issues. In fact, the developer promises me that the final release version will contain what he believes to be the fastest Google Reader API ever built!
The Reader to Watch in 2012
The wait is nearly over for you to get your hands on this app, and trust me, it’s worth it. The slick UI, awesome attention to detail, buttery smooth functionality and upcoming extendability will make this a major contender for Google Reader fans in the year to come.
I’ll hold off on scoring this one for now just because it’s undergoing so many changes at the moment. When it’s released we’ll have an updated review for you to check out. In the mean time let us know what you think in the comment section below.
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