This week in Mobile News Manor #18: Great news reader for Android

This is a peek into a technology writer’s home office, aka Mobile News Manor, discussing gadgets, apps, best practices using same, and ebooks. This week I found Taptu, a great Android feed reader.

One of the primary benefits of being a technology writer is the ability to work in my home office, aka Mobile News Manor (MNM). It is a bustling place, with evaluation gadgets constantly arriving and going back to the vendors. As part of my daily work I spend a fair amount of time testing these gadgets for review, and also looking at new apps for various platforms to streamline my work methods.

This column is my look back each week to share pertinent experiences that I believe you might find useful. There is no telling what you might find in this column, but you’ll definitely get a feel for what it is like testing gadgets for a living. Welcome to the Manor.

Charge of the Android brigade

I was able to spend this week continuing my testing of the Droid Charge by Samsung. This is the smartphone that brings the Verizon 4G LTE network to the hand in a workable solution for mobile professionals. I have experienced no connection issues as plague other 4G handsets, the HTC Thunderbolt in particular, and have used the Charge as a mobile hotspot on multiple occasions.

It is clear from my evaluation that Samsung has solved the battery drain issues plaguing LTE phones, as the Charge provides solid battery life even over 4G. The phone easily lasts me all day with moderate usage, and also gets good results when used hard as a mobile hotspot with LTE. I have no issues with the Charge and battery life at all, a rarity with this type of phone.

I should point out that while I have seen no LTE network disconnect issues while using the Droid Charge as a mobile hotspot, that is likely do to stationary usage. Working at home means I have no commute over public transportation, so my mobile hotspot usage is not exposed to moving while using it. I suspect the Charge would fall prey to problems while moving like other phones, due to moving in and out of 4G coverage areas. I haven't tested it in this scenario, so if you commute and expect to use the Charge while moving your mileage may vary.

I am still impressed with all aspects of my Charge usage, and am leaning towards ditching my HTC EVO 4G on the Sprint network to go back to Verizon with a Charge. That decision is not final yet, but it's getting closer.

Apps of the week

A couple of apps dominated testing in the Manor this week, one Android app and one for the BlackBerry PlayBook. RIM released the Video Chat app for the PlayBook and I've been using it quite a bit to make video calls with colleagues. The quality of the calls has been very good, and I find them good enough for business purposes. Most methods I have used in the past to make business video calls have shown sporadic quality, but not so with the PlayBook Video Chat solution.

The only concern I have with RIM's chat solution is a big one, and that's the inability to turn it off completely. It seems the Video Chat app doesn't have to be running for calls to be received, as the PlayBook rings with every incoming call whether the app is running or not. That means you are prone to interruption at the worst times, as I can find no way to turn off incoming calls. There is a Do Not Disturb setting which should block incoming calls, but that means you must actually run the app all the time to insure calls are blocked. The PlayBook has to be powered off to stop them from coming in otherwise. RIM needs to address this in a future update as you must be able to go silent when the app is not even running.

The Android app of the week is Taptu, a visual news reader that spans social networks and news sources. It presents the news items in a scrollable list that displays particularly well on my Galaxy Tab. There are a lot of predefined news feeds for major sites, and the user can define specific feeds to include in the news stream.

Taptu can follow Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn news streams, along with any Google Reader feed you have defined. Using a select combination of these sources, I was able to easily build a core news stream that is very useful in my work. Each news feed consists of a series of "cards" that display a single news item, and these cards can be swiped left and right to spin quickly through a news feed. Feeds can be dragged around to a desired order to appear on the display, providing total customization for the user experience.

The app displays perfectly in both landscape and portrait orientations, and is lightning fast for both updates and interaction with the feeds. Individual news items can be starred for saving or shared with friends with a few screen taps. Taptu allows configuring the device to update all feeds when the device is shaken, a useful option. Taptu is free and is highly recommended for Android users. It works surprisingly well on smaller smartphone screens, too. There is an iOS version but I haven't tested it.

Ebook of the week

This week I finished The Fallen Angel, by David Hewson. This is the latest in the wonderful Nic Costa series, and is my favorite in the series. Hewson tells a twisting tale of murder by artfully combining current affairs with a sordid event in Roman history. The story works beautifully on every level, and kept me turning the pages all the way until the surprise ending.


I hope you enjoyed sharing my week in Mobile News Manor as much as I enjoyed it. I love writing this column as I can expand on my gadget and app testing beyond typical reviews, and get more into how a particular piece of tech adds value to my work.