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Super Test – RSS feed readers

Google Reader is on its way out, so what’s the best way to keep your feeds organised client side?

Initial import options are varied and very good

Every time there’s announcement of spring cleaning over at Google, there’s always one service people lament the loss of. Google Wave was the first notable one, although at least the best features of that got into Google Docs. Google Listen was perhaps a little past its expiry date, but that didn’t stop our own Rob Zwetsloot from shedding a single tear for its passing. So it was with much outcry around the world, mainly from journalists and the enthusiast press, as Google announced that Reader, their browser based feed aggregator would be the next to go.

It was a simple service, but it synced to Android devices, and was one of the first of its kind to allow you to have a universal feed reader accessible on all your devices, without having to re-read older items. While there are some
online readers that have come up since Readers inception, if Google can’t afford to run one, then the future of the others does not seem reliable.

Thankfully, over the years client side RSS readers have improved tremendously, partly in response to the popularity of Google Reader. It’s time to revisit them now, and we look to find out which is the best in this Feed Reader Group Test.

Liferea

RSS Reader
Liferea has a straightforward interface

Outside of using Thunderbird or Firefox RSS bookmarks, Liferea was one of the early, popular ways to get feeds aggregated before the online readers became a thing. Built to run in GTK, Liferea is a fairly lightweight and fast app with plenty of features. Liferea’s popularity has made it easy to obtain, available in all major repositories, and it’s still being maintained and improved upon by the original developer.

Liferea looks fairly simple at a glance; however, that shouldn’t dissuade you from looking a bit deeper. Liferea’s default appearance and feed selection are organised in such a way to show you how the interface works: folders with different selections of feeds can be viewed independently of the other folders; there are filters that allow you to read, for example, all the unread articles; and you can add tags to different feeds and news items. On top of that, you can also create specific folders that have search filters in place, allowing you to better prioritise reading news items if they have important keywords in them.

Not unlike the other news feed readers in this test, Liferea has a built-in browser which you can use if you don’t want to be switching between windows all the time. It’s not the best browser, though, with some of the sites we tested it on not being rendered quite properly. You will also need to do a bit of tweaking if you’re using Chrome or Chromium, as Liferea doesn’t always recognise it as the default browser. However there don’t seem to be any issues with Firefox.

You can easily import your feeds from Google Reader as well, as long as you export them from the browser reader first. The XML file from the Takeout package will load up all the feeds into Liferea, including any folder structure. It doesn’t sync to your Google Account, though, so you will have to compare the feeds between the two so that you can start where you left off.

Liferea is a nice little reader, with plenty of customisation options, but it would be nicer if the browser was better, as you can’t always read the full article from the feed, and it’s a massive pain to switch between windows.

Verdict

8/10

It’s a bit simple, but there are plenty of options and features to make sure you can read your news the way you want to

Akregator

Feed Reader RSS Google
Previews are formatted fairly well in the window

Akregator was originally just part of Kontact, the KDE personal information manager. Kontact is a suite of software that includes emails, to-do lists, address books and other features typically associated with email clients. Akregator is still part of this suite, but it’s also now available as a standalone product. It’s easy to obtain – in fact, if you already have KDE you should already have Akregator. Otherwise, it’s easily available to any system that allows you to install KDE from the repos.

Akregator has the same smart folder structure as we’re seeing in all these feed readers, allowing you to create topics to file feeds into, enabling you to organise and read your news items with a bit of prioritisation. Unfortunately, there is no way to create a folder with specific search filters in it, like in RSS Owl or Liferea. However, to make up for this, the search function is a little more useful. It’s used to search through whatever your selection is, whether it’s all unread or just one of the many folders.

The built-in browser is based on Konqueror and is therefore pretty good. As the interface is organised into different tabs, you can easily switch between the browser tab to the feeds. Of course, you can also open them in an external browser, and Akregator smartly has it so that the middle mouse button opens up the link externally by default. You can change the mouse shortcuts, though, although you can’t change the key-bindings for navigation. Either way, they’re probably the best default keys in this test, with left and right being simple used to move between items.

It also allows import through XML for your Google Reader feeds, although again there’s no online synchronisation, so you’ll have to manually match up the feeds. Akregator isn’t really feature rich and although it does have a tray icon option and some basic notifications, there isn’t much customisation available for the way the interface works. You can change the colour scheme, though.

Akregator is a little lacking compared to the others in this test, then, and while it’s perfectly serviceable as a feed reader, there’s a lot more customisation and personalisation that can be done in the other feed readers.

Verdict

7/10

Akregator is better as part of a suite of apps, as it doesn’t stand up against the other readers here

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