NewsTab is a free Android app (an iOS version is listed as 'coming soon' on its website) that helps you to organise all your news. It can be called a visual news reader - a category of apps made famous by the likes of Flipboard and LinkedIn Pulse. Those apps, however, focus more on curation of news, letting you browse through sections to find publishers to follow. NewsTab wants to give you greater flexibility by letting you add RSS feeds.
In theory, that's a great idea - an app that's as customisable as Google Reader used to be, but far easier on the eyes. But how well does it actually work out? That's what we wanted to see.
When you get started with the app, you're asked to sign in (you can either create a new account) or use one of your social accounts (Google or Facebook), but you can also get started as a guest. Logging in will enable you to use NewsTab across multiple devices - there's also a Chrome version so you can use this on your PC and mobile - but apart from that, as far as we could tell, there are no downsides to just setting up the app in guest mode.
When you start, the app asks you to pick some areas of interest, such as technology, politics, science, and so on. You can add a few of these and get started with the app, or skip them altogether and add your own feeds manually. The feeds are all arranged in a tile menu that's accessed by swiping in from the left, and look like they belong on a Windows Phone, with big blocks in a primary colour.
You can go to any section or go to the home section to see top stories. In any section, you can tap on the tick mark up top to mark everything as read, or you can tap on the '+' icon, to add a new feed or a new section.
Here, you can browse through publishers, create Google alerts, look through popular topics, add an RSS URL, or import an OPML file. The last of those is handy if you're already using an RSS reader - most will allow you to export a full list of all your RSS sources in an OPML file, which can then be added to NewsTab. Or, look up the RSS feeds of your favourite publishers, and add them to NewsTab directly.
The overall layout is interesting - it's certainly eye-catching, but doesn't really help you to quickly read through your sources like you would with an RSS reader, nor does it have the same elegance as some of the other visual readers we've used. The feeds are divided into cards, an they're all the same size and format, so it doesn't really help any single story to stand out. On the other hand, the format does let you easily glance at headlines, and features large images to break up the monotony.
There are some issues - for example, we weren't able to add a Twitter feed as a source, although for many of us, Twitter has become a great source of information and links. Other apps, such as Flipboard, allow you to add Twitter handles as sources, which is a useful feature to have. Here, you can add your own Twitter credentials, to show you updates from the accounts you're following.
There are sharing options in the article cards, and you can toggle a simplified article view while reading. These are nice features to have. In terms of its functionality, NewsTab is fairly limited as it tries to straddle the line between being a news curation source, and also a RSS feed reader. If you that sounds like something you need in your life, we'd urge you to give it a shot - the app is free, loads quickly, looks nice, and doesn't even ask you to sign up.
On the other hand, if you're just interested in discovering interesting stories in a great looking interface, then there are other apps that have been around for a lot longer, and frankly, do a better job. And if you're looking for a very competent feed reader that will only serve you RSS feeds you've chosen, then again, there are plenty of better options. Our current favourite for that role is Feedly - it allows you to manage your feeds quite thoroughly, has good desktop and mobile support, and it also has a number of different views for your feeds, which can be customised at the feed level.
Perhaps because it's trying to give users the best of both worlds, NewsTab falls short of the specialists on either front. Having said that, if you're not a news junkie and want to browse the various sources with some amount of customisation and control, it could be worth a shot.