Current-ly Occupied (Google Currents Review)

A few weeks ago a rumor leaked out of the Google camp over the imminent launch of a news reader that would directly complete with Flipboard. Little did we know that it would launch hardly more than a week later.

I downloaded Currents immediately and fell in love. Right off the bat you’re presented with a selection of featured news sources to get you started. These can be easily removed and others added with the press of an icon. Currents launched with a great selection of partners who had already formatted their articles for the app and that list should only grow.

It’s obvious Google is interested in pursuing this new magazine-style format instead of the classic RSS aggregator, which might leave many devotees of Google Reader (such as myself) worried about the future of RSS. I use Reader religiously, pulling together everything from web comics to podcasts to news sites, and while I have begun using Currents just as often, there are still some things I like using Reader for.

For instance, Currents doesn’t have the ability to bookmark or star articles that you might want to come back to later, but that could easily be added in a future update. The other downside is that while Reader is constantly up-to-date and only fetches information when you want it, Currents must be set to sync every 6, 12 or 24 hours. This is due to the fact that currents pulls entire articles and accompanying links and pictures to the device and saves them into memory, ensuring that you don’t need an internet connection if you want to browse a few articles on CNET while on the bus or in a waiting room.

Another downside is that the user apparently has no control over when Currents syncs with the exception of selecting an option to sync only when the device is charging. This is a great feature for phones, as they usually have to be plugged in at least once a day, but on a tablet, which usually doesn’t need a charge more than once every 2-3 days, the option pretty much needs to be turned off. The problem? Currents is a huge battery suck and a major background process. I noticed the life of my Galaxy Tab 10.1 dropped from 3+ days to just barely more than 2. After a glance at the system menu to see what was draining my battery so fast, I saw Currents was number 3 on the list, coming in behind the screen and wifi. That’s pretty massive for an app, especially one set to sync only every 12 hours.

If you’re a Reader user, there is some (very) basic integration, meaning you can add RSS feeds you’re already subscribed to directly from a menu in Currents. The only problem is that, while Currents does a great job converting the feed to articles on its own, it doesn’t sync back to Reader and displays as page after page of articles with no categorization. Hopefully more sites will fix this on their end by using Google’s tools to format just for Currents.

Speaking of formatting, some sources do it better than others. Take a look at ABC News. 

All nice and pretty, right? It looks like an actual magazine and you’re presented with four categories to swipe through. Not interested in reading what Rick Perry has done to make everyone hate him this week? That’s fine, just jump to the Entertainment section!

Here’s a shot of CNET’s format:

Pretty smooth, huh? However, some sources (I’m looking at you, Huffington Post) aren’t so good with the formatting.

So let’s say an article from the Huffington Post has a photo gallery or a video that isn’t supported by Currents and you want to go to the website to look at these. If the appropriate links aren’t put directly in the article you won’t be able to get to them from within the app, leaving the user to back out, open the web browser and surf to HuffPo to search for the article on their own. It’s incredibly frustrating and I’m amazed no one has addressed it yet. However, most news sources don’t have this problem and provide a bevy of links within each article.

Currents has already gained a good following, which will hopefully lead to speedy updates from Google to keep users happy and prevent them from straying to Flipboard (if you’re on iOS). I’ve got to say, I’m sold already, but there’s a lot of work to do before this thing will blow other competing readers out of the water.

For an application that is in its infancy, Google Currents manages to hold its own, giving it a resounding thumbs-up from me.

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