When Flipboard was released for the iPad in 2010, it caused such a scrum that for a while, the app became an invite-only affair to reduce the strain on the server. The reason was simple, it came a short while after the first Apple iPad went on sale, and although there were plenty of apps available for the tablet, few did anything really amazing when it came to using it to consume media.
Flipboard is a virtual magazine designed for touchscreen use, but instead of featuring its own unique content, it allows users to make their own magazine by taking content from many different online sources.
While it could be viewed as a glorified RSS reader, Flipboard’s brilliance is in its design, as it pulls images and puts them front and centre, takes snippets of text to make sure you know what the article is before tapping it, and then adds a cool “page turning” navigation system.
When it was released, it was ahead of its time, and has since prompted several imitators (and provided the inspiration for the design of various newspaper’s official apps too). The trouble was however, unless you were a dedicated RSS user, or had a busy Facebook profile, Flipboard soon lost its sheen.
Other news readers such as the brilliant Pulse came along, and they took away much of the garnish that initially made Flipboard so exciting – instead making user-definable content the focus of the app. I’d be willing to bet there are many people who used Flipboard for a while, lost interest, and haven’t opened it since.
But Flipboard didn’t stagnate, and soon became worth visiting again after the developers added more functionality, including support for various other social networks including Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and most recently, Google+. Extensive curated lists were added to take the pain out of finding quality content, and the limit on the number of feeds which could be added was lifted.
Flipboard also made the transition to become an iPhone app as well, then, in May this year, an Android version was announced that would launch alongside the Samsung Galaxy S III.
As the Galaxy S III has a massive 4.8-inch screen with a 1280 x 720 pixel resolution, and a pixel density of 306ppi, this seemed like a match made in heaven, but would the newly launched Android version live up to the high standards set by the iOS original?
The app is a small download from Google Play, and it’s installed in moments. When you first open Flipboard, you’re presented with the chance to either create or sign-in to your account. This is very helpful, as a Flipboard account keeps all your preferences in sync across all your devices, from chosen content to stored passwords. With an app that you could have spent months getting just right on your iPad, only to have to replicate it manually again on your new phone, this is an essential feature.
It works well too, and Flipboard is potentially up and running instantly should you be an existing user. The choice of sites to add to your feed is seemingly endless, including the aforementioned social networks, plus everything from your favourite film review website and your Google Reader feed, to videos from YouTube.
Feeds are displayed in square icons, not unlike Windows Phone 7’s Live Tiles, which provide a picture and short blurb on the most recent addition contained within. Swipe up and you’re on to the next page, and swipe down to go back. A tap of a tile takes you to a hub with that site’s content, and articles are swiped through in the same way.
When you find something to read, a tap shows either the article adapted for the screen, just like the Reader function in Safari, or the mobile site version. This is perhaps the most awkward thing about Flipboard, as pages are inconsistently displayed, and it’s not clear exactly why.
For example, some sites render perfectly and the articles can be scrolled through on a single page – PandoDaily.com for example – while others such as Men’s Health are flipped through, which is a far less natural way of reading a lengthy piece. Then there are the sites which only have a basic RSS feed, which means you have to click through to the webpage. This process has too many clicks and ruins the experience, plus it is a pain if you’re browsing on a 3G connection.
When you find the right feature though, Flipboard is great and on the Galaxy S III, video works really well. It’s easy to select the highest quality streaming feed for your chosen video, making them look fantastic on the 720p screen. Sadly though, as the videos play through YouTube, you can’t use the S III’s Pop-up Play feature.
This aside, the S III’s eye-tracking feature to ensure the screen stays on while you’re reading helped immensely, even in a dimly lit bedroom at night.
Flipboard for Android is every bit as polished and smooth on the S III as it is on the iPhone 4S and new iPad. The large, high resolution screen is perfect for reading and watching video, and the app brings all your favourite content together in one place, plus it doesn’t need much setup to get it working.
It’s free to download from Google Play, and could revolutionise the way you read everything from a daily news story to following links from your Twitter feed. It’s a perfect example of everything a good mobile app should be: useful, attractive, stable, well-supported and cross-platform. Brilliant.