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NetNewsWire 5 for iOS review

RSS reader apps have come and gone, but few have experienced such a bumpy rollercoaster ride as NetNewsWire. Making a splash in 2002 from developer Brent Simmons, the popular Mac version was ultimately acquired by not one but two different companies before finally finding its way back home in 2019.

netnewswire 5 for ios iphone article list Brent Simmons

Buttons at the bottom of NetNewsWire’s article list (iPhone version shown here) allow readers to quickly mark all as read or jump to the next unread entry.

Along the way, NetNewsWire found its way onto iOS—and even Apple TV for a brief time—but the marriage never quite flourished. Thankfully, Simmons has rectified this situation with an all-new universal iOS version that faithfully mirrors the desktop experience I reviewed last year, and even bests it in some ways.

Old faithful

Those who use NetNewsWire 5 for Mac to stay current with the news already know what to expect from the new iOS and iPadOS version. The words “stable” and “fast” are frequently used to describe this free app, and the same applies here.

Rather than reinvent the wheel, Simmons and his small team did a remarkable job porting the macOS edition to iPhone and iPad. On the tablet, for example, there’s a familiar three-panel layout, with sources on left, list of articles from a selected feed at center, with the remaining space reserved for reading the chosen article. Nothing remarkable on the surface, especially when other RSS reader apps like Reeder and ReadKit do pretty much the same.

Where competing apps frequently get bogged down with complexity and feature bloat, NetNewsWire 5 for iOS remains lean and most importantly, free of the pesky bugs which increasingly seem to infect modern apps. (It’s a testament to Simmons’ coding prowess that not a single “hot fix” update has been necessary during the first month of availability.) One downside to being so nimble is there’s not much in the way of custom display options. If you like to tweak text size or font style, for example, this is not the news reader for you.

netnewswire 5 ipad keyboard shortcuts Brent Simmons

On the iPad, there are nearly thirty keyboard shortcuts available to make the tablet version more like the Mac.

Despite remaining faithful to the macOS aesthetic, NNW 5 takes full advantage of iOS, with excellent support for Siri Shortcuts and system-wide Dark Mode (a manual toggle switch for the latter would be welcome, however). On iPad, there’s additional support for multiple windows and—with the right accessory attached—nearly 30 keyboard shortcuts, which make the app feel more like the desktop version.

Get in sync

Although there was little reason to sync RSS feeds with other devices prior to smartphones and tablets, it would be inconceivable to release an app without it today. Although NetNewsWire 5 for Mac remains stubbornly limited to Feedbin and locally imported feeds, the mobile edition adds sync with my preferred service Feedly to the mix. Like macOS, NNW 5 for iOS comes with 16 popular local sources ready to read.

Also in the source list are a trio of “smart feeds,” essentially automatic filters for reading feeds published on the current day, all unread, or articles marked as favorites. Such options definitely help cut down on the noise factor with a volume of busy feeds, but they don’t go quite far enough. I’d love to be able to create our own custom smart feeds, for example.

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