Pulse News Reader Review: News for the Laid-Back

I can’t live without my news. But you know what? Not everyone is like me. In fact, some very well-adjusted people can be quite happy with a casual approach to newsfeeds and just subscribe to a handful of sources that interest them. Pulse News Reader and its iPhone cousin, Pulse News Mini were designed for such people. I didn’t think I’d find much value in it, but I was wrong, Pulse is surprisingly fun!

I think the words of the developer captures the Pulse experience perfectly, “While a traditional RSS reader is usually about consuming as much content as possible, Pulse is all about leisurely enjoying your daily news with a cup of coffee.”

As I pointed out in my recent TMA article about Reeder, one needs a good user interface to rapidly sort through the glut of news that pours through an over-subscribed newsreader. If the goal, however, is to enjoy most of the articles presented in a feed, rather than just screening out the choice bits, then a different user interface may be more appropriate. Pulse provides a great example of such a UI.

Pulse can host a maximum of 20 feeds and displays the last 25 articles per feed. This isn’t many, but plenty for low traffic feeds and for those who want to limit the number of feeds they read. One big plus is that is’s easy to add a new feed. To subscribe, just enter key words in the search box or a URL and Pulse will scan the net for up to 10 feeds that contain articles that match. Pulse can also access your Google Reader account to add your favourite feeds, and if you have a friend who uses Pulse, there’s a “Bump” option that lets you exchange feeds too.

I have a close friend who recently bought an iPad and I was dismayed to learn that he didn’t have the time or interest to get sucked into the abyss of newsreaders. Well being a good friend, I felt compelled to change that and thought, ‘Pulse might be the answer!’ With his birthday on the horizon I thought I could gift it to him and get him hooked.

My friend, let’s call him Tom for the purposes of this article, is an avid (to put it lightly) bird watcher. One of the first apps he bought was Birdtunes which he loves and that gave me an idea. I was sure there are lots of feeds about birding, I just needed to find some good ones to show as examples.

With a little trial and error using different search terms, I found 3 interesting feeds. If I knew some popular birding sites, I could’ve copied their RSS feed URLs and added them too.

Great picture of this Ross’s Goose, huh?

If you have the iPad version, Pulse makes it easy to directly post links of good articles onto your Facebook, Twitter or e-mail as well as save the entire article on Instapaper (TMA Review). In addition, Pulse recently partnered with Posterous to let you create your own custom newsfeed called My Pulse by selecting individual articles you find and then share them with others by touching the “heart” icon. This is really awesome! Once you’ve signed up for this free service, your feed shows up at http://my_username.pulsememe.com and you get 5 bonus Pulse feeds for a total of 25.

Pulse on the iPad is fully orientation aware and provides a large canvas to read your news. Articles scroll vertically and swiping horizontally will take you to the previous or next one in the feed. The full article can also be read in the in-app browser or in Safari. Oh, and just in case you’re wondering, my friend Tom isn’t Owen Wilson (above); I mean really, he would never wear a hat like that!

Facebook and Twitter users can display articles referenced by links posted to their accounts as a feed in Pulse (currently iPad only). This sounds good in principle, but I didn’t find it very useful because I get so many of them.

One awkward thing I ran into is that Pulse is unable to display video links embedded in feeds. You can switch to Safari, but there is no way to show them within the app itself. Hopefully this will be resolved in a future update.

As can be seen in the pictures, the iPhone version has a similar interface, but as mentioned, it’s missing some of the functionality of its bigger cousin. There is also no synchronization between devices (other than bumping) or with Google Reader. Articles are not marked as read, which for most newsreaders would be unacceptable. Given the focus of Pulse on a more relaxed approach to consuming news, however, this didn’t seem to be a big problem.

All things considered, I like Pulse a lot. I’ll move my low traffic feeds over to it from Reeder and use both. Now it’s time to see if Tom likes it.

App Summary
Title: Pulse News Reader
Pulse News Mini
Developer: Alphonso Labs Inc
Reviewed Ver: 1.2 (iPad), 1.0.2 (iPhone) Min OS Req: 3.2, 3.1.3
Price: $3.99
App Size: 2.0 MB
1.7 MB
  • Great casual news reading experience
  • Adding new feeds is simple and fun
  • Can connect to Google Reader
  • Good integration with Facebook, Twitter, e-mail and Instapaper
  • My Pulse rocks!
  • Limited feeds and articles per feed
  • iPhone app is missing functionality
  • Video can’t be displayed within the app
  • No means to identify or sync already read articles


Ray Gans works as a Community Manager for an open source software vendor in the SF Bay Area and loves apps, wine & cheese and boardgames. He bought his first Mac in 1984 and has been one of the Apple faithful ever since. You can catch him on the TMA forums as Aeaea.

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