PressReader 3.0 or Newsstand? Finding the best the way to read newspapers on your iPad

A lot of things have happened in the publishing industry since I last reviewed PressDisplay's Press Reader for iPad. The last version of iOS brought the equally loved and hated Newsstand and more recently, iBooks 2 and iBooks Author entered the equation to revolutionise textbooks. So how are these innovations changing your reading habits today?

Keeping up with the latest trends, Press Reader [iTunes Link]has introduced a new set of features that feel like a departure of its original purpose. Let me explain. When I first tried Press Reader I was overwhelmed by the amount of content available on its original format. Similarities aside, this was the first app that truly felt like a digital kiosk, allowing users to download PDF-like files with the original format and composition of the print edition. 

And of course, these weren't just some cheaply scanned newspapers. Press Reader also understood the text intelligently, allowing you to link, search, export and read back to you from a plain text version of the articles. Quite impressive. The skill set mentioned along with the pricing model and the amount of titles available made Press Reader my app of choice. Don't get me wrong, I love buying The Observer and open its bag full of supplements and promotional flyers. But I also love downloading and reading it in bed. 

When Newsstand for iOS was announced I felt the whole model was laughable compared with the bundle offer I was getting from PressDisplay. Sure I like how the information is presented but unlike games and apps, I don't think I need the iTunes / App Store experience. All those ratings, rankings and user reviews aren't necessary. I have chosen the papers I like to read some time ago and I'm sure I won't be changing every week depending on a What's Hot list.

On the good side, Apple has worked to nail the user experience making these virtual papers and magazines a pleasure to read. This is obviously a hit and miss depending on the publication but we've reached a point where the majority have had some time to refine and polish their Newsstand "apps" now. Surprisingly coming from Apple, there isn't much consistency or rules to follow, meaning you could end up with landscape-only newspapers for instance.

Having publishers releasing those playful versions must have been the motivation behind the brand new SmartFlow mode in PressReader - the most important addition in version 3.0. In addition to the traditional view, which is simply a replica of the print edition, SmartFlow shuffles the content of the paper and displays it in a more modern, dynamic form. Something like tweaking the CSS on a website. I know, this is bonkers, but I guess it makes sense when you see it in action.

I personally prefer having the print layout. There are some super talented infographists and designers out there for a reason. Maybe I just too old fashioned and like the typical spreadsheet paper columns, but the point is that this app gives me both options. The drawback of the replica view is the rendering time: on an iPad 1 there is a minimal delay rendering the text and pictures when you zoom or drag. This is barely noticeable, but still noticeable for the Retina display trained eye. The SmartFlow version is more fluid and allows you to change the font size, for instance, without any need to pinch to zoom.

Waiting, downloading, processing, installing

There is something slightly cumbersome about how Newsstand manages your subscriptions. First, you to download an app that appears on your shelves and then tap on it to access the publications own store. Every download takes some time to process and the heavy multimedia assets you get in the glossies start to be noticeable right after tapping the buy button. On Newsstand the heavy loading takes place browsing the catalog - notice that my home United Kingdom has a particularly generous selection - but the actual download is pretty fast and has no processing or installing to do. 

Another aspect where I think PressReader is superior to Newsstand is when it comes to subscriptions. Apple treats every publication individually and works on a basic pay-per-unit model, just like a real kiosk. PressReader also allows you to buy one copy at a time but offers competitive packages for individual publications or unlimited to access its vast catalog covering plenty of countries. If you're interested, check their website as the iPad app is just one way to access all the catalogue you get with the subscription.

It's all about the content available

Comparing both platforms isn't easy. I love reading my papers. Some people are subscribed to Netflix and have a massive queue of TV shows. I have my iPad downloading the news automatically in the format I grew up with.

In my case, I'm subscribed to WIRED on Newsstand and get my physical copy of the magazine every month at home. The magazine stays on a coffee table to flick throw it when I chill out after work - the digital on Newsstand was downloaded once for the novelty. I use PressReader every morning to catch up with national and international news. Blogs and websites go to different RSS apps via Google Reader, which I check at my desk. During my commute I also see business people reading The Times on the iPad. As you can see, it's all about the titles available and the way you consume my media. 

I'm happy to see that PressReader keeps developing and keeping up with the competition. You can copy the content, share it, listen to it and now tailor every page to your taste. In the future, I'd love to see PressReader giving the user more control over the automatic downloads. Maybe I'm spoilt by Instacast, which allows you to select which item to download in case you're on a tight 3G network or an expensive data plan. 

The search function could be much more useful it it displayed the actual replica page of the article and not just the plain text. The free app comes with seven credits to try out and I recommend you give it a go. Also, notice that the SmartFlow feature is hidden in the Settings and isn't active the first time you launch the app.