Remember those days when you would wake up and see your dad having breakfast while reading an actual newspaper? For many, those days are gone. News organisations provide us with the latest news 24/7 and the charm of a printed copy of a newspaper has slowly faded with news aggregators and the awesome RSS readers I always talk about.
There is light at the end of the tunnel. If you were used to reading physical newspapers or are still a subscriber (my parents are!) you will appreciate a different way your favourite titles have gone digital and face the future in a way that film and music industry couldn't.
PressReader [iTunes Link] by NewspaperDirect is a digital kiosk that allows you to download and read digital copies of newspapers around the world with the original format and layout seen in their print editions.
As long as you have network connection, you can tell the app to download the latest issue and enjoy it cover to cover in its sorta PDF format, just like the real thing.
The fun doesn't end here: PressReader also includes a search and share function, which allows you to copy blocks of text directly from the app. Every article can be also selected taping on the headline to display a simple text format window, if that's what you're after, or use the playback function to have the app to read it for you.
During my testing, I found the text-to-speech option to be pretty good (better than Apple's in Snow Leopard) and I found it quite enjoyable to use when reading articles in French, since it helps me to improve my pronunciation skills and works as a fun complement to my lessons.
Navigating through the issue is easy and feels natural. The developer went for a conservative approach and chose to follow the gestures and controls seen in iBooks and other well established apps. A slider on the bottom of the screen indicates the section of the newspaper but once you tap it, you get a scrollable shelf with miniature versions of every page with the respective page numbers. I'm glad they didn't use The Daily's infamous carousel!
PressReader supports both portrait and landscape view. If you choose to use it on your iPad (its an Universal app), you can have a double spread view just like the real newspaper, which is quite useful for articles and pictures that cover consecutive pages.
As you would expect, you can also zoom in and out, although it takes some extra seconds to render every pixel on the zoomed area: perhaps the most annoying issue I found in the app, specially since you have downloaded the newspaper scan already. It must be a matter of rendering, which I wasn't able to test on an iPad 2 and behaves much better on the iPhone version.
With PressReader you can download a single newspaper issue for £0.79/$0.99 or sign up for a monthly subscription with unlimited downloads for £22.95/$29.95. While the pay as you go option can be handy to get single issues, the monthly unlimited tier I tried was excellent to have a full library available to read, specially on lazy Sundays with a cup of coffee.
The monthly subscription comes with perks such as being able to download newspapers published in the past two weeks or set your iDevice to automatically download the latest issue of up to five of your favourite titles.
While the prices might not suit every pocket, those buying a newspaper every day will easily spot the value in PressReader. There is something cool about being able to download a fresh copy of a newspaper from your sofa or on the train. If you are interested in a publication that is not particularly mainstream, PressReader will come really handy too.
The biggest disappointing in PressReader is that it only accesses a limited selection of the huge PressDisplay library available from your desktop browser (full list here). United States and the UK both have a big selection of titles including trade magazines, ready to download on the app. Unfortunately, other countries have a limited selection on the iOS app but you can access more via your desktop web browser with the same account. A future update allowing you to choose the title available in the Store would be great, but I also understand there might be some copyright or distribution limitations holding this back.
The future of newsrooms doesn't have to be too fancy: scans of the actual print edition are a natural option, readers already know what to expect and you might be able to save some trees too.
Overall, PressReader is a superb app that will please those looking for a great digital experience of traditional papers on tablet devices. I particularly value the effort gone in editing and illustrating a print newspaper and unlike most paper's websites, all the personality is still here on your iPad or iPhone. I would like to see more updates to integrate third party services like Instapaper or Readability and also take advantage of the superior graphic horsepower in newer devices to make that zooming smoother.
As I mentioned before, I'm happy without the current title selection, but I would enjoy to download some of the papers available on the desktop version. PressReader comes with seven free downloads for you to try, so check if it has the papers you like and compare it against the real print edition. It's brilliant!
A PressDisplay representative was kind enough to explain the issue with the publications available on the iPad. It turns out that sometimes publishers decide not to include their titles in certain platforms, iPhone and iPad in our case. This explains why you can only find four papers from Spain on the iOS app, while the web version has nine at the time of writing. Unfortunately, its not a matter of importing titles to the app, its just all at the publishers' discretion and this can change anytime.