Reading Later: A Symbian Story

Posted on 06/30/2011

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I am a recent convert to Read It Later and must say I can’t imagine getting by without it. Since I spend the majority of my time interaction with the web/cloud on my phone, with every new desktop service I discover, I go searching for a mobile app. As a Symbian user though, I was not surprised to find that there was no mobile application available for Read It Later. I have grown used to this frustration and as usual the only option provided was the web version which would not suffice. So I continued using the service on my desktop.  t does improve productivity. Often I find a batch of articles on sites that I find interesting and usually gloss over them during lunch and worse forget about them, but with this service, I always have a reading list of useful and intersting waiting.

I did chance upon an app for Symbian called Lukija. My experiences with this app were not that great. Installation was fine, even with the evil Qt Smart Installer, as was the first login and sync. The problem came once I exited the app. When I tried to open it again, it would either open and crash when I tried to sync, and eventually just stopped opening at all. And this was reproducible, as I reinstalled the app a few times to make sure. The app itself was simple enough, a very basic UI, not much of a looker but as I’ve said before looks can certainly be sacrificed for function. The main view is a simple list of articles, with a toolbar at the top of the screen, with settings, sync and exit buttons and bizarrely,  a button to view open apps…hmmm. In article view there is an the sync and exit buttons are replaced with with ‘mark as read’ and ‘return’ keys.  The default view is text only and what I thought was a nice touch, at the top of the article, the title is hyperlinked and tapping on this opens up the original article in the app. Strangely there was no way to switch back to text only.  The app is not pretty, and performance was modest at best. Syncing to Read it Later takes age and scrolling is not as smooth as one would like but it does the job. Well if you forget what I said earlier…

In the interim, Nokia introduced the Nokia Drop app over at Beta Labs. This is an app that pushes content from your desktop web browser, either Chrome or Firefox, to the mobile client installed on your phone. Supported content includes, map locations from Ovi Maps, images, RSS feeds and crucially links. I didn’t think much of it initially, but this could serve as a replacement for Read it Later. with a few caveats. First, one must always remember to have the mobile client open and connected. Second, it’s a little difficult to tell waht the link is about, as it doesn’t send the title of the page, just the URL. Lastly, if you are data conscious like myself, the client will only launch links in either the default browser or Opera Mobile and depending on the page , could result in the transmission of a large amount of data. As a basic solution though, it is  not particularly elegant but it does do the trick. Add some kind of information with the link and a ‘text only’ view and Nokia Drop could be a viable alternative to Read it Later. In some way, it is much like what Apple is doing with the Reading List feature in Safari, that will now sync to iOS devices.

I thought my quest to use Read it Later with my Symbian device was blunted until I came across an excellent Qt app called SymPaper. I’ll get it out of the way first and foremost that the app is payware, at R25 for South Africa (€3 in Europe), but like the famous Gravity twitter client, good apps are worth parting with money for, and I will not settle for weaker free alternatives for the sake of frugality. While compiling this post, SymPaper got an update from v 1.04 to 1.1.0, and the improvements have impressed. The first time you sign in, unlike Lukija, an automatic sync is performed. Even better, a dialogue box shows the progress of the sync process. Once sync is done, the user is presented with a list of articles. At the top there are two buttons,  sync and settings/optioons, and at the base four buttons to add articles, and change views from all, unread and unread. In article view, which is text view, the sync button is replaced with a back button. The user can mark thr article as read, open in the browser, rescync the item (for example if the content has changed), and a share button. Methods of sharing that are supported are email, sms and twitter, with Facebook likely to be added in later versions of the app. The UI of SymPaper is refreshingly simple and clear. Unlike Lukija it is fluid and I have yet to experience an stutterimg or lock ups. Some articles don’t render too well but that is more of a limitation of Read it Later than the app. Unfortunately should one open the link in browser, Qt currently does not allow links to be open in other browsers like Opera Mobile, even if this is set as default. With the current  build of the Symbian not being up to scratch and most Symbian^3 devices like the N8 only getting the new updated browser as late as August it is a point worth remembering.

All in all, SymPaper is a godsend for Read it Later users and it will only get better. Along with sharing to Facebook, the app is getting a UI redesign, that having seen screenshot of various screens of the new designs on the developers twitter page, I can safely say it will be one of the more beautiful Symbian apps as well. The app comes highly recommended and would encourage any Read it Later user on Symbian to give it a try.

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Posted in: Apps, N8, Nokia, Symbian, Tips, Web