Android Review: Handmark's Express News. Verdict: Doesn't suck.

1Bombarded with dozens of news sources and code-heavy web sites, mobile news browsing seems to be a daunting task at best. Even on Wi-Fi, some of the most powerful mobile phones take their sweet time rendering. Searching for a solid application that can handle aggregation of popular and trusted news sources can be just as tedious as actually reading news on a mobile phone. Tedium, however, may have come to an end for us Android users with the release of Handmark‘s Express News. With 10,000-50,000 downloads, Express News has maintained a 4.5/5 score to an often-critical crowd. With all the buzz on this product, we figured it was time to give it a run.

Upon launching the application, Express News brought me to the general headlines display, listing 10 major stories that I would find atop any popular news portal on the web. A ‘get more stories’ button at the bottom grabs 10 more stories, listing them in ascending order from time published. From here, I checked out the article on Toys R Us’s acquisition of FAO Shwartz. It brought the article page at lightening speed (granted, I was connected over Wi-Fi), the story’s imagery intact.

Each story also has a “Share this” button, allowing you to send the link to your compadres via SMS or E-mail. It lacks a “Tweet this” button, which seems quite odd in the midst of the current Twitter-frenzy. If nothing else, it’d be nice if it tied into any of the Android Twitter apps already available.

And, for the sake of folks like me who can’t see 10 feet in front of them: You can change the text size quite easily.

Not only is the readability great, but the navigation setup is brilliant – but it needs a tutorial for first time users. Instead of going back to the main page or any category choice, users can ‘flip’ through articles and topics with a swipe of the finger. It’s a great feature for those who enjoy skim-reading; stories load fast enough that if the headline doesn’t grab you, the picture might. When, however, you do want to change the category of articles, just dropping ‘Express news’ bar at the top will display available categories including politics, general, and U.S. headlines to name a few.

Alas, it’s not all perfect. Our biggest qualm is with the lack of content customization. Though they claim to source from 300 sources, we’d like to be able to use this client for our sources – that is, RSS feeds. As far as we can tell, you’re stuck with what they give you.

2The popularity and positive feedback of this quality application is most likely caused by its business model: instead of charging users, Express news is ad-supported. The advertisement is pretty non-intrusive, only seen at the top of the article selection pages. Free is great, but they really ought to figure out how much the average use brings in from ad-clicks in a few months or a year, and offer an ad-less version. Finally, if we can’t have RSS, at least give us localization. It’s a good news application; add local, nation and international news, and it’d be nearly perfect.

For the final price of free, this application is great; If you’re interested in the world around you and aren’t too interested in bringing in your favorite sites, it’s worth checking out. Everyone likes news, everyone likes free things; this app offers quality and no cost to the users.

What we liked:

  • Great functionality, with a design fit specifically for the Android platform
  • Incredibly performance – As I was playing with this app for an hour or so, I didn’t encounter one performance related issue
  • News-paper feel, with flipping of the pages
  • Ability to share articles of SMS and E-mail
  • We like free things, everyone does

What we didn’t like

  • No premium application, you’re forced to look at ads
  • Lack of RSS feeds, or at least localization – This is a big minus