Flipboard (for iPad) review

Years after its debut, Flipboard remains the best iPad social-news aggregator.
Photo of Flipboard (for iPad)

Flipboard, two years after its debut, remains the best news and social media aggregation app for the Apple iPad. Flipboard, a continued presence in our 100 Best iPad Apps, makes use of the slate’s Web-connectivity and large 9.7-inch display (or 7.9-inch display if you’re using an iPad mini) to cull blog posts, social networking feeds, images, video, and articles into an impressive layout that replicates the print reading experience—and essentially puts traditional RSS readers to shame. The latest update, version 1.9.8, brings bug fixes, iPad mini readability, and enhanced Facebook support that makes an already great content-gathering app even better.

The Basics and Content
Flipboard’s main page features boxes where you add content. You do this by tapping a blank, square pane, which opens the new Content Guide that lists Flipboard categories such as Art & Design, Business, Food & Design, and Tech. By default, the Featured category is highlighted, which showcases several popular brands such as Fast Company, Make, and Popular Science (as well as Flipboard-curated top stories, Flipboard tips, and Flipboard-related news). Bringing a finger to Sports revealed a Bill Simmons sub-category (one of my favorite writers), which I tapped to see a list of his stories, tweets, and stories he’s shared. After deeming the Bill Simmons category worthy, I tapped the “Add” icon, which placed it in the blank square. Pressing and holding a square gives you the option to delete it.

There’s an Audio category that features the likes of CMJ Network, Slate Internet Radio, and TWiT; a Video category lets you add Allrecipes.com, CollegeHumor, ESPN and others Both categories also have themed genre collections such as News FM and Gamer TV. Tapping the “+” icon adds that feed to your Flipboard library. Flipboard makes it incredible easy to discover new content. Once a feed is added, you simply launch the pane, and tap the play icon inside. Music and video streamed without a hitch, which made me supremely happy as the lack of audio support was Flipboard’s one glaring omission in early versions of the app.

The panes are continually updated as the sources feed fresh content into their streams, so you’ll see different images in each one when you launch the app and new stories are available. The first screen has enough real estate to house nine squares, as does the second page. You’re limited to just two pane pages; the other saved article streams are seen when you tap the red “More…” icon. That’s a definite improvement, but I’d still like more pane pages.

Social Networking
Tapping a content box opens articles in a print-style page, with a top story and two to three more along the bottom. You can read an article by tapping on it; otherwise, flip the page over and you’ll see more stories. Depending on the story and source in question, a particular article could show up as an entire page of photos, one third of a page, or a small box. You can share stories by e-mail, Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter.

In fact, you can almost use the app as a substitute for visiting those social networking sites. Its presentation of your friends’ status updates and new photos is much more attractive than on those sites’ own home pages. Naturally, you can use Flipboard to update our status and share content. Since everything is integrated in a magazine-style layout, the app also improves on Facebook’s ungainly method of displaying the latest news from “liked” sources in a single column. You can also mute authors who bombard your feed.

Flipboard displays content in several ways. If the viewed content comes from one of Flipboard’s partners (ABC News, All Things Digital, Bon Appetit, Lonely Planet, SB Nation, SF Chronicle/Gate, Uncrate or The Washington Post Magazine) the new HTML 5-powered Flipboard Pages versions of their websites are displayed. Non-content partners have stories pulled from RSS feeds, and if that isn’t available, the webpage itself is shown. Flipboard also has Instagram support, so you can view snapshots uploaded to the social photo network. A new social search features lets you search for content or hashtags across your various networks, and save it as its own dedicated content box—very cool. Pages are extremely clean with excellent use of photos and whitespace, but The Daily, another iPad news reading app, has a layout that truly adopts the magazine aesthetic with its color pages, excellent photography, and full page ads. Flipboard pulls links from numerous social networking sources that you use including Flickr, Google+, and Instagram.

Flipboard now integrates with Apple’s iBookstore in its “Bestsellers” section. There you’ll find fiction (World War Z) and non-fiction (The Joy of Hate) summaries, cover art, and an icon—that when tapped—opens Apple’s iBookstore. Frankly, it feels like an odd inclusion; Flipboard has always been about content, but this is, essentially, a dedicated ad section. The entries could have at least featured a few excerpted pages!

In testing, Flipboard performed admirably. Page layouts always looked great, and I rarely waited more than a second or two for a story or Contents page to load. Overall, Flipboard came the closest to feeling like a “live” magazine than anything I’ve tested on the iPad; even The Daily, Rupert Murdoch’s iPad magazine, updates only a few times per day (unless breaking news occurs). Flipboard now highlights popular stories with a red “Popular” icon, and you’ll occasionally find an ad placed between content pages. By default you can’t read articles without an internet connection, but you can save individual pages for offline reading if you have an Instapaper, Pocket, or Readability account. Google Currents (Free, 3.5 stars) lets you save articles without third-party apps.

You’ll Flip For Flipboard
Flipboard was plenty of fun to use in its first iteration, and has gotten better over time. Flipboard is a superb alternative to standalone RSS feed readers, browsing individual sites, and following Facebook and Twitter feeds, making it a near-perfect Editors’ Choice award-winning app.

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Specifications
Type Personal
Free Yes

Verdict
Years after its debut, Flipboard remains the best iPad social-news aggregator.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc