Pulse vs. FLUD: Two iPhone News Readers Square Off

In the past we’ve given very positive reviews to both FLUD and Pulse as standalone apps. Both are innovative, attractive and just plain fun to use on the iPad and both have made the transition to iPhone.

The two readers are so similar to each other that it’s hard not to compare them and wonder which is the best. Today we’ll answer this question by tearing them both apart feature by feature to see which app is ultimately superior. Let’s get started!

Main Interface: Browsing Sources

The most obvious aspect of the two apps to compare is the interface. As I mentioned above, both attempted to be a new way to consume news and social content but in their attempts to be unique they actually have a lot of similarities, especially in their iPad versions. I think the necessary downsizing to the iPhone forced a little more differentiation in this area as the two development teams went about the task in different ways.

Pulse News Mini

Pulse News Mini looks almost exactly like it’s larger iPad brother, just scaled down. Each news source is separated into a horizontal strip which can be swiped to browse through.

News stories are presented as a small thumbnail with a title at the bottom. The text here is quite small to be sure but plenty large enough for my fairly young eyes to see without trouble, older audiences might have a different opinion. At max, you can view nine different stories at once in three different categories.

screenshot

Pulse's Main Interface

Your content in Pulse is separated into multiple customizable tabs, the default two being Top News and Social. You can switch tabs simply by tapping the next one in the menu or an arrow that appears at the bottom of the stack of sources within that tab.

FLUD Mobile

FLUD takes a more drastic approach in scaling down its news reader for the iPhone. On the iPad, FLUD is setup very similar to Pulse’s horizontal strips of content for each source. On the iPhone, each source is it’s own card that takes up the majority of the screen. Rather than scrolling down to browse the sources and across to browse the articles, here you swipe across to browse the sources and scroll down to browse the articles.

screenshot

FLUD's Card View

As with Pulse, each story is represented by a thumbnail and a title overlay, this time with the additional heart icon thrown in for adding favorites. The thumbnails are pretty small in card view but you can tap the fullscreen button to enlarge a particular source to take advantage of the entire screen. From here, article thumbnails are larger than that of pulse and presented in a two-wide format, which means you can view six at once (you can see eight titles if you have the scroll just right).

screenshot

FLUD's Fullscreen View

Apart from swiping in the card view to change sources, you can also filter the sources by topic (Business, Creative, etc.) by tapping on the categories button at the bottom of the screen.

Winner: FLUD

This one was tricky to judge. In all honesty, Pulse’s interface is far more efficient. It lets you view more stories from more sources in a smaller space. However, efficiency is not always equivalent to effectiveness.

After spending a lot of time in both apps, I found the FLUD interface to be much cleaner and more intuitive. The Pulse interface is still great, but it looks and feels cluttered by comparison. Sure, you can see more articles at once but that means the previews are a lot smaller than those in FLUD. There’s also much more vertical scrolling in FLUD, which will always feel more natural than horizontal scrolling.

Ultimately, it comes down to your preference. I liked the consistency of viewing articles within a given source but if you’re looking for a better way to quickly sift through all your feeds simultaneously, Pulse is definitely going to be a better option.

Viewing Articles

The article viewing in the two apps is very similar, with both bringing up a simple full-screen view of the article. However, the execution is just different enough to give one an edge over the other.

FLUD

The FLUD article view is the simpler of the two, showing only the contents of the article and a few buttons at the top. The design is super attractive and very typography-driven.

screenshot

Viewing an article in FLUD

The default article view here is a simplified, clean version of the article. To view the actual web page containing the article, you tap the circle in the top menu and choose web view. The heart at the top allows you to “Love” the article or share it via Twitter, Facebook or email.

Pulse

Pulse again takes a little bit more of a cluttered route. Here you also see a simplified version of the article and can tap on the article title to view the original web page (it took me a while to figure that out).

screenshot

Viewing an article in Pulse

Further, Pulse has a little dock overlay at the bottom of this screen that allows you to scroll through the source by thumbnail just like back on the home screen. Alongside this are a few social sharing icons, which are almost the same as in FLUD with the welcome addition of Instapaper.

Winner: Pulse

Here, Pulse’s slightly more cluttered approach pays off with some nice features. Both FLUD and Pulse allow you to simply swipe in article view to proceed to the next story, but only Pulse has the little hiding thumbnail feature, which is much better for intentional navigation.

However, I do think that the social icons are needlessly hiding article content in Pulse. These are positioned much better in FLUD and don’t eat into your article text. I wish the same was true of Pulse, but the cool thumbnail feature and the addition of Instapaper more than make up for it.

Adding Content

The final point of comparison will be the system in place for adding content to the apps. They’re both pretty good out of the box but the real potential for each can only be seen when you begin to populate them with the content that you read on a daily basis. Let’s start with FLUD.

FLUD

To edit content settings in FLUD, you tap the little wrench in the top right. This takes you to a screen where you can delete and rearrange current news sources. Tapping on the “Featured” tab brings up a quick list of FLUD-friendly feeds from various categories. This contains several popular sources such as Fast Company, Fortune, Fubiz, Gizmodo, Wired, ESPN, etc.

There’s also a search feature where you can locate all kinds of additional feeds and most importantly, Google Reader Integration, where you can quickly add your favorite RSS feeds that you’ve already worked hard to compile.

screenshot

Adding content in FLUD

The sources you add display as cards just like the default sources, though they may or may not contain image previews. Also, those that aren’t featured sources can’t be manually categorized so that they respond to the filters. I added Six Revisions and Smashing Magazine, but these popped up in the “Other” category instead of the “Creative” category.

Pulse

With Pulse, you add content by tapping a blank page or the little “+” icon at the bottom of a populated page. This brings you to a tabbed screen just like we saw for FLUD with four options: Featured, Browse, Search and Google Reader. Pulse seems to have a ton of built-in sources to choose from, particularly under the “Browse” menu.

screenshot

Adding content in Pulse

One great feature here is the ability to add links from your Facebook feed, at least it would’ve been great if I could’ve gotten it working (nothing but authentication errors). The iPad version of Pulse also throws in a feed containing links for your Twitter feed, but that’s strangely missing here. The social integration is my favorite part of the iPad app, too bad the iPhone version seems to have screwed it up so bad.

Beyond adding content, Pulse gives you a fantastic system for organizing it. Tapping the gear icon in the upper left brings you to an outline view of all your pages and their respective sources. Here you can rearrange your sources, delete any unwanted feeds, add to a page and even name your pages.

screenshot

Organizing content in Pulse

Winner: Pulse

The previous two categories were close calls and leave a lot of the choice up to personal preference, this choice is crystal clear though. Pulse kicks butt in the area of adding and rearranging the content. The implementation of the tabs system is genius and really allows you to make the app your own.

I would definitely like to see the Facebook bugs fixed and the addition of a Twitter feed, but FLUD doesn’t have either of these anyway so it’s hard to discount Pulse too much for them. Ultimately, you’re getting more options, sources and customization features in Pulse.

And the Winner Is…

The basic math here dictates a winner: Pulse. As I said above, the two apps were neck and neck with browsing feeds and reading articles, but Pulse blasted far ahead for the win in the area of customization.

To be honest, there is a lot that I like about FLUD better than Pulse. I like the app’s personality, the way it feels and looks. I also like using the card view to browse through sources. In the end though, FLUD is a designer-friendly casual news experience while Pulse is a powerhouse of content consumption opportunities.

The good news is that both apps are completely free so there’s really no reason not to use them both, but they are admittedly fairly redundant, even in their built-in content. If you have to pick one, and love customization as much as I do, download Pulse.

What Do You Think?

Now that you’ve seen my assessment of both apps, respond with your own feedback. Who do you think prevails on each of these three points and who comes out as the ultimate winner?

Point-by-point comparisons aside, also let us know the most important factor: which one do you really use more? Regardless of logical arguments this is really how we cast our votes for one app over the other!