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NewsBreak for Pocket PC review
Posted on 27-Oct-2004 18:58 by M Freitas | Filed under: Reviews

Since you are reading Geekzone you probably already have an idea of what is a RSS feed. If not, here goes a quick explanation: RSS is based on XML (abbreviation for Extensible Markup Language), and it is a standard format used to distribute (syndicate) news on the Internet. XML is a way of describing data on the Internet and other applications.

RSS is used in websites ranging from news to blogs to corporations, to distribute information in a format that is understandable by programs called RSS feed readers. Regardless of platform, the RSS feed can be interpreted by one of these programs and shown in a format that makes it easier to the user to scan headlines and summaries, with links to the full information. Most sites use a standard icon to point to their RSS feeds. Look for an image like this Click for the Geekzone RSS feeds and you will find a RSS feed.

You can find RSS feed readers from different sources, on different platforms. And while a RSS feed reader is not something unheard of on the Windows Mobile Pocket PC platform, the fact that this one is coming from Ilium Software is something to note. Ilium Software develops some fine programs for this platform (and for the Windows Mobile Smartphone as well), so it’s worth having a look on their new program.

To follow a RSS feed (or “channel”) you found in a website you need to “subscribe” to it. After installation, Newsbreak will give you the option of either selecting from a pre-defined list of channels, enter the URL to this channel, or load an OPML file.

Subscribe to a RSS channel on Newsbreak
Subscribing to a channel

This last option is very important if you are already using RSS on your PC. Some programs will give you the option of exporting your channel list into a file with the OPML extension. Basically it lists all your channels and some options. By importing this OPML file into Newsbreak you can easily start using this program. The OPML file can be on your Pocket PC, or you can read it from a webserver.

A very cool feature on Newsbreak is the keyword definition. Users can define a list of special words and icons associated with them, and when a headline is downloaded with one of these keywords it will be flagged with the corresponding icon. This way you can always find the more interesting stories on the top of the list, with a clear indicator on the side. Also, on the main list you will find a different icon indicating that that specific channel has a story with a keyword in it.

The keyword list
Defining the keyword list

Once the OPML is read (or the channels selected from the very rich list supplied by Ilium) and your keywords defined, you can tap the refresh icon. This will poll each one of the channels and download the latest headlines and summaries. Of course you will need a connection, either wireless LAN, or a mobile connection (over Bluetooth, infrared or a Pocket PC Phone Edition). Even ActiveSync passthrough will work. Once you find a headline that grabs your interest, tap on it to see the summary. And if you want to read the full story, there'll be a link to the full web page, which will open on your Pocket Internet Explore (or default web browser). It's also possible to refresh an individual channel if wanted.

The channel list
Blue icons indicate content, and the blue with small red tower is a keyword presence

The channel headlines
The channel's headlines: note a keyword icon

The channel details
The summary for a specific headline

Here comes a warning though: If you have a long channel list and install this program on a SD/MMC card, expect long waits. Each channel will be stored on memory, and the SD/MMC card operation may not be fast enough. Of course this will depend on the number of channels you have in your list. In my case I have just imported an OPML file with 150 channels, and my first test run into more than 30 minutes on a wireless LAN. After reinstalling the program on the Pocket PC’s main memory the update was much faster.

Your connection will impact the update speed: expect to have a better performance over wireless LAN, but this program shines on a Pocket PC Phone Edition. The ability of downloading the feeds anywhere, anytime over a GPRS or CDMA connection is great for people hungry for news. And this is the difference between this and some other RSS readers for Pocket PC: some of these other programs will only synchronise over ActiveSync, and only a few will actually download the channels over any connection.

There are options to define update frequency, either at general level or at individual channel level. These options also control if the Pocket PC will connect when it is time to update the headlines – or wait until a connection is available. Very handy on a Pocket PC Phone Edition where battery life is at stake. Last, there’s an option to export your subscribed channel information to an OPML file. This is important, since you may create channels on your Pocket PC that you might want to share with friends, or send back to your PC.

The channel details
Changing update frequency

Overall the program works really well, and I’m pleased with it. Except for the SD/MMC speed issue (which is not really a problem with this program), I think it’s a great addition to the library of programs for Pocket PC. I have suggested Ilium to have a look at creating a tree display of the subscriptions, since imported OPML files can have various levels. I would also look into integrating Newsbreak with a Today plugin. Perhaps listing the headlines containing the keywords in my list?

If you are interested in our RSS feeds (including a list of new programs for various handheld platforms, check our Geekzone RSS list.

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