Spb Insight

by PocketGoddess on January 17, 2007

Spb Insight, Articles ListSpb Insight is an RSS reader for Windows Mobile devices that has some nice features. For those who aren’t familiar with the concept, an RSS reader aggregates online content to read at your convenience. You subscribe to whatever channels are of interest, so that newshounds will want to read CNN and the BBC, gamers will want to read GameSpot and IGN, and so on. This is a great timesaver because you can get your news when you want it, anyplace. The utility depends partly on how each site’s RSS feed is set up; some offer full feeds, which is great, but quite a few only give you a very brief snippet. Of course Insight, like other mobile RSS readers, has a link to the online version of the article. That’s OK if you’re using the reader on a device with a WiFi or cellular data connection, but a drag if you’re not connected.

The interface for Spb Insight is in general very well thought out and easy to use, making good use of the two “softkey” areas at the bottom of the screen. The menu choices change depending on exactly where you are; on the channel list page the left option is New, which takes you to a wizard where you can add new channels via an online catalog, a URL, a search, etc. If you’re looking at the channel list the left option is “New” which takes you through the process of adding a new channel; if it’s the article list, the left option is “Channels” which takes you back a step; if you’re reading an article, the left option is “Articles” which of course takes you back to the list of stories available on your device. All of the menus and options are very easy to understand and highly accessible, with a minimum of stylus taps required.

Spb Insight Channel List

The main extra with Spb Insight is the highly graphical interface and display. Properly configured channels have logos for quick identification, and when you tap on a channel each story has a thumbnail image. It’s a nice touch, though it does come at the expense of seeing one less story on each screen, as opposed to the nine stories you can see in NewsBreak from Ilium Software. I do like the fact that the channel names are very big and bold, so once you see an article you’re interested in, tap the headline to see more of the story–though how much more you’ll see depends on how the site set up the feed. Some sites, like Engadget, give you the whole article, others provide only an excerpt or even worse, just one sentence! If photos are included in the story or excerpt, they will also show up in Insight (and in NewsBreak, for that matter), enriching the reading experience.

Spb Insight does have a couple of features that NewsBreak doesn’t have. The first is a streamlined interface that makes it easier to add new channels. The application includes an online directory of RSS feeds that you can access from a WiFi connection or by Internet connection sharing when the device is connected to your desktop computer. I really like the concept, though the directory is rather disorganized at this point I found news channels in both “Computers & Internet” and “Regional” and “Top 50 Channels” in addition to “General News & Media” as I would have expected. The catalog is also not in alphabetical order, but even so it is very helpful for finding feeds of potential interest.

Spb Insight Online Channel Directory

The other feature is fuller-text feeds than those I can find for certain popular sites, most notably CNN. The only channels available in NewsBreak, or publicized on the actual CNN site, have one sentence at most, and generally only a “read more online” link, but Insight’s CNN channel has full text articles. This obviously provides a big advantage to Insight, because the whole point of mobile RSS readers is to help you keep up to date and find interesting articles to read when you’re not actually surfing the web.

Options are minimal but cover all the basics–the ability to change the size of the text, in steps from smallest, smaller, medium, larger, and largest. The screenshots from the program you see here are with the medium setting. Other options cover d-pad navigation, whether you want to immediately update newly added channels, single tap updates, and whether or not you want to store the content on an expansion card (believe me, you do!). I especially like the option to use only free Internet connections such as connection sharing with your desktop or WiFi, because with all of the images pulled down you could very quickly burn through your data allotment if you’re using Spb Insight on a Pocket PC Phone Edition device. I subscribed to 17 channels, and that takes up almost 30MB of space on my memory card. Of course your total will var, depending on how many images are in your channels, and whether you get full text articles or short snippets.

However, there are several problems associated with Spb Insight, at least in its current version. I’ve experienced significant issues related to both synchronization of content and general use of the program. Spb Insight takes a very long time to update content, at least when sharing a desktop Internet connection (I don’t have a wireless WM device, so I can’t test that aspect). I’ve actually had to turn off automatic updates when my device is cradled because it would cause ActiveSync to hang every single time. Manual updates seem to work just fine most of the time, but again sometimes the process will “hang” and require me to reset the device. Sometimes when I’m just reading articles, the device will slow down to a crawl, requiring a wait of several seconds to change articles, to return to the channel list, etc. The developer is aware of the problems and working to fix them–and considering Spb Software House’s reputation and the excellence of all of their other products, I have no doubt that they will.

I really want to love Spb Insight, but right now all I can do is like it and hope for more in the future. The potential for this product is quite good, but the slowdowns and other issues in the current 1.01 version keep me from giving it a higher rating. I’d suggest that you download a trial version and see if it works for your needs before you buy it, since it’s the same price ($19.95) as Ilium Software’s NewsBreak, which is a much more polished product. If you’re willing to put up with a few gripes while waiting for the new versions to come out, I suspect that in the long run Spb Insight will become the mobile RSS reader of choice for the Windows Mobile platform. To check it out for yourself, visit the Spb Software House web site.

3 out of 5

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