Last fall, I came across a deal where you could get 4 months of Apple News+ for free. I figured I’d give it a shot to see if it was worth the $10/month as I’m a big believer in paying for quality news. Currently, I get most of my news from RSS, the New York Times, and Google News. I tend to send a lot of of those articles to Instapaper for reading later. I also listen to a ton of podcasts about sports, politics, news and other general-interest NPR-style content in Overcast. Was there a spot for another source of news & entertainment? I wasn’t convinced, but figured I’d give it a shot.
What You Get From Apple News+
Apple News+ is a section of the Apple News app that gives you access to hundreds of current & past issues of top magazines as well as audio versions of many of the top articles read by professionals. While you can get a lot of content for free with the base version of the app, the plus version is centered around full magazines and audio content on top of the basics.
Looking over the roster of magazines offered by News+, I quickly spotted a dozen or more publications I’d gladly read if I were to start using the service. Users are able to follow magazines they like, and you’ll see them show up when new issues are available. You’re able to set up notifications for when new issues are available, as well as download them for offline use if that’s your thing.
In addition, specific stories are recommended based on your reading history and taste both within the News+ interface and the main news feed when you’re browsing. I’ve found the recommendations to be pretty solid overall, and being able to give the stories a thumbs up/down have helped to weed out sources I don’t really enjoy.
On the iPhone, you can also access the audio versions of many top articles. There’s a tab to browse all audio stories, but the service also recommends stories to you much like it does within the main News+ section. What’s neat about the audio tab to me is the ability to create a playlist of stories to listen to.
I’ve found that I’m spending more time listening to these articles over podcasts in the past few months, and I think I like it a lot better as audio entertainment because it’s “tighter” (and therefore much shorter but more informative), doesn’t have ad reads, and allows me to catch up on articles when doing chores or going for walks with my dog. That doesn’t mean I’ve stopped listening to podcasts, but I was genuinely surprised by how much I’ve enjoyed the News+ audio feature, and it’s one of the things that has kept me as a subscriber.
The Reading & Listening Experience
Reading articles can be done 2 ways in News+: either by jumping into individual magazine/newspaper articles via recommendations on the main feed, or as a complete magazine via the News+ tab. A few of the magazines are basically glorified PDFs and the readability on those is sub-par, but the majority of the issues are formatted for a screen like the iPad and are a pleasure to flip through.
While the reading experience is great, the interface to browse the magazines you follow is suboptimal – I wish there were a list you could access to view all of them instead of a small carousel at the top of the section. Overall, navigation in Apple News isn’t great – I wish you could configure tabs on the sidebar or hide things completely as well. It can be very tedious to organize or sort through everything even if the actual reading experience is pretty solid. Don’t even get me started on the Mac Catalyst version of the app. Honestly, I wish there were a web version for when I’m at my computer during the day. The MacOS app is that bad. Then again, you could say that about literally any app that is using Catalyst.
The listening experience is really nice – having a running playlist of stories you can listen to is super easy to get going with and you can reorder the queue in a way that’ll make any Apple Music users feel right at home. You can select any article and either play it now, play it next or play it last in the queue. Swiping in the queue will give you a few options to remove, “thumbs up/down” or move the story to the top/bottom. When playing you can select a few playback speeds (1x, 1.25x, 1.5x, 2x) but I’d like more granularity there if possible. Another neat thing is the ability to tab a button to take you the actual story in text form, right where you were listening at. This can be helpful if you need to jump back and forth between audio and text.
Why I’m Sticking with News+
The sources I use other than News+ won’t change after messing with this service for a few months but I do think I’m going to stick with it. What I like about News+ is how it makes the experience on my iPad and iPhone in particular so much nicer. On the iPad, it’s more of a “lean back” experience where I can flip through magazine articles, save things for later and enjoy the reading experience more than I can on the web. On the phone, the audio stories mean I’m getting to enjoy more journalism than ever in those times where I’m not sitting down and focusing solely on reading.
I feel like I’m consuming less “junk food” in the form of click-baity blog posts and rambling podcasts and I’m a lot happier and informed as a result. If you haven’t given News+ a chance, I’d recommend you give it another go.