Review: Horus


Given the inherent limitations of mobile devices, RSS (feeds) can be a very useful way to consume content from your favourite sites on the go. Symbian offers a basic feed reader in the Web application, but you'll need to turn to a third party for something more powerful. Horus is a new entrant in this space, offering a visually compelling way to consume feeds. It also features offer some clever platform integration, including the ability to play back audio and video podcasts in RSS enclosures and full support for the Symbian browser system.

Author: Fallen Leaf

Version Reviewed: 1.0

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Video review of Horus


Horus is a stand-alone RSS feed reading application. RSS feeds are a way of syndicating (showing) items, such as a news story or review, from a website, in a standard way. Many websites provide RSS feeds so that people can view new content (often providing just a summary), without having to visit the website in question. Every feed contains a number of items, each representing a certain story or page (URL).

In Horus, each feed is presented in its own container, with a customisable colour background. Feed items are arranged in boxes within these containers, with a text headline and (where available) a thumbnail image shown for each feed item. Three feeds, each with three items, are shown on screen at any one time; additional feeds are accessed by scrolling vertically and additional items (within a feed) are accessed by scrolling a feed container horizontally. It's a neat system, which manages to pack a surprisingly large amount of information on the screen at one time, while avoiding the simple list design pattern (see first screenshot below).

Tapping on a feed item opens it up in a new view, with the headline and full text description of the item displayed. If the description includes images and hyperlinks, these will be rendered (and re-sized in the case of images). The source URL for an item can be opened in the browser application by tapping the globe button in the top right hand corner of the screen (see second screenshot below).

You add feeds by tapping the plus button in the top left hand corner of the screen. Feeds can be added by typing in the URL of a feed directly or by typing in a search term and then choosing which feed you want to add. Typing in a full URL is a fiddly process, but it is a one time action. The search term method is easier, especially for novices, but doesn't always find the right feed. By default, Horus ships with a number of feeds pre-loaded, including All About Symbian, which surely demonstrates the good taste of the developer!

Feeds are automatically refreshed when you start the application, but you can also force a manual refresh by tapping the button at the top of the home screen. Settings are accessed through the button next to the exit one, on the top right hand side of the home screen. These allow you to delete unwanted feeds, change the order in which they appear (third screenshot below), rename the titles and customise their background colour.

Horus ScreenshotHorus ScreenshotHorus Screenshot

While Horus has some clever layout tricks and smooth performance, what really makes it stand out are two platform integration features. The first of these is an ability to handle audio and video enclosures in RSS feeds. For example, in a podcast feed, an enclosure contains a link to the MP3 file of the podcast. Horus will automatically recognise when an enclosure is available and adds a playback button at the top of the screen (see first screenshot below). Tapping this will kick off a download (via the Web application) and start playing back the media file (see second screenshot below).

The second is the way Horus integrates with the browser. As previously noted, Horus will launch a browser and open up the specified URL for an item when you tap the globe button in the top right of the screen. The browser that is opened depends on what you have configured as your default browser in the phone's settings. This means that Horus can use a third party browser, such as Opera Mobile, instead of the built Web application (see third screenshot below). Given Web's well known limitations, this can be a real boon when working your way through your RSS feeds, especially those that only provide a summary description. 

Horus ScreenshotHorus ScreenshotHorus Screenshot

As with any software, there's room for improvement; for example, tapping a headline in the item view should open the linked URL for that item. I would also like to see auto-discovery of feeds when typing a URL in the add feed box, and homescreen widget support. 

An option for importing an OPML file, to make it easier to add new RSS feeds to the application, would be welcome too. That said, Horus works best with a limited number of feeds, so importing 200+ feeds from Google Reader wouldn't really work with the application's user experience design. If you are a power user and do want such functionality, you'll be better served by an application like NewsFlow. However, for those looking to consume a smaller lists of feeds, say between five and twenty, then Horus is a better option.

Horus' overall performance is excellent: scrolling is smooth, item pages load quickly and feed refreshes are similarly quick. The design of the application is well thought out, visually appealing and has just the right amount of customisation options. This, together with the option to add feeds by search or URL, means that the application should appeal to both RSS novices and those more familiar with the technology.

If you are looking for a standalone RSS feed reader for your Symbian^3 phone, Horus is a recommended download. It is available, for free, in Nokia's Ovi Store for the N8, C7-00, C6-01 and E7.

Rafe Blandford, AAS, 4 June 2011

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