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Google News app hands-on: The be-all-end-all news aggregator
Nestled among the big announcements at Google I/O2018 was a potentially game-changing Google News app. It replaced Google Play Newsstand (good riddance), and incorporated many of the features from your Google Feed into an extremely comprehensive news app.
As a news junkie myself, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. Unlike the more spectacular announcements like Duplex, the Google News app rolled out almost immediately across every market. After spending a few hours with it, I’m happy to report it works well, and is a significant step forward for news apps.
The be-all-end-all news aggregator
Google News takes news aggregation to the next level. It not only incorporates tons of trusted news sources, but also groups similar articles together to give readers more perspective on a given story. Before any conspiracy theorists out there start complaining, the bar for a “trusted” news source isn’t that high. If you really don’t see “alternative” sources, you can manually follow and subscribe to more niche publications.
In the Favorites menu, you can choose all kinds of topics and sources to follow. Any magazines you have purchased or articles you previously saved will also appear here. The app seems to import your previous favorite topics from the Google Play Newsstand app (which not many people used), and it will suggest both topics and sources based on your more recent search history.
Even without specifically choosing topics, Google News gives more options to control what content you’re shown than the Google Feed. You can hide or follow specific sources and choose to see more or less of that kind of content in the future.
For expats like myself, you can follow a location and keep up to date with local news in places of interest like your hometown.
Newscasts and embedded media
One of the more interesting ways Google News displays stories is with their new Newscasts feature. Newscasts are like Instagram Stories. They’re slideshows of several articles from different sources, displaying their headline and a short excerpt. I found the feature a bit overwhelming — I prefer to have more control over how quickly things are shown.
Fortunately, there is an option for Mini cards in the settings, which does away with the animated Newscasts and instead displays the stories as a list. The excerpts are gone, but videos will still play in the smaller icon box. Pages with podcasts or other audio files will also display a play button on the card itself, so you can listen without even opening the page.
Both the standard cards and the mini-cards look and feel good, so it really comes down to personal preference.
Full coverage provides vital context
Perhaps the most unique feature of Google News is Full Coverage, which provides a wealth of information on a given topic. Google uses a technique it calls “temporal co-locality,” which “map[s] relationships between entities and understand the people, places, and things in a story right as it evolves.” The feature works really well.
For the news about the end of the Iran nuclear deal, Google News breaks everything down into sections. The Latest updates section pops up first, showing articles and other stories about the topic that have come out since you last checked.
The All coverage section is a great way to discover lesser known publications and follow them for the future
Followed by that is Top coverage, where accusations of favoritism will likely come in. It displays a few of the top stories from trusted news sources, separating opinion and analysis pieces into another section further down the page. Unfortunately, each section only shows a few stories and you can’t expand them.
The only way to see more stories is to scroll down to the All coverage section at the bottom. There are tons of stories here, and their sources are clearly displayed above the headline, which is a great way to discover lesser-known publications and follow them for the future.
Full coverage also has a few other neat features, like sections for videos (which play in the app), tweets from relevant authorities, and even frequently asked questions. Much like the rich snippets that appear when you search Google for a question, the answers are automatically generated from more authoritative sources.
In-app reading experience
Any article you choose to read will open within the Google News app, but you can open the original web page for the article or the sources home page with a few quick taps. All of the articles I checked displayed perfectly, and didn’t suffer from any formatting errors.
At the bottom of the article, you’ll find a subscribe button for some sources and a few topics mentioned in the article to explore further. There are also links to related articles and occasionally additional background information about a country or topic taken from Wikipedia or other trusted sources.
The in-app reader doesn’t feature an ad-blocker, which can take some getting used to if you’ve become accustomed to ad-free web browsing. Then again, ads are one of the main ways online publications make money. Something to think about as you enjoy your free content.
I’m really pleased with how well the new Google News app works after a few hours of use. Hopefully as Google’s “reinforcement learning” continues to improve the personalized experience, I’ll see fewer of the irrelevant stories the Google Feed previously tried to shove down my throat.
Google News is a great way to get the day’s news at a glance — it even incorporates local weather at the top of the screen. It’s a natural evolution of news feeds, and since it was developed in close contact with publishers, it’s great for both content producers and consumers.
For news junkies, Google News will always give you something to read. This can be a good thing or a bad thing, but thankfully Google is addressing this problem as well with its digital wellbeing features.
Google News is available in 127 countries on Android, iOS, and the web. We’ve included a link to the Play Store listing below.
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