A few days ago I tried out Fiery Reader, in hope that it could improve my reading experience. I thought it might be a better fit than Reeder, an app I started using a little over a year ago. Turns out I was wrong, and here are the reasons why.
Fiery Reader’s one competitive feature is Hot Links. It scrapes URLs from all the unread articles you subscribe to, checks for multiple mentions, and decides if there’s important information buried beneath the pile of articles in front of you. For me, it’s easily 1,000 unread articles per week, and this feature could potentially cut my weekly reading time in half.
Fiery Reader, however, does not deliver the promised experience.
First of all, the list of Hot Links is not parsed or processed in any way. All you get is the raw url beginning with schemas such as
https://. Only when you tap on the tiny expander do you see which articles mentioned the Hot Link.
Second, Hot Links are not displayed in an order that makes human sense. Take a closer look at the screenshot, and you will notice a lot of links are about Apple’s HomePod damaging wooden furniture. These links are not put together but spread across many groups instead.
One improvement I’d suggest is to group Hot Links by checking if different links appear in the same article. This will probably deliver a more coherent reading experience, by presenting “stories” instead of “links.”
The default theme in Fiery Reader is neat and clean, but it doesn’t strike me as design work from someone who truly understands reading. To start, the margins in article view are too wide, leaving little space for the text. Use of color on links and block quote borders are distracting, and the floating toolbar is too intrusive for a focusing mind. The Avenir font family provides a thin and light feeling to the theme, but the developer didn’t compensate for that with larger font size and line height. It’s true that all of the above can be fine tuned but it is really some hard work on users’ side.
The default list view looks okay. Images are given the right aspect ratio, and headlines are stressed with larger and bolder text. I personally want to know the source of an article from list view and it’s possible to find it from preferences. So far so good.
Until… I found out this beautiful default list view is actually dubbed “Custom” in preferences. And whichever built-in article list style you’d like to switch to, you are treated with weird wide margins on the side. Preview images are now tall and thin, rendering many 16:9 hero images non-informative at all. And once you switch off from the default theme, there’s no going back unless you delete and re-install the app. Weird.
That, added by the fact you can’t access appearance settings directly from article list view, makes adjusting the themes a painful experience. It took me 30 minutes to make sense of all this and I’m all done making another effort.
To sum, using Fiery Reader makes me appreciate Reeder even more. Non-distracting and efficient themes are something I took so granted for with Reeder.
More often than not, designing an app is about making sense of content hierarchy and making judgement calls. The customization freedom that comes with Fiery Reader is not what a premium iOS app should be.
On top of those poor design choices, Fiery Reader has some more annoyances that also pushed me to have it deleted:
Article view takes a fraction of a second to load, even if everything’s been “cached.”
In any view, the floating toolbars designed for iPhone X (presumably) takes up too much space with the paddings and margins. On a phone without a 1:2.1 aspect ratio screen, the toolbar is way too much of a distraction than it is useful and elegant.
With all the demanding features and designs, Fiery Reader is not something I’d like to invest in. I’d probably pay twice as much for Reeder and rest assured that the design choices are carefully made, than to have the customization possibilities and not know what to do with them.