Review: Slick RSS Chrome works best as a second news reader
If you like to constantly check for new content on your favorite sites, you may have come across RSS before. RSS, which stands for either Rich Site Summary or Real Simple Syndication, is a simple way for a web site to post updates, and for you to get those updates all at once using a reader program. The best-known RSS reader is Google Reader, a free product that lives in the cloud and has many powerful features for sorting and organizing multiple RSS feeds. I've been a loyal Google Reader user for years, but I've recently decided to trim down my enormous list of feeds and focus on just a few essentials. Instead of outright deleting the feeds I read less often, I've moved them over to Slick RSS, a free feed reader that works as an extension in Google Chrome.
Slick RSS's most notable feature is the fact that it is entirely self-contained. It is not a front-end to a web-based RSS reader, and does not synchronize with any online service. Instead, it is a full-fledged reader, entirely implemented as a browser extension. It can import an OPML file with a list of feeds, or you can provide it with individual feed URLs. It took just a few seconds to import my OPML file (which holds the list of RSS feeds I subscribe to), containing over 120 feeds.
By default, Slick RSS shows feed content using a two-column layout, but this can be easily changed.
Once you subscribe to feeds, Slick RSS will check for any new items on each feed, download them, and show an Unread Item count on its toolbar icon whenever you open the browser. Next, it's reading time. Slick RSS has a very simple interface, which lacks many of the convenience features Google Reader has. The biggest thing missing are keyboard shortcuts: There is no way to quickly skip to the next post within a feed. There isn't even an on-screen "next" button—you just need to keep scrolling down until you get to the next post.
On a more positive note, Slick RSS features an interesting two-column default layout. Instead of viewing just a single post at a time, the display looks more like a newspaper. This is configurable, so you can have anywhere from one to four columns on the screen at any time.
Another feature that's sorely missing is dynamically marking items as read: When you scroll past an item in Google Reader, it is automatically marked as read. Slick RSS doesn't do this. Instead, it can mark the entire feed as read once some time has elapsed, or once you click the title for a single post to go to the post on the website. Neither of these options is useful: Some feeds take a few seconds to read, while others can take twenty minutes. And just because I clicked one link doesn't mean I'm done with the entire feed.
Slick RSS keeps its Options dialog simple, with just a handful of preferences for you to tweak.
Slick RSS does let you save items for later reading, using a star icon located in each item's header row. Just click the star, and the item is added to your Read Later list. This is similar to Google Reader's Starred Items view, and is useful for cherry-picking items to read later.
While I don't see myself switching over to Slick RSS full-time, it can serve as a simple secondary reader for feeds I don't want cluttering up Google Reader. It is a lean, minimalistic browser extension that lacks comfort features, but does get the basic functionality (reading RSS feeds) right. With additional customization options, it may stand a chance as a viable Google Reader alternative. As it is now, there's no reason other than personal taste to recommend Slick RSS over the mature and robust Google Reader.
Note: The "Try it for free" button on the Product Information page takes you to the Chrome Web store, where you can install the latest version directly into your Chrome browser.
Copyright (c) 2012 PCWorld Communications, Inc.
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