What is the future of newspapers? Ask any iPad owner and they'll probably trot out their New York Times Editors' Choice and USA Today apps--both of which deservedly earned spots on CNET's recent roundup of top 20 free iPad apps.
Ah, but what about folks who prefer a more traditional, more local newspaper experience? What option is there for those who want to see each daily edition exactly as it was printed, complete with ads, obituaries, comics, and all the rest?
That's PressReader in a nutshell. Powered by NewspaperDirect, it provides access to a whopping 1,700 newspapers from 92 countries in 48 languages. You can buy papers one at a time or choose from a subscription option.
As you can see, it's like looking at a scan of the actual front page (which is exactly what it is). You can zoom and scroll as needed, much like you would with a PDF. However, even on an iPad, there's some uncomfortable back-and-forth or down-and-up scrolling involved. Not fun.
That's why PressReader also includes a text view: Just tap any highlighted headline to get a convenient pop-up window with the full text of the story. Within that window you can increase/decrease the font size and e-mail the story's link to a friend.
You can also have a story read to you by tapping the headphones icon. Though it's a computerized voice, the quality is amazing. (The accuracy, however, is often laughable, like when it attempts to pronounce "Obama.")
The app is far from perfect. For starters, it doesn't yet support landscape view--a fairly ridiculous oversight. Fortunately, NewspaperDirect has already submitted an updated version to Apple, adding landscape view to the mix.
Update: the app now supports landscape view.
Equally frustrating, there are some significant gaps in PressReader's coverage. For example, I found not one paper for the state of Colorado. No Denver Post? No Colorado Springs Gazette? The New York Times is MIA, and the only Wall Street Journal editions are those for Asia and Europe. Plus, although I'm signed up for auto-delivery of my hometown Detroit News, for some reason Sunday's paper never downloaded.
Update: Turns out the Detroit News no longer publishes on Sunday. The Detroit Free Press does--but it's not available through PressReader.
Comics don't zoom well. There's a slight delay in flipping pages. And in some papers, the table of contents--a handy tool for jumping quickly to whatever section you want--doesn't populate properly (or at all).
All these gripes aside, PressReader offers a more traditional newspaper-reading experience than any other iPad app. Much as I like, for example, the USA Today app, I'm more inclined to read it inside PressReader--if for no other reason than the latter gives me the entire paper, cover to cover, not just selected stories.
What's more, it offers a killer search feature and free online access to top stories from all papers.
Ultimately, anyone with even a passing interest in the news should give PressReader a try. If you're a new user, you can download seven current-day issues of any paper free of charge. After that, each issue will cost you 99 cents--or $29.95 per month for unlimited access.
Give it a try, then tell me how you prefer to consume news on your iPad: app-style, or the whole enchilada, PressReader-style.
In the meantime, be sure to check out Early Edition as well. It serves up your favorite RSS feeds in a beautiful newspaper-style format.