Flipboard Beta for Android impresses on phones, not tablets (first take)

Those who signed up for the Flipboard for Android mailing list were recently treated to the official beta release of the app. Here's our first take on Flipboard Beta for Android.

(Credit: Screenshot by Matthew Miller/ZDNet)

Making its unofficial debut earlier this month on Samsung Galaxy S III demo units, Flipboard for Android has finally opened itself up...a little bit. No, the app isn't widely available on Google Play yet, but perhaps just as good, you can now download the official beta version of Flipboard through a public download link.

If you're not familiar with Flipboard on iOS, it's a magazine-style news reader app that has reached an amazing level of popularity. What gives the app extra cool points is its ability to handle social media. See, Flipboard can integrate your social accounts into its feed, and present Tweets or other status updates just as it would news stories or blog posts (complete with images and video thumbnails). Couple this with Flipboard's gorgeous tiled interface, and it's easy to see why the app gets so much buzz.

At first glance, Flipboard for Android looks just as stunning as its iOS counterpart, with its clean, minimal design and vibrant display of photographic tiles. Flipboard's trademark page-flipping animation is also there as you swipe up and down through news feeds. Something that sets this app apart from its iOS sibling, however, is a pair of widgets that come preloaded. There are a medium and a small widget, both of which can update with your latest cover stories.

But Flipboard for Android doesn't just have a pretty face. Functionally, it packs a big punch too, as it lets you add feeds from a number of different social media accounts, including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblr, and Instagram. And of course you can go through and add feeds from pretty much any other news source or site with an RSS feed, or you can subscribe to a Flipboard-curated topic feed. If you use a bookmarking service like Instapaper, Pocket, or Readability, you can integrate those as well.

One thing I noticed is this beta app isn't optimized for tablets. While it is possible to install Flipboard on your Galaxy Tab if you want, you will likely notice the image quality is less than stellar, and there's no use of the functional side panels that might otherwise grace a tablet-specific app.

It's also worth noting that you can add a feed for your Google Reader account. However, Flipboard doesn't let you swipe through individual sources within your Google Reader account, which is disappointing. Another app in the category, Feedly, handles this beautifully, and you can even mark items as read with a quick swipe.

Overall, I'm impressed with Flipboard for Android. It's a gorgeous reader with tons of flexibility, and it handles social media like a dream. Plus, it doesn't feel like a cheap port of an iOS app over to Android. Rather, it runs smoothly and looks like an app that was developed specifically for the Android platform. I'm excited to see its final build, especially if it comes optimized for tablets.

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