Editors' take: If you ask any iPad owner about the future of newspapers, 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 roundup of top 20 free iPad apps. For the folks who prefer a more traditional, more local newspaper experience, there is an option that lets you see each daily edition exactly as it was printed, complete with ads, obituaries, comics, and all the rest. It's called PressReader.
Powered by NewspaperDirect, it provides access to a whopping 1,500 newspapers from 90 countries in 46 languages. You can buy papers one at a time or choose from a pair of subscription options.
After debuting on the iPhone last year, the newly updated PressReader app makes good use of the iPad's comparatively spacious screen, reproducing each and every page of the papers it represents. The result is 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.
For that reason, 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. Plus, you can 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. Equally frustrating, there are some significant gaps in PressReader's coverage. For example, we found not one paper for the state of Colorado. The New York Times is MIA, and the only Wall Street Journal editions are those for Asia and Europe. In addition, 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 $9.95/month for 31 issues or $29.95/month for unlimited.