by Tom McNamara / April 05, 2018
With all the content freely available on Google News or Apple News, we wouldn't blame you for scratching your head at the idea of paying for it. But subscriptions to publications like The New York Times give them a more consistent source of income versus ads and sales of individual copies. And the Times offers a truckload of new and polished content every day, from the latest hot headlines to in-depth articles about interesting people and places. Does the mobile app live up to the reputation of the paper itself? Let's find out.
Well-suited for mobile devices: The mobile app version of The New York Times has intuitive navigation, section customization, specific notification settings, and balanced information density. Compared to the Washington Post app, you can see more stories on your screen at once, and the summaries are all concise but informative enough to give you a basic gist as you scroll through the vertical feed. The "Most Popular" tab presents a set of ranked stories that you can quickly browse, bookmark, and share. The menu in the upper right gives you quick access to settings like text size, notification, and customization.
Then there's a side menu that you can pop out to see the many sections of the paper that you have access to, from book reviews to travel, cars, recipes, and fashion. It's almost overwhelming how much content the Times produces on any given day, but its mobile app still manages to provide good tools to navigate it all.
A steady flow of major breaking news every day: It doesn't matter how well the app is designed if you're not doing much within it. But like the Washington Post, the Times app consistently earns its keep by alerting you of important stories before they show up pretty much anywhere else, including Reddit, Google News, and other aggregators.
Reasonably priced: The regular monthly price for the basic digital subscription is $16 a month, but the paper is constantly running promotions. Right now, you can subscribe for as little as $8 a month. The "All Access" tier currently discounted to $13 a month adds some of the Times' famously wicked crossword puzzles -- with an archive going back 20 years -- plus its Cooking department with piles of recipes so authoritative that they are regularly released in book form, and one extra All Access subscription that you can gift to whomever you like. Students and educators can individually subscribe for as little as $4 a month, and schools can set up access for everyone or just select numbers of people (minimum of 5).
The New York Times isn't as cheap as the Washington Post is for Amazon Prime users, but it arguably provides more content if you have the time to absorb it all, especially if you like crosswords and cooking. For reference, The Wall Street Journal's regular digital price is $29 a month. The Financial Times works out to at least $25.80. The Economist practically requires an economist to figure out how much they want to charge you; the lowest cost of entry, the three-year deal for $365, works out to $10.14 a month, but that's a pretty long commitment. However, you can do a 12-week trial for $12.
That said, we did note that the Times' discount offers were not consistent across the board. While I was offered All Access for $13 a month, another current subscriber in the office was only offered $18 a month, with both of us looking at exactly the same URL on our respective devices. So your mileage may vary.
Crossword confusion: Our account page on the Times website asserted that we had the All Access subscription that includes access to the paper's famed crossword puzzles, but after we logged into our account, the dedicated crossword app and crossword website both told us that we still needed to get the separate crossword subscription. The customer service chat system is operated by a bot that could not understand the issue. When we called the customer service number, they told us that the crosswords included in All Access are limited to their "mini" puzzles and the handful of full-size puzzles that they bring out of the archive each day.
The wording on the subscription sign-up page seems to indicate otherwise, with a specific call-out stating, "Play the puzzle for free on any device. Enjoy 20 years of Crossword archives. Solve in minutes with our bite-size mini puzzles." This could be worded better.
The Cooking section is separate, and the mobile app is iOS-only: Android users must view the cooking section at the Times' dedicated website, because it's not in the app, itself. iOS users must go to a separate NY Times Cooking app. The regular Times app has a Food section, but this covers things like restaurant reviews, celebrity chef profiles, and business reporting, rather than recipes or cooking advice. The regular Times app doesn't indicate that the Cooking section is not integrated into it, which can lead to confusion.
On the bright side, we appeared to have full access to the Cooking section, unlike the crosswords.
The New York Times app offers some the best journalism in the world, in an accessible package, for a reasonable price. But we'd like a clearer description of what is included in the All Access subscription and more consistent pricing.