While Reddit has grown to be one of the biggest sites on the Internet, it didn't have its own mobile app until 2014, which was just an acquisition of Alien Blue, one of the many third-party apps that blossomed in this little cottage industry. Reddit eventually replaced it with an official branded app of its own in April 2016, and it was pretty rough around the edges. Let's take a look at how Reddit: The Official App has evolved in the two years since. Does it finally stack up against the established pros like Reddit is Fun (RIF), or recent up-and-comers like Apollo?
It's better than the mobile site: Unlike the mobile site, the app's dark theme uses gradients instead of pure black backgrounds, the latter of which can actually cause eyestrain when combined with white text. The app also scales much better on a phone-size screen. You can also create a shortlist of favorite subreddits as a subset of those you're subscribed to, which lets you optimize your experience according to what device you're viewing Reddit on. However, the mobile site does not set a high bar, and the company itself encourages users to use its official app instead.
Minimal customization: Unfortunately, the official app is missing a number of popular features that its competition has. It doesn't let you adjust text size for better legibility or higher information density. You can't filter out particular keywords or subreddits. You can't access the site preferences that are available in the web browser version of Reddit. You can't tell the app to only load thumbnails and hi-res images when you're on Wi-Fi. You can't change your homepage to a specific subreddit or multireddit. And you can't reset your browsing history, delete your draft comments, or unsubscribe from all your subreddits at once.
You can get all of the aforementioned features in Reddit is Fun (RIF), and none of them in the official app. (Unfortunately, RIF is Android-only, but Apollo is a great alternative for iOS users). They're not all critical, but it's disappointing to be missing something as useful as text size adjustment, especially since Reddit has had two years to improve its app, and its text and image spacing leaves something to be desired. Which leads us to our next point...
Use of visual space needs work: Granted, RIF looks utilitarian by the standards of most Reddit apps, but it can also present about twice as many submissions on the screen because of its cleverer use of the available space (text size is just part of it). Boost for Reddit can do the same with a few tweaks to its settings, and both Boost and RIF are hugely popular. Coincidence? Meanwhile, browsing with the official app feels very "zoomed in," with a lot more scrolling necessary to see the same amount of content. Even when viewed in Compact mode, the official app ends up with a lot of unused white space between submissions when the submission title is short, because the thumbnails are relatively large.
Subreddit header images can also inadvertently hide the menu button that lets you access the sidebar, where important community info, links, and rules are usually placed. When you tap on a submission, you get a horizontal row of icons showing you the upvote and downvote function, a share button, and a conversation bubble with a number next to it. The thing is, tapping on the bubble doesn't do anything. It seems like a good opportunity to provide a comment sorting tool or a reply function, but it's resolutely static. Speaking of replies...
Comment reply function is pretty basic: While competing Reddit apps usually offer formatting and URL tools -- italics, bold text, bullet points, HTML, links to other websites, et cetera -- these functions are curiously absent in the official app. You're not even given a button to paste the text of the comment that you're responding to. As a result, the official app discourages conversations and emphasizes passive browsing instead. As the Reddit community often likes to say, "The real life protip is always in the comments," but the app's limited engagement tools get in the way of that.
While the official app is definitely a step up from the mobile website, RIF, Boost, and Apollo remain well ahead in both functionality and visual design.