Saturday, 17 August 2013

Android Clients for Twitter

I've been a long time fan of Tweetdeck as a piece of software for social management, certainly long before it was bought by Twitter.  I've used it everywhere via the Air Desktop app, on the web, the Chrome app and on Android too.  That is, up until now.  In their infinite wisdom Twitter appear to have realised maintaining two clients across a wide range of platforms doesn't make sense (begs the question why the bought it in the first place but I wont have that argument here) any longer and most versions of Tweetdeck are being phased out leaving only the web version or the heavily-based-on-the-web-version Chrome app.  So for the fans, what's next?  Which Twitter client should I be using on my mobile device now?  I've been assessing a bunch of them for quite a while now and I know I'm not the only one facing this decision so here's what I've learned.

First of all to put into perspective my thoughts on each client, here's a list of things I want or that I'm concerned with in an Android client:

  1. I should very easily be able to get to different content streams from my main Twitter stream, my mentions, searches, lists, to my direct messages.  A column interface (similar to Tweetdeck I guess) is ideal for this with a swipe gesture to navigate between them.
  2. It should support multiple Twitter accounts and switch easily between each account.
  3. It should be slick, fast, nice to use and be configurable in terms of its look and feel, notifications and ideally offer per column filters.
  4. It should ideally support push notifications and Twitter streaming. When notifications are pressed in the notifications bar the client should open directly to the Tweet being notified.
  5. It should not contain adverts.  It doesn't matter if I have to pay for the app or pay to get rid of the adverts, paying (within reason) is fine.
  6. It would preferably be free (as in open source) but I appreciate many of them are not and indeed to get the best Android clients at the moment it's less likely to be so.

So onward, to the apps...

Twitter (official client)
I guess the main critique of a post such as this is to ask what's wrong with the official client.  Well for me I find it takes ages to get to the content I read regularly.  Twitter lists take 3 taps and a scroll-down to find (for each list) so the official client fails at point 1 in my requirements list.  It doesn't do particularly well at points 2 or 3 either.  However, it does have the beefed-up mentions column they're calling Interactions that also includes favourites and new followers which I really like so I'm likely to keep it installed just for this until some other clients catch up.

Scope
Requires a special Scope account in order to login.  Screenshots appear to indicate a lack of column support so I didn't even bother signing in and got rid of it straight away.

Slices
An interesting take on reading Twitter and may once have provided lots of useful extra functionality on top of the basic Twitter.  However, with the introduction of Twitter lists there seems less point to Slices ability to carve up your social content into chunks.  The UI I found to be really rather confusing and difficult to navigate.  I quickly got rid of it after some investigation into its features.

Carbon
One of the slickest and nicest looking Twitter clients I think there is, this one really excels at want list number 3 with its fancy animations and cool look.  However, in the end it's still a button based UI that takes far too many taps to get to each piece of content you want to read.  That makes it slow and confusing to navigate so it's a sad farewell when uninstalling this one as it does implement swipe between columns but you can't configure your own columns to swipe through.

Tweet Lanes
This one does everything I want more or less out of the box with zero setup.  All I did for this app was sign in and a carousel swipe interface is loaded with all my tweets, mentions, lists, etc. and more can easily be added.  This app also appeals due to its free and open source mentality so is good for want list number 6.  However, it was left by the original developer (who no longer maintains it) somewhat feature incomplete with no notifications or sync although it does handle multiple accounts rather nicely.  Other developers have hacked in a few of these missing features here and there but there's still no driving force behind the project any more.  I wouldn't be expecting regular updates so the amount of life left in this app without someone taking up the reigns is probably quite short.  If it wasn't for the fact it's in a state of limbo I could seriously like this one but in the end lack of attention to detail such as pressing a notification in the notification bar and it merely starting the app rather than dropping you to the right place are just annoying.

Seesmic
A really popular client at one point, even if it's not now.  However, I really didn't get Seesmic at all.  It's a button based UI similar to the official Twitter client that takes lots of taps to get anywhere.  Lets count how I read a Twitter list: Profile Button -> Lists -> List Name, that's 3 which is too many in my book.  So it fails in the same way the official client fails at point 1 in my want list and doesn't do well at points 2 or 3 either.  It also has ads that I could pay to get rid of but why pay when it doesn't work very well for me anyway?

UberSocial
Not a bad column-based client that allows you to easily add the columns you want and arrange them in the order that suits.  It's easy to switch between accounts too.  The big problem with this client is that it's a battery-eater, I've no idea what it's doing but presumably polling quite a lot as when installed and in use on my phone it was one of the top reported apps in terms of battery usage where none of the other clients are anywhere to be seen.  If you want decent battery life then don't bother with this one.

TweetCaster
A not particularly easy on the eye button based app which, like other similar apps that limit the columns you're allowed and don't swipe between them, makes it rather awkward to traverse all the various parts of Twitter that a modern user might expect.  I really don't see the advantage of TweetCaster over the standard Twitter app.

The Winners Are
These three are all very good indeed and for me and my list, worth a shot.  I've not yet completely made my mind up which way I'll be going but it will definitely be one of these.

Janetter
With the default theme, this client can be a bit "oh my eyes" with its jet black text on bright white background.  Not much imagination in the colouring and shading of the interface except the bright lime green.  However, when switched to the dark theme it's much easier on the eye and you can start to look at the functionality a little more closely.  It manages multiple accounts very well, returning you to the same account you left when you start the app but making it easy to move between the two accounts - perfect for when you have a major account and other minor accounts you don't read that much.  The interface itself is the typical column/swipe style interface and the columns are easily configured, edited and arranged.  It also has another feature that is becoming more important in the management of busy columns, the idea of muting certain keywords, hashtags, user accounts or apps.  The free version has adverts built in but if this is the app I end up going for then it's a one-time £4.99 purchase to get rid of the ads and unlock a couple of other features.

HootSuite
Really easy to use from the off and has a nice separation of accounts that allow you to read content from any particular account with ease.  Accounts are separated so you can only scroll through the columns for a particular account that's active.  However, switching between accounts feels a little awkward to me as you have to remember how to navigate back to the main start page which isn't done using the most obvious (and normal for Android) method of clicking the button in the title bar.  Other than that, once you've got an account selected it's really quite nice to browse through all the different content and with no ads either, for free.  If you want more than a certain number of accounts (I'm not sure how many) or you want to unlock some particular features (that I've not found the need for) then you need to pay a fairly staggering $9.99 per month to use the pro version of the app.  That sum plus the features you get in the paid version clearly indicate HootSuite is aiming to make money from commercial users of Twitter where lots of different people might be maintaining lots of different accounts, a marketing department perhaps.  Because of that the free version is really good, as I've said, but I do wonder if one of the other two of my favourite apps will win out with a slicker user experience overall.

Plume
I'm really liking Plume at the moment, along with Janetter it's quite slick at the way it handles navigation and moving between accounts.  However, it does have a couple of annoying "features" that can't be changed.  The worst is that every time the app is started it shows a feed of information from all of your accounts configured in the app.  Unlike most apps, Plume doesn't separate content from different accounts, they're all shown in the same columns and colour coded to match a particular account.  That's great except that most of the time I want to read content from my main Twitter account and only occasionally do I want to dip into content from other accounts.  Hence, at the moment every time I start the app I have to tap a couple of buttons to select my main account - how hard can that be to add as an option?  Many users have asked for it and as yet it's not been added.  The free version is supported by ads so you you need to shell out the small sum of £3.73 to get rid of them.  Another similar feature to Janetter is that you can mute certain things from column content, either accounts, hashtags, keywords or apps.  This highlights another annoying Plume buglet in that not everything you ask to be muted actually gets muted, or at least it seems mutes only apply to the main column and not to specific columns or all columns as you might expect.  This is a really excellent Twitter client and if you can work around the few annoyances I've highlighted then it's a real winner.  For me, time will tell whether they sort it out enough for me to be able to live with it on a daily basis.

2 comments:

David M said...

I've been using plume for a while; as I don't have the multi-account requirement, I've found it meets my needs nicely.

Graham White said...

Thanks Dave, I do really want to use Plume as it's probably my favourite but it's definitely let down right now. Unfortunately, the developers don't seem to do anything about it other than say "it'll come in an update" which I've seen them state a few times around the web from as early as last year so I'm not holding my breath.