John D. Cook did a couple of blog posts about alternatives (see here and here), and there is no shortage of web pages devoted to the subject. I've spent more time than I care to think shopping for a solution. My requirements, in descending order of importance are as follows.
- The reader must be accessible from both a web browser (on Linux, although that's unlikely to be an issue) or Linux desktop client (browser preferred) and an Android client (or browser application, but native client preferred).
- The reader must synchronize between my Android tablet and my Linux PC.
- I must be able to import my Google Reader subscriptions (preferably including the folders into which they are organized).
- The reader should have straight-forward navigation, including the ability to flag articles as read. (I'm not worried about liking, +1-ing or other social features.)
- There should be easy (one click) linking from the reader summary of an article to the source (original web page) in a browser.
- I would rather not have a magazine-style interface. For me, it's just unnecessary clutter, and somewhat inappropriate. Some of my subscriptions are blogs, but I also use RSS to subscribe to forums and Twitter feeds, which just look dopey in a magazine layout.
I thought that Dropbox might be an easy syncing solution. Brent Simmons, who I believe authored the NetNewsWire reader for Apple devices, argues in a blog post that syncing through a cloud file service like Dropbox is unlikely to work. So much for the easy way out.
Since Feedly grabbed far and away the lion's share of recommendations on several sites I checked, I tried that first. Importing my Google Reader subscriptions was trivial. The interface took a bit of getting used to, which is going to be an issue with any alternative to Google Reader. On the PC (in Firefox, using their extension), some articles were "featured" (displayed in larger boxes) than others. I found it easy to mark as read those that were not featured, but for the life of me I could not find an easy way to mark the featured ones read. It was either click on them and read them, or click on a different article to make it "featured" and then, with the original article no longer featured, mark it as read. That's a bit inefficient.
The Feedly Android client was actually a bit easier to navigate, once I learned that (a) swiping horizontally was the way to mark an article read or unread and (b) I needed to be very careful about not using too long a swipe. (A long swipe marks everything on screen read/unread.) Synchronization worked, although I found that I had to log out and log back in at least once on my desktop browser in order to catch changes from the Android client.
Unfortunately, one glitch in the Android application proved to be a deal-breaker. Tapping a link provided with each synopsis let me read the article in a browser, which was embedded in the Feedly client. In many cases, the article is a post on a forum, to which I want to respond. Finger-painting a response on an Android device is painful as it is. In at least a couple of cases, though, Feedly ate my response. After laboriously typing in the answer, I had to scroll up or down to access the button to submit the message. Feedly apparently interpreted the vertical swipe to mean "go back to the previous screen", losing my work in the process. I could not find a setting that would compel Feedly to send me to an external browser (either the default Android browser or Firefox) to read the full article, so that was the end of my Feedly trial.
I'm currently trying Netvibes. There is (as yet) no native Android application, so I access it via web browser on all devices. I can live with that. Synchronization seems to work (knock on virtual wood). Importing my Google Reader subscriptions (including folders), while not as easy as with Feedly, went fairly smoothly, although previous posts in some cases came in with very incorrect dates (as in, all posts from one source were dated seven minutes prior to import). I spent a bit of time marking things read, but that is a one-time phenomenon. The interface is quite clean. I find the "widgets view" more visually appealing but, for busy feeds, the "reader view" more functional.
Update: After a week plus of use, I've posted my impressions of Netvibes.
Update #2: According to eWeek, Feedly has grabbed some 3 million Google Reader users (and counting) and is adding/improving features.
Update #3: I've now switched to Inoreader, mainly because I'm a bit more comfortable with it on mobile devices. After about a month of use, I'm quite happy with it.