I’m back into Reddit. So I might as well find the right app for what I need.
My friend Aaron, who I rescued from making a Tumblr, got me back into Reddit. One of the main reasons that I fell out of using this service is that there wasn’t any great apps for browsing on iPhone. That apparently has changed.
I’m very picky with my apps.
You’d be surprised but I’m very particular about what apps I use. Yes, that was a joke. Finding the right app can make or break using a service. One thing I know for sure is that the default Reddit website is not great on mobile. Sure, they’ve recently rolled out a mobile design, but that isn’t enough for me. I want system level functionality for Reddit because the service thrives when it is accelerated by an app.
Three apps that I’ve spent the most time with are Alien Blue, which was bought by and is maintained by Reddit, Beam and Narwhal. The fact that a major “social network” hasn’t forced these other apps out of their space just shows that Reddit might actually know what they’re doing.
All of these apps are good. Some do things better than others but I’d put them all on pretty equal levels in terms of features, fit and finish. These developers know who their target demographic is. Each features lots of nit picky settings, a night mode, filters for NSFW content and more. I won’t mention too many of these overlapping features but I will highlight a few key difference between them.
I also have a personal favorite app, but I’ll share that down the line.
Good ‘ol Alien Blue. This was the first good app for browsing reddit on iPhone for a very long time. It was so good in fact that Reddit bought the app and brought the developer onto their team. Personally, I think this hurts Alien Blue.
The feature set of this app is good, but has definitely stalled over time. The last major update refreshed the UI but kept it clunky in some places. The top right “do something” button is hard to reach and unintuitive. When you tap said button, instead of filling your screen with nice big options, Alien Blue decides to give you a small, scrolling list. Common tasks are hidden behind this button, so get used to pressing it. And the actual design of this menu is sort of ugly as balls. To hedge their bet on the new UI, and probably to keep the Reddit community happy, the Alien Blue developer has kept the old UI in the app which you can toggle on and off. The “classic mode” is kind of broken on my 6S+ but does solve my issue with the placement of the “do something” button.
Where Alien Blue really shines is its first class support for Imgur links, what most of Reddit is made up of, and text posts. GIFs play nicely in the UI and text posts are always formatted well. If you’re into scrolling comments, it’s very easy to close large lists of comments and you can even hide comments below a certain vote count. This first class support is sorely missed on some other apps. One thing I didn’t realize that I missed about Alien Blue is that it doesn’t take over the system audio for certain GIF files. Really miss that a lot in all other Reddit apps.
Overall, Alien Blue isn’t a bad app. Sure I find it clunky, but most iOS Redditors are used to it and they find it easy to use just because of their memory. I’d really encourage everyone to try the two apps that I’ve found. You won’t be disappointed.
Beam was probably one of the first apps that I tried after Alien Blue that I really liked. I abandoned it in its early days due to an extremely buggy interface. However that seems to be fixed and now Beam is one great app.
The UI in Beam is fantastic. Probably my favorite of all the apps that I’ve tried. It is truly stellar. The experience of using this app is smart and intuitive, mostly. The app’s hierarchy is based on modals which feels weird for Reddit because the main site is based on lists and indention. However this rethinking of content moves the app into a space where it can create its own paradigms and successfully does in most place. The only weird separation from Reddit’s main site paradigm is that content and comments are always separated in Beam. This makes referencing the content a cumbersome task when reading comments.
Beam’s image viewer is my favorite of all the apps I’ve encountered. The content is front and center and image captions are understated to let the actual image shine.
Beam has taken the approach to be a Reddit browsing app and doesn’t pretend to cater to power users. While it is the nicest looking app of the ones I’ve tested, it lacks some key features like an ability to save posts. I’m a prolific post saver on Reddit because all of the links I save funnel into Pinboard no matter where I am. By lacking this feature, in its current state, Beam is hard to use on a daily basis. This shouldn’t be a deal breaker for everyone.
One major downside I’ve found with multiple third party Reddit clients is the lack of multi account support. If that’s something that you require, both Beam and Narwhal don’t have it. However, I know Beam is working on it and if they have a beta program, I’d definitely like to check out their implementation.
Beam is definitely one my favorite alternatives to Alien Blue because they’ve taken the Reddit browsing experience and turned it on its head. While I may not agree with every implementation choice, Beam is a phenomenally designed app that deserves more users.
I’ve really been torn between Beam and Narwhal. While Beam excels in presentation, Narwhal has a few key features that I appreciate. One major feature, besides saving posts, is the ability to use my 6S+ horizontally and browse Reddit in a two column view. If you don’t have a giant phone like myself, then this means nothing to you. But Narwhal does shine in one other major way.
While Alien Blue follows the conventions of Reddit browsing, Narwhal perfects them. It works intuitively in the Reddit design language. Upvoting is done super easily by just sliding a post in the app. This is a welcomed improvement over tiny buttons that a lot of apps adopt. This swiping system also discourages downvoting because the extra long swipe is just uncomfortable enough not to do it all the time. Comments threads can be minimized with one press, which is super helpful and saves time in scrolling. Narwhal takes conventions Redditors are aquatinted with and perfects them.
While Narwhal is my “daily driver,” I still have found some quirks with the app. While other apps try to make the content look as native as possible while browsing, Narwhal takes the opposite approach. Every post’s original link is preserved and shown as a web page. This works for the most part, but certain sites do not optimize well for mobile and I would love to see Narwhal implement something a little more native for a post’s content.
Of all these applications, Narwhal has the wonkiest search. At first I didn’t realize that getting to a subreddit was different than searching. The search itself kind of felt lackluster overall. However the top notch support for multireddits is definitely something I need to explore more.
Narwhal really is the better Alien Blue. I found the transition easy and I understood most mechanisms in the app extremely quickly. I can’t recommend Narwhal enough. Just go out and try it.
It’s been super fun trying all these apps. I love when multiple developers build on top of the same service and come out with wildly different results. Bottom line, don’t settle with an app you already know, try something new.
Please let me know if I got something wrong or you have a comment about one these apps.