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Monthly Archives: July 2009

Omio Round Up: Best RSS Readers For The iPhone

There are only so many moron quizzes, air-traffic control games and dubious flashlight apps to try out before it becomes apparent that the iPhone was destined for something more interesting and less banal.

If you want to keep up with the latest news and posts from every blog, magazine and newspaper on the planet, you’ll need an RSS reader. On the desktop, web-apps such as Google Reader, Netvibes and Bloglines lead the way.  But on the iPhone it’s a different story. And so, Omio set out on a quest to find the iPhone’s best RSS app.

It was harder than we expected. Much harder.

What we were looking for:

Easy feed import. We’re heavy users of RSS in the Omio office. My Netvibes page is home to 214 feeds which contain over 4000 articles between them. Any decent RSS app would have to provide a straightforward way of importing all those feeds. It’d also allow me to remove less important feeds, which I don’t want to read on the iPhone.

Article caching. What’s the point of having an on-the-go RSS reader if I can’t read the feeds when making the sweaty daily commute on the London Underground? Plus, it’d be great to have access to the accompanying pictures, not just the text.

Flexible feed organisation. The way that someone chooses to organise their feeds in Netvibes or Google Reader isn’t necessarily the same way they’d organise them on an iPhone. You might want a different folder structure, or even no folder structure at all. The app should allow feeds to be moved between folders, along with the creation and deletion of those folders.

Everyday Use. The app should download and update feeds quickly and be responsive to button presses. It should be easy to navigate between folders, feeds and articles. Articles should be clearly listed, previewed and displayed.

Byline

Phantom Fish – £2.99, download from iTunes App Store.

Byline is currently the most downloaded RSS reader in the App Store. Its popularity is probably attributable to its tight integration with Google Reader. Like most of the apps listed here, it will import feeds from Google Reader in a snap. But unlike the others, it remains totally synchronised with Google Reader as you use it. Items read in Byline appear read in Google Reader. Items starred in Byline appear starred in Google Reader. And so on. If you’re utterly wedded to Google Reader this is going to be manna from heaven. If you’re not, then it’s just plain annoying.

It’s annoying because a consequence of the Google Reader synchronisation is that nothing can be edited, added or removed inside Byline. It’s impossible to add new feeds, move feeds between folders or create new folders. Everything will appear exactly as you’ve configured it in Google Reader.

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Even worse, it’s not possible to just open up a single feed. Instead, the content of each folder is presented as a ‘river of news’. If you just want to check out the latest news from a specific feed then you’re out of luck. It’s difficult to overstate just how infuriating this is. To mitigate this issue, Byline places a button in the top-right corner (which looks confusingly like a refresh button). This reorders the presentation of stories inside the folder by feed. But if the feed you want is at the bottom of the page then too bad: you’ll just have to scroll all the way down to the bottom. It doesn’t even support favicons to speed-up feed identification inside the folder.

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It’s not all doom-and-gloom though. Byline competently caches all the articles for offline reading. It’ll also cache the images from starred items. Rather brilliantly (and in contrast to most of the other apps in this review), it resizes images so that they fit on the screen, avoiding the use of horizontal scrolling. It will open links inside the app without having to load Safari, refreshes feeds quickly and is responsive in use.

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Ultimately, your opinion of Byline will be determined by your relationship with Google Reader. If you want to replicate the desktop experience as closely as possible on your iPhone then Byline is the app for you. But if you want any flexibility with the organisation and display of your feeds, then you should go elsewhere.

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Feed Import: 5

Very fast, but restricted to Google Reader.

Article caching: 8

A competent implementation. Image caching raises it above the competition.

Flexible feed organisation: 0

No options at all. Everything is managed via Google Reader.

Everyday Use: 4

Feeds refresh quickly. The app remains responsive during refreshes. But… the enforced river-of-news presentation makes it cumbersome to actually use.

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Newsstand

OMZ Software – £2.99, download from iTunes App Store.

Newsstand is a competent RSS reader whose USP is its distinctive landscape viewing mode.

When the screen is rotated, the feeds are presented as a series of magazines on a shelf, which the user can flick through horizontally. It’s a interesting riff on Apple’s coverflow concept, but Newsstand takes it a stage further by presenting the feed contents in landscape split-screen. The left-side contains the index, while the right-side shows the currently selected article.

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It’s a unique way of displaying feeds, but it’s more interesting than effective. The problem is that there just isn’t enough space to read the article in the split-screen view. Only a fraction of the article can be displayed. And forget about trying to view pictures in such a small space. It comes across as a gimmick rather than a feature that would stand up to heavy use. Happily, it can be disabled.

Feed import options are excellent, with built-in support from Google Reader, Bloglines and OPML. Keep in mind that if you choose OPML, you’ll need to upload your OPML data to a URL as the iPhone doesn’t support access to local files.

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Regarding feed organisation, Newsstand does pretty much everything. It’s easy to create new folders and move feeds between them. Nested folders are supported too. A minor irritation is that moving several feeds from one folder into another is pretty laborious, but this is unlikely to be a common operation.

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In everyday use, Newsstand does an admirable job. Navigating between folders, feeds and articles is reasonably fast and straightforward. The presence of favicons makes it easy to identify the desired feed in a long list. Articles can be viewed on their original website without opening Safari.  One annoyance is that images are not resized, which can necessitate lots of horizontal scrolling. It’s surprising that so many apps have failed to implement an auto-resize feature.

Unread or flagged articles can optionally be displayed ‘river of news style’, although this tends to slow down the navigation if there are lots of unread articles.

Additional features include sharing with Twitter and Delicious, and display ‘themes’ which make (optionally) make Newsstand looks like a typewriter. It isn’t clear why someone would want to do this, but the option is there if you want it.

A great inclusion is concurrent feed downloads. This enables Newsstand to refresh up to 3 feeds simultaneously, which will save a lot of time if you’ve got a lot of subscriptions. However, it loses marks for the degree to which it slows down during feed refreshes, especially when it’s in landscape mode. It’s also slow to load: typically taking around 3 seconds to appear – even on the iPhone 3GS.

It also restricts each feed to a maximum of 50 items. This could be a frustrating restriction if you read blogs which publish a lot of articles.

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Feed Import: 8

Fast and more comprehensive than most of its rivals

Article caching: 6

Caches text but not images.

Flexible feed organisation: 8

Lots of options and very straightforward to use.

Everyday use: 7

Pretty competent if you forget about the gimmicky landscape mode. The Twitter sharing option will appeal to Twitter-holics.

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Reader – ATOM/RSS Feed Reader

Enormego – £1.79, download from iTunes App Store.

Frustrating. Very frustrating. This app has the potential for greatness: a well thought out UI; lots of flexibility in organising and viewing feeds and items; and excellent import options. But in practice, it’s slow, crash-prone and things just don’t work as they should. If the author could fix these problems (particularly the speed issues), Reader would immediately become our preferred RSS app. Instead it’ll sit on my iPhone unused and unloved.

The import options are particularly inviting with their support for Netvibes and My Yahoo! in addition to the eponymous Google Reader. In practice though, the Netvibes import crashed every time I tried to use it. Google Reader worked, but took a little longer than the other apps and the app appeared frozen for a while.

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Once the feeds are imported, the options for viewing, organising and sorting far outstrip any other app in this review. Even better, the UI is straightforward and intuitive. Feeds can be grouped into folders/categories, or sorted by date and name. It provides a great method for selecting favourite feeds (in addition to favourite items). Images are nicely resized. And there’s even a ‘river-of-news’ view for people who like that kind of thing. In short, it provides pretty much every type of RSS view imaginable. And it does so without making the UI feel cluttered.

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There are even a few features we haven’t seen on other apps. Each feed has its own configuration options, which, for example, enables a partial-feed to automatically open items on its full site. Although other apps allow specific items to be opened on the full site, they they don’t allow per-feed configuration so that it happens automatically. Lists of items can be striped to improve readability, and oversized favicons make it easier to spot the desired feed in a long list.

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Twitter and Instapaper integration are included too…

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But… the app falls apart whenever you try to do, well, pretty much anything. Nearly every button press results in a long wait during which it’s not clear whether the app has crashed or is just ‘thinking’. Sometimes, the app gets frozen on the current screen. Sometimes a lined white screen appears, with no items on it at all.

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It feels like the developer has put all his efforts into features, and paid no attention to performance or stability. Towards the end of writing this review, Reader got itself into a state where it would no longer open without crashing.

It’s a shame that Reader doesn’t live up to its potential. Nevertheless, it’s worth keeping an eye on this app. If the performance and stability issues can be resolved in a future release, it will be hands-down the best RSS reader on the iPhone.

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Feed Import: 3

Netvibes import doesn’t work. Google Reader import is slow.

Article caching: 6

Caches text but not images.

Flexible feed organisation: 10

As good as it gets. Every possible way of organising and displaying feeds.

Everyday use: 0

It just doesn’t work.

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Pro RSS

Simon Oualid – £1.19, download from iTunes App Store.

I can probably save you the bother of reading the rest of the review. If you don’t care about full synchronisation with Google Reader, then Pro RSS is the one to buy. It’s fast, it’s stable, there are decent folder options and it caches nicely – even images.

To be sure, it’s not the most exciting app. It doesn’t have the gimmickry of Newsstand, nor the options of Reader, and there’s no integration with Twitter or any social bookmarking services. Sometimes it’s almost too spartan: favicons are a serious omission.

But this can be forgiven for the way it just gets on with things. It starts up quickly. Feed import is the best we’ve seen, with support for Google Reader, Bloglines, Newsgator and OPML. Pro RSS cleverly sidesteps the iPhone’s difficulties with OPML files by providing a local IP address through which the user’s OPML file can be uploaded using a computer. This is a trick which the other RSS readers would do well to replicate.

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Pro RSS handily allows up to 5 feeds to be refreshed simultaneously, resulting in a serious time-saving if you’ve got lots of feeds. The app slows down a little though if many feeds are being refreshed in the background.

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Folders and feeds can be edited and re-ordered manually, but there are no sorting options. Items are cached by default, and images can be cached too via the ‘Load Image’ button. This is nice to see, and a great improvement over other apps which only allow image caching on a per-item basis (or not at all). Annoyingly though, images are not resized to fit the screen. Even more annoyingly, there is no landscape mode. So if the text is to small or the image won’t fit, you’re left to do a lot of scrolling.

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Finally, if you shake the phone, Pro RSS automatically switches to a full-screen view by hiding all the toolbars. A quick shake brings them back again. All-in-all, Pro RSS is a great app and Omio’s recommended RSS reader. There’s a even a free cut-down version available (called Free RSS) if you want to try-before-you-buy.

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Feed Import: 9

Lack of Netvibes import is the only thing which holds Pro RSS back from a perfect 10.

Article caching: 9

Caches text and images with aplomb.

Flexible feed organisation: 7

Pretty flexible. Not always as straightforward as it should be, but it does work.

Everyday use: 8

This is Omio’s recommended RSS reader for the iPhone.

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Manifesto

Mayor Justin – £1.19, download from iTunes App Store.

Another simple, stripped-back RSS reader. Manifesto lacks folder support, so if you read a lot of feeds you’ll probably need to look elsewhere. Nevertheless, for the casual user, Manifesto is a good option.

Feed import is restricted to Google Reader, but runs quickly. Favicons show up in the main list of feeds, but the absence of folders makes can make it tedious to reach the feed you want.

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Annoyingly, the feed view only contains the titles of each article. Unlike most other apps in this review, there is no preview of a couple of lines of the article.

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A persistent bug in Manifesto prevented the ‘cancel’ button from working in any of the pop-up menus. This was obviously very annoying and would put us off from using the app. Hopefully it’ll be fixed in the next release.

Manifesto claims ‘Quick flag’ and ‘Flip web’ as its standout features. In reality, ‘Quick flag’ is just another way of describing ‘starred’ or ‘favourite’ articles. And ‘Flip web’ just allows items to be opened in their original web page without opening the browser. Admittedly, ‘Flip web’ is accompanied by a nice animation, but neither of these features are anything special.

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Overall, Manifesto just doesn’t offer enough. It’s all very well trying to produce an app which cuts out the extraneous features and fripperies. But this app takes it one step too far. The absence of folders and article previews means that we can’t wholeheartedly recommend Manifesto.

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Feed Import: 5

Google Reader only.

Article caching: 7

Caches text. Images are cached in flagged articles.

Flexible feed organisation: 3

No folder support. No options to sort feeds.

Everyday use: 4

Missing too many features.

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Web Feeds

Tuomas Artman – £1.79, download from iTunes App Store

This is another simple RSS reader. Feed import is sadly limited to Google Reader but works very fast. In fact, speed is a major plus of this app. It’s super smooth. Even when refreshing multiple feeds, it never seems to slow down. It’s a trick which many of its competitors seem unable to manage.

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The look-and-feel of the UI is is very reminiscent of the iPhone’s built-in Mail app. If Apple decided to write their own RSS app, it would probably look very much like this.

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The UI is simple, but it’s also restrictive. The lack of folder support make this app unsuitable for people who read a lot of feeds. Favicons help a little, but clearly this app is most suited to light users.

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There’s no getting away from the fact that this app is feature-poor. There are no options for sorting or organising feeds and articles. It does include a somewhat odd function which enables the user to collect a bunch of articles and then send them in a single email. This feature seems a little unnecessary, but we haven’t seen it anywhere else.

Web Feeds is just ‘ok’. If you’re looking for a really simple reader, with a very Apple-y design to deal with just a handful of feeds, then this is the app for you. If you’re even slightly more demanding, then look elsewhere.

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Feed Import: 5

Google Reader only.

Article caching: 5

Text only.

Flexible feed organisation: 3

No folder support. No options to sort feeds.

Everyday use: 6

Picks up extra marks for the clean design and speed, but not good enough for heavy users.

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RSS Runner

Francois Goldgewicht – free, download from iTunes App Store.

RSS Runner is the only free app in this review. Unsurprisingly, its functionality is fairly basic, but no more so than some of the commercial offerings we looked at here. It even includes some uncommon (but desirable) features such as sorting feeds by title.

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The design of the UI isn’t especially pleasing. There’s an awkward contrast of blue and black buttons. And inexplicably, little clouds are used to illustrate the number of articles inside each feed.

Import of feeds from Google reader is quick. But there’s no support for other sites such as Netvibes.

There’s also no support for folders, so RSS Runner is plainly unsuitable for users who have lots of feeds. And the listing of articles inside the feed is poor, with heavily truncated titles and no preview text. Worse, the app crashed a few times while we were reviewing it.

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It’s not a galloping surprise that the developers aren’t charging for RSS Runner: it’s difficult to imagine who would pay for it. If you absolutely won’t hand over any cash for your RSS reader, try Free RSS instead (the cut-down version of Pro RSS)

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Feed Import: 5

Google Reader only.

Article caching: 5

Text only.

Flexible feed organisation: 3

No folder support. No options to sort feeds.

Everyday use: 1

Poor presentation and too few features. Try something else.

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There’s no doubt that RSS fiends are well catered for in the App Store. There are plenty of feed readers, and it’s clear that the price doesn’t always correlate to the quality of the app.

Here are Omio’s winners:

Best RSS app overall: Pro RSS

Best RSS app for Google Reader fans: Byline

One-to-Watch: Reader – ATOM/RSS Feed Reader

LG Chocolate BL40 Unwrapped: Official Pictures!

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After leaks dripping out all over the place, the LG Chocolate BL40 has officially been revealed in a flood of tasty photos!

The latest in LG’s exclusive Black Label series, the BL40 boasts a 4″ LED touch screen, a 5 megapixel autofocus camera and an exciting new user interface.

Watch movies without the black borders and browse web pages in all their horizontal glory, thanks to the screen’s unique 21:9 widescreen ratio, also giving the Chocolate BL40 an enticing narrow form factor.

The glossy black finish and red accents truly evoke the stylish nature of the original LG Chocolate KG800, but now with all manner of current generation mobile specs including HSDPA, Wi-Fi, Assisted-GPS and multi-touch.

As for a release window, the BL40 will be out all across the globe in Q3 2009. We can’t wait to see LG’s sexy combination of style and substance make it to stores!

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T-Mobile G2 Touch Deals Now On Omio!

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The magenta network’s reimagining of the HTC Hero known as T-Mobile G2 Touch is finally available on Omio! No sign of the teflon white model…but it does a good monolith impression in black!

With T-Mobile G2 Touch deals starting from £15, getting ahold of Google’s new Android operating system is a bargain!

The best deal for a free T-Mobile G2 Touch is undoubtedly the £30 per month offer, with 700 x-net minutes and 400 texts!

Have a look at all the deals, and the HTC Hero if you prefer an Android phone in a more colourful hue

Pink HTC Hero Gets Exclusive Retailer, Brown Also Available

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When we saw the first leaked videos of the HTC Hero, it seemed to be a veritable rainbow of touchscreen wonder, only to end up on our shores in a militaristic gunmetal grey on Orange, and an admittedly cool white model made out of Teflon when it arrives as the T-Mobile G2 Touch, any day now.

However, the Carphone Warehouse / Mobiles.co.uk has managed to confirm earlier rumours, with the Hero in both a fetching brown and exclusive pink colour currently appearing on their site.

The Pink HTC Hero still packs a 5-megapixel autofocus camera, 3.2″ capacative touchscreen and GPS in a unique, angular form factor, and is an exclusive to the Orange network. The handset is available for free from under £25 per month.

With these new colours, the Android device brings a splash of colour into an increasingly staid smartphone landscape.

Augmented Reality Apps To Wait For iPhone 3.1 Update

Picture 8Augmented reality apps are all the rage at the moment, with software like Twittaround and Layar attracting lots of attention through their ability to interact with the world around us, but mostly because they make us feel a bit like the Terminator and able to ‘scan’ information out of people and places in our field of vision.

Using a combination of GPS and the internal compass of the new iPhone 3GS to find the nearest Tube station, nearest friend or nearest person Tweeting about eating an egg via a digital overlay is certain to be the future, but Apple is putting the brakes on a fair few apps that are otherwise ready.

According to the LA Times, Apple is telling developers of this new breed of reality aware software that they won’t see the light of day until September, when the new 3.1 OS update becomes available. The reason for this is to iron out a few kinks in the still fairly early technology, just to make sure they are ready for the deluge of augmented reality fart apps around the corner…

So we won’t be able to wander blindly into traffic and blame it on our iPhones just yet, but here’s a taster of what we can look forward to in a few short months…

Source: Pocket Gamer

Samsung Blade Pink Now Available!

Samsung Blade Pink

The inevitable alternate colours are coming out for the latest phones, this time the Vodafone-exclusive Samsung Blade gets refurbished in a brighter hue for the summer.

The Samsung Blade Pink is…very pink. This fortunately does not compromise the handset’s ability to perform with an AMOLED touch display, a 3.15 megapixel camera and a cool, angular central ‘home’ button. Possibly where the phone derived its tabloid-baiting name from…

As bargain touch phones go, the Samsung Blade is hard to beat in any colour, and is currently available on Vodafone contract deals from £15 per month.

T-Mobile G2 Touch Available To Buy From 28th July

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Well, it seems like T-Mobile UK is taking those Twitter 101 business lessons to heart, using their official account to announce the release of the T-Mobile G2 Touch on their site from the 28th of July, and in stores soon after.

An HTC Hero by another name (but still as sweet), the G2 Touch is impressive thanks to the slick user interface and refreshing handset design. It also has a 3.2″ touchscreen, a 5 megapixel autofocus camera and a 3.5mm headphone jack.

The smartphone offers an antidote to those ‘sold out iPhone 3GS’ woes, and has the Android Marketplace and a fine line in personalisation thanks to widgets and profiles that each offer a markedly different user experience.

Other plus points include Flash support on the G2′s browser and Microsoft Exchange mail support, although we are yet to see what magenta-flavoured additions T-Mobile will bring to the device.

Best Android phone out now (well, tomorrow)? Certainly.

Best touchscreen phone on the market? It’s a close one.

BlackBerry Curve 8520: Pitched Firmly At Entry-Level Consumers

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Canadian firm RIM are still marching onward into consumer territory with their new Blackberry model, with the Curve 8520 set to hit shelves next month in the UK.

Courting the casual user and breaking taboos seem to be their aims, as the Blackberry Curve 8520 is the first to sport an optical trackpad as opposed to the famous rollerball, is equipped with a 2MP camera and 3.5mm headphone jack, and is also the first Blackberry to have dedicated buttons for access to media.

Crackberry fans can extinguish those torches and put down the pitchforks, the Curve 8520 is still very much a messaging device. Corners have been trimmed in an effort to reach that magic pricepoint with Wi-Fi, Edge and Bluetooth but no 3G connectivity, and a slight 256MB of memory which can be supplemented with microSD cards. We can confirm that it still has the familiar form factor, complete with QWERTY keyboard for textaholics. 4 and a half hours of talktime and 17 hours of standby round out a decently specced smart phone on a budget.

So, how much would you expect to pay for this wondrous entry-level BlackBerry? £200? £150? £100?

Well we don’t actually know yet, as RIM declined to state the price as UK carriers are yet to be confirmed. Vodafone is rumoured to be a frontrunner in grabbing this handset, as an advert stating precisely that has leaked. The US will be seeing the Curve coming to T-Mobile as soon as the 5th of August, but we’ll let you know exactly when it the bargain Blackberry is coming out and for how little.

UPDATE: The Blackberry Curve 8520 is coming to Orange on both prepay and Pay Monthly this August! Gawd bless you Twitter (and @ConorFromOrange) for your 140 character nuggets of news!

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Spotify iPhone App On The Way, Other Mobiles To Follow

Music streaming software Spotify has become a mainstay on many Macs and PCs since launching late last year, the freedom to play any song from a database of millions has spurred a music revolution, with over 2 million users in the UK and Europe.

Now the Swedish firm is taking the next logical step and making their service mobile, offering an iPhone/iPod Touch version of the streaming software to Apple for approval.

The application allows the same simple and clean interface for playing music, but with some nice iPhone specific flourishes that make it worthy of attention, as well as the £9.99 per month subscription fee. That’s right, the mobile slice of fried gold is only for Spotify Premium members.

Suitopia ads every half hour can be tolerated, but the invitation of offline playlists and synching your tunes to the desktop app might be enough to get us on board as fully paid up members.

The mobile application can run on both 3G and wi-fi connections but is also able to store music from your playlists, allowing for uninterrupted playback even if you have poor reception or are on the Tube.

Whether Apple will welcome such an appealing alternative to the virtual shelves of iTunes remains to be seen, what is sure is that they won’t be getting their usual 30% cut, as the app is free… Last.fm and Simplify Media managed to sneak in without much of a fight, but the thought is that Spotify is an altogether different – and more dangerous – animal to Apple’ coffers.

The good news for those who aren’t in the Cult of Cupertino can rest easy in the knowledge that an Android version is in the later stages of development, as is one for devices running on Symbian S60. Spotify haven’t yet begun their global assault, so this app will only be compatible in the markets currently using the desktop version…for now.

See it in action on the iPhone below!

Palm Pre Update Brings iTunes Syncing Back From The Dead

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Bravo, Palm.

Not ones to shy away from a fight, the plucky smartphone’s latest update (v1.1) for the Pre brings a whole host of new features to the device including support for Exchange, improved syncing with Facebook updates and a general fresh lick of paint.

Pre owners won’t care about any of that, as one update in particular proves more important than all the others put together:

Resolves an issue preventing media sync from working with latest version of iTunes (8.2.1).”

Behaving as though Apple’s severance of the Pre’s syncing capabilities was some sort of accident, Palm has kindly resurrected the ability for owners to use iTunes to sync media to the device.

Now Blackberry Media Sync might have brought a similar service to Bold and Curve owners not long ago, but we think it is the sheer cavalier attitude of Palm that is attracting the Cupertino company’s ire at the moment.

This game of cat and mouse between the two firms has been nothing less than heated since the Palm Pre‘s inception stepped on the iPhone’s manicured touch screen toes. This latest move is sure to get Apple’s full attention.