One of the most trusted sources of news just made it easier for its Filipino subscribers to be in the know via their smartphone or tablet. In partnership with Sven Ingenuity Inc., the Philippine Star recently released a mobile app where users can learn about the latest Philippine events. You can download it for free in iOS and Android.
To make this review, I installed the PhilStar app on my Samsung Galaxy Note 2 android phone. Like what most would wonder upon running an app for the first time, I speculated if the app is any good at all. As it is still in its infancy, glitches and limitations in features are apparent. Nevertheless, the app is capable of delivering the latest Philippine news, one essential feat that Philippine Star loyalists can truly appreciate. An augmented reality feature is also included in the app, allowing news and photos in the paper’s printed edition to come to life.
Interface & Design
The first thing you’ll notice when you open the app is its use of the publication’s signature blue-and-yellow color. The interface is simple and allows you to immediately read the content right after the latest issue is downloaded. At the top is the title bar that displays the Philippine Star logo, the current date, the weather, and the LiveIt! button (discussed further below). Below it are tabs for sections where articles are organized into, such as News, Opinion, Sports, etc. There are buttons at the sides to scroll and view more tabs, although they are rather clunky and swiping left and right does the same job anyway so they are pretty much not that useful.
Right below the tabs are buttons for Top Stories, settings and bookmarks. Despite appearing like a normal text, the first really is a button that, when tapped, displays the most viewed content. The settings, on the other hand, let you rearrange the tabs, change the article font style, and more. Finally, the bookmarks button shows a list of your favorite articles.
The list of stories is what takes up the most space of your device’s screen. If the content displayed is outdated, or if no content is displayed at all, you can simply swipe downwards to trigger an update or refresh. Tapping on a particular story directs you to the page showing that article’s entirety.
Functionality & Performance
The fact that this app is capable of showing today’s news and stories should be enough for many Filipino news junkies. However, a couple of issues plague the app that the developers must address.
First off, there seems to be a continuous need to update the issue whenever I view tabs, stories, and my bookmarked content. Oftentimes, I’m redirected to the “Loading Issue…” screen, rendering the app unusable as it seemingly downloads the issue all over again. This is just a wild guess, but the app apparently lacks efficient syncing and offline data storage. The lack of a search button and inability to view the archive is also disappointing. Finding content can be problematic especially when you want to filter articles on certain keywords or topics or when you want to read older stories.
In its entirety, the app is a basic reader for accessing the latest content published by the Philippine Star. That’s about it. To be honest, the interface could really use a major overhaul. Many of the buttons appear blurry, there is no landscape mode for reading articles, and crashes and freezing happen from time to time.
For anyone asking why the app lacks videos for viewing, that’s where Live It! comes in. It’s the augmented reality feature that lets users access exclusive videos that complement the articles in the printed edition of the Philippine Star. Recent circulations of the paper come with photos marked with the Live It! badge, which users can scan to make the paper more interactive.
I often find myself at rather awkward positions when aiming at a Live It! picture, trying to figure out if whether I’m doing it right or not. Sometimes, the app doesn’t detect the image right away, taking a minute or so before it does. It also doesn’t help if the Internet connection is slow or the room’s lighting is inadequate.
But when the app does recognize an image, it displays a loading icon and proceeds to buffering the video that shortly plays afterwards. In some instances, the image detection redirects you to your browser or YouTube app to view the video there. If it chooses to display an overlaying video, you have no complete control over the playback, not letting you pause or skip to certain parts. You must also point the camera at the picture at all times or else the video disappears. To bring it back, you need to aim properly at its accompanying photo once more, but it starts playing from the beginning instead of resuming where you left off so I’m hoping that it would get fixed in future updates.
Unlike elsewhere in the app, a landscape mode is available for Live It!, which is actually useful when aiming at a wide picture. Ads in the printed paper can also be scanned to view more interactive content such as info graphics and links, although I’ve yet to encounter one that’s supported by Live It!
As it’s still in its early version, no doubt there’s still room for improvement for the Philippine Star app. I look forward to the day when I can download an update that provides intuitive app navigation and better playback controls for the Live It! videos. When that day comes, this app will surely outperform other news apps.
You can download the free news app from PhilStar in the Google Play Store. If you’re an iPhone or iPad user, it’s also available for iOS users and you can download it by searching the application name on the App Store. The app is compatible with ARMv7 powered devices and above and as well as iPhone 3G or higher.
Have you tried the Philippine Star app? What do you think about it? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.