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Review: USA Today's Windows 8 app offers the best news experience on a Windows tablet so far

by Patrick Pierra

October 24 2012

USA Today gets high marks for its new Windows 8 app.
USA Today gets high marks for its new Windows 8 app.

Following its print, web, mobile and iPad recent relaunch, USA Today has just updated its Windows app. Its design choices are the right ones. (4 stars out of 5)

USA Today was, with MSNBC, one of the very first media outlets with an app for Windows 8. While it was well thought of and made good use of pictures, it suffered from several flaws. The dominance of pictures made headlines hard to read on the front page. The number of items displayed on the front was too high and prevented it from being fully updated every day. And the navigation forced users to get back to the front or the section index after each article.

The new version fixes these issues, and provides a super clean and sober look - in line with the new simplistic blue dot logo.

The front page now offers a smaller choice of topics per section, and a clear access to photos, videos and snapshots for each content section. Full screen photo galleries are gorgeous, and interactive snapshots - which all mix a small infographic with a short survey - are almost addictive.

Redesign is more lively

The best feature of the update is in the redesign of the article pages.

All articles start with a large picture covering two thirds of the screen. When a users swipes to the next page (a clear improvement on the previous version, where users scrolled horizontally), part of the picture remains on the left side, giving a more lively feel to the page. And then, the swipe continues to the next article, and again and again, almost endlessly.

This ability to swipe from article to article stands to very much increase both the time spent and the number of pages viewed. It will soon become a must for Windows news apps. It’s already there in NBC News apps, but Bing News and most other news apps sorely miss it.

Sure, USA Today hasn’t escaped the extremely stringent navigation rules set by Microsoft.

These rules are such that, at first sight, all news app look the same on Windows 8. This is a very different experience than when the iPad launched. In the first batch of apps, you could see that teams at the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and USA Today had worked in parallel, following very different navigation tracks, and ending up with completely different users experiences.

Expect no such diversity in Windows 8: all apps follow the Redmond protocol. Like its competitors, USA Today app is kind of stiff. Users may quickly tire of the uniformity of its front page if all boxes remain the same, day after day: filing them with different images may not be enough to draw readers in.

But at this stage, the USA Today app is the first to go to for your general news fix.

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