- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 24, 2010

If newspapers can be likened to anything these days, perhaps they are best seen as a guilty pleasure.

Reading the day’s headlines is essential, of course; reading features, book reviews and sports news from, say, the Daily Mail in London, Istanbul’s Haberturk or Malaysia’s Borneo Post is certainly a luxury for most of us.

And, yes, much of the content of those papers is available gratis on the Internet, but not everything. Local ads, some pictures and, of course, the look and feel of a “real newspaper” are all lacking on many newspaper Web sites.

Vancouver, British Columbia-based NewspaperDirect is a company with some interesting ideas: Deliver your “local” newspaper just about anywhere in the world, in a printed edition or on a screen, be it PC, Mac, Amazon Kindle, Apple iPhone or soon-coming iPad. On Feb. 17, the firm released its latest version of the iPhone application, PressReader, which it says enables “Millions of iPhone and iPod Touch users [to] download their favorite daily read from a selection of 1,400 newspapers and magazines from 90 countries in 42 languages.”

In short, I can follow Haberturk’s coverage of Oscar-winning actress Charlize Theron (no kidding, she was on its Sunday front page) in the palm of my hand. Ditto for The Washington Times, which also is available via NewspaperDirect.

The firm gives away the iPhone app but asks readers to pay 99 cents an issue for most of the newspapers it delivers; some may cost more. A $9.95 monthly subscription gives you 31 “credits” usable for newspaper issues, while spending $29.95 monthly offers a plan labeled “unlimited” but that may draw attention once a user surpasses 100 downloads in a month.

That’s the other part of the bargain — you download an image of the newspaper, as well as the text of supporting articles, onto the iPhone, making it possible to read an issue without having a “live” Internet connection. Not only does this work for airplane, train and cruise-ship passengers, it also makes the whole “newspaper on a screen” thing work better.

Here’s how: Page through a newspaper and find an article you like. Click on the subtly highlighted headline, and the screen “flips” to reveal a column of text and the relevant pictures for easier reading. When you’re finished, press the “done” button on-screen to return the page image. The PressReader software also will zoom in on that printed page if you’re keen to read an advertisement or the rare news story whose headline isn’t highlighted.

Readers with a deep appreciation for the tactile experience of reading a newspaper will appreciate the operation of PressReader. It’s as close to an electronic newspaper as I’ve seen in the hand-held space.

What’s also quite encouraging is that PressReader seems to support all of the hundreds of newspapers available through NewspaperDirect. That’s a pleasant contrast to San Francisco-based Zinio, which has fewer than two dozen of its magazines available for the Zinio iPhone app. (A hint for Zinio’s executives: That limited range won’t cut it on the iPad.)

No system is without its flaws, or at least things over which one can quibble, and this is no exception. Download times, even over a rather spiffy Wi-Fi connection, can be a bit daunting, about three to five minutes or so for a Sunday paper. Sometimes downloads can be unfulfilled: I had to order one paper twice before getting a readable copy.

These are minor points, however. When you’re far from home, the sight of a local paper is often welcome. PressReader and NewspaperDirect make this a possibility at a reasonable price and with a top-notch implementation. Find out more at www.pressdisplay.com.

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