Hear the news with Umano

IMG_2380Umano is a new iOS and Android app from the SoThree, Inc. It’s available now as a free download from the App Store and Google Play, and carries no additional in-app purchases.

Umano is an audio-centric app that pulls in news from a variety of sources and then allows the user to listen to these articles read by professional voice actors rather than relying on text-to-speech systems. Content covers a wide variety of categories and the app essentially allows users to build their own audio news shows either for streaming online or listening to offline.

Using Umano requires either signing up for a proprietary account or signing in using Facebook. This step is necessary as the Umano service keeps track of which articles the user has listened to as well as their “likes” and personalized playlists. The service’s core principle of allowing users to listen to the news would probably work just fine without the need for a user account, but by featuring one it allows users to personalize their experience as well as share interesting content with their friends. App Store reviewers, who are sometimes hesitant to sign up for accounts for services that do not necessarily “need” them, do not appear to have responded negatively to the need to sign in, which is a positive sign.

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Umano’s main screen displays a feed of articles from a variety of sources. Listening to one is a simple case of tapping on it, which starts the article playing and displays a page of more detailed information about it. This information page includes the headline, the source, a relevant image and a brief summary of the article. It also allows the user to “like” the story, share it via email, Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and/or Evernote (though the latter’s functionality appeared to be broken at the time of writing), and view the profile of the voice artist. Users may also browse through other content from the same channel if they enjoy what they hear.

Users may add articles to their personal playlist by double-tapping on them, and this allows them to be downloaded for offline listening at a later time. This behavior is turned off by default, but the user is prompted to activate it the first time they add something to their playlist. The playlist function is a great idea and is great for those who commute through areas with patchy data connections, but it seemed to be rather unreliable during testing. On numerous occasions, double-tapping a post simply didn’t add it to the playlist; on other occasions, it showed up several minutes later; on others still, it required a manual refresh of the playlist page for them to show up — an action that is impossible to perform when the playlist is empty.

Aside from this problem with playlists, which can hopefully be ironed out in an update, Umano is a great app that works well. There’s a variety of content on a wide range of topics (though mostly is from either “geek” or “business” perspectives), the voice actors are all a pleasure to listen to and the app itself is intuitively designed. Some App Store reviewers from territories outside the U.S. have indicated that they would prefer a few non-American voice actors to read the stories, but given that a lot of the content comes from American websites, the focus on American voices is unsurprising.

On the whole, Umano is a good idea that will hopefully grow and improve over time. It’s a very commuter-friendly way to consume interesting content from the Web, so as long at the team of content curators can ensure that diverse tastes are catered to. It’s an app well worth watching in the coming months.

You can follow Umano’s progress with AppData, our tracking service for mobile and social apps and developers.