Summly brings you the news at a glance

Summly is a new iOS app from the company of the same name. It’s available now as a free download from the App Store, and is currently highlighted as an Editor’s Choice app on the front page of the store.

Summly is a news-reading app similar to titles like Flipboard, but unlike those apps, which tend to simply poll a selection of RSS feeds and/or the user’s social media streams, Summly pulls in information from a variety of sources across the Web and then makes use of its own proprietary “summarization algorithm” to provide a simple, concise, single-paragraph summary of what the article is all about. Optionally, the user may then view a longer summary of the article (also generated by Summly) or the original article from its source.

Summly is simple to use. After an initial loading break to populate the app with content, a “cover page” highlights a random story with an image and informs the user of how many unread stories they have. Tapping on the cover story takes the user to its relevant summary, while swiping to the right takes the user to a list of “tiles” that correspond to several topics. By default, the user is subscribed to the business, local news, technology, entertainment and arts and Wall Street Journal categories along with a custom “Apple” tag. Additional preset and custom categories and tags may be added by scrolling to the bottom of the list of tiles, at which point the user may add any topic, person or theme they wish to follow. The “Add” page is also where the app’s main settings page is hidden, which is perhaps not the most intuitive place to secrete it.

While reading a story’s summary, the user may tap and hold to share it on Twitter or Facebook, the former of which uses iOS 5+’s built-in Twitter functionality while the latter uses the external Facebook app. It’s also possible to share an article via email — though said message only includes a link to the summary rather than the text itself — or save it as a favorite. The app also features an optional auto-share feature whereby they can connect the app to Facebook via the external app and then set their “sharing personality,” ranging from “share everything” to “share nothing unless I tell you to.” These behaviors are rather ill-defined within the app, however, making it difficult to judge exactly how much content will be automatically shared in each situation. The Facebook integration is also rather clumsy, switching to the external Facebook app every time the user changes their settings rather than only the first time they connect their account.

There are also occasional problems with retrieving new stories. When first tested, Summly froze for ten minutes solid on the initial “Fetching Articles” screen. This may have been due to a problem with my own Internet connection, but there was no indication of this in the app — an error message or progress bar would have been more helpful than a screen with no feedback whatsoever. Subsequently, each category may be refreshed individually — a progress bar is used in this circumstance — but at times they are inexplicably slow to update.

Despite its few flaws, Summly is a decent news-reading app that does a good job of automatically summarizing lengthy articles. The built-in summarization algorithm seems to work very well at picking out the key points of the article, and those who wish to read more information can easily access the full article at any time. It needs an update or two to address the few issues it does have before it’s worthy of an unreserved recommendation, but for now it’s off to a good start and shows great potential.

Summly is currently ranked at No. 79 in Top Free Apps and No. 1 in Top Free News Apps. Follow its progress with AppData, our tracking service for mobile and social apps and developers.