Talking tech since 2003

It’s an understatement to say that there are a lot of different blogs and news sites you can visit to keep up with what’s happening in the world. Of course, if you’re someone who commutes a lot, or someone who just doesn’t have time to sit down and read longer articles, those won’t work. You can always rely on the radio, or a streaming radio app on your phone, but those don’t help you out with the written content you’re missing out on.

Enter Umano, a streaming article-reading audio app for iOS. I know what you’re thinking: I’ve tried apps like this before, and I’m not interested in being read the news by a robot. I have some good news for you; articles on Umano aren’t read by robots. They’re read by real people.

You can sign in to Umano using your Facebook account, or, if you’d rather not hand over your social networking deets, you can create a separate account. When you first start up the app, you’re greeted by the newest content available in Umano. Right now, the latest entry I see is an article titled “Battle of the Four Giants of the Internet Age” by The Economist. Umano informs me that the article was added “Just Now.” A search for the same Economist article online reveals that the original written piece was published about four hours ago. It’s not instant by any means, but the turnaround time is acceptable.

I listened to the Economist article, as well as a few others, and was relatively pleased with the quality of the readings. The production is very much radio-quality; you won’t feel like you’re listening to some guy recording readings of online news articles with his laptop microphone. In fact, listen to enough of these in a row and you might think you’re listening to NPR instead of streaming from an iOS app.

Of course, introducing humans to the equation has its drawbacks. You’re not going to be adding your own content to Umano, as that would mean someone would have to be around to read and record your chosen articles on demand. Instead, Umano curates its own content library and categorizes articles by interest: Entertaining, Must Know, Geeky, Entrepreneurial, Inspirational, and Scientific. They certainly didn’t borrow the category names from a typical news website, but you at least know what you’re getting by selecting one of those interests.

If you want to create your own playlist of articles before you hit the road, you can thanks to Umano’s “My Playlist” feature. To add an article to the My Playlist section of the app, you can simply double-tap on it. You can also share an article with friends via email, Facebook, and Twitter.

In terms of content sources, Umano has put together a pretty nice lineup. Its “Must Know” section, for instance, includes pieces from Inc, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Forbes, and more. If there’s a knock on the app in terms of content, it’s that you can’t really sort any of the articles by source. Want to listen to just the articles from The New York Times? At this point, you can’t. You either have to scroll through to locate content from your preferred source, or you can just accept that Umano will serve you content from multiple sources, all mashed together, in the order it prefers.

There’s also a social aspect to the app; one that I wasn’t really able to play with because I don’t have any other friends using the app. If you’re signed in through your Facebook account, and your friends are, as well, you can see if any friends have listened to an article. A neat thought, but you have to be to the point where you’re almost listening to the article to see this information. Some kind of option to show only the articles your friends have listened to would be a step in the right direction.

All in all, I’m pretty confident in recommending Umano for those who need to have their eyeballs elsewhere, whether you’re commuting, or are working on something else at work or at home. The voice talent is high-quality, the readings are nice to listen to, the content sources are respectable, and the “My Playlist” feature is handy for those who want to queue up multiple articles at one time. If you need a bit more control over the content sources, at this point, you’re stuck consuming your content the old-fashioned way: by reading it.

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