While I can't get enough of productivity and organisation apps, I'd be a sad, buttoned-up soul if I never kicked back with my iPhone once in a while. When browsing web content is my activity of choice, I turn to StumbleUpon. StumbleUpon is a site and service that encourages you to explore your interests widely across the web, and it does so with undeniable grace on the iPhone.
First off, here’s a quick overview of how StumbleUpon works. You create an account, input some information about yourself, and hit the "stumble" button to see a random page from the web that meets your interests. For example, if you specify journalism as one of your interests, the app will throw up news related sites and content. The more you use StumbleUpon, marking pages you like and dislike, and connecting with friends who share your interests, the more savvy it becomes in delivering information, ideas, and images that appeal to you.
The StumbleUpon iPhone app is free and benefits from an excellent design, making use of the iPhone's touch capabilities and screen size very well. It's almost, but not quite, as glamorously smooth and sophisticated as Flipboard's iPhone app (you can see our review of the iPad version of that app here, incidentally).
If you launch the app and log into your StumbleUpon account, the home screen is a welcoming place to land. Various boxes of content, all with rotating images, invite you to tap them to start stumbling for pages based on "content for you," "trending," "activity," or one of your interests.
The app lets you into your account profile and settings, so you can change your interests, update your headshot, and more. You can't customise everything about your account from the iPhone app – for example, you can't add or delete "channels" that you follow – but all the core functionality from the website version of StumbleUpon is intact.
When you land on a page you like, you can mark it with a thumbs-up or thumbs-down icon, just as you can on the full StumbleUpon site. You can find people you know (via the Contacts app, Facebook, or Twitter) who might also be using StumbleUpon and follow their interests. All this activity and information feeds StumbleUpon's recommendation engine, which spits back amazingly well-curated content at you.
Given the nature of StumbleUpon, which is to show you websites and pages at random, it does a pretty good job of displaying all these non-standardised pages. When you hit the stumble button, a preview of the page appears in the middle of the screen, with the category and title written below the thumbnail image (see the above pic). These previews help you decide when to wait for the page to load and when to keep stumbling, and the design here really mitigates any problem with page loading because at least you have something on screen.
Page loading speeds only become noticeable in the more detailed sections of the app, like when you drill down to view content related to only one particular interest, or when you want to view only the pages you've marked as "like" in StumbleUpon. In my experience with the app, those pages took much longer to load, and the preview pane disappeared after a few seconds, leaving me looking at a blank page and progress bar at the top that filled ever so slowly.
A sharing button gives you the most appropriate options first: Send a link via email, share with another StumbleUpon user, post to Facebook or Twitter, and open in Safari. Gone are a few options that were previously available in the app, like read a page in Google Reader, and save to Instapaper or the Read it Later app, which I guess got nixed as a result of not enough Stumblers using them.
With these save-for-later features kaput, I wish the Safari option had a one-touch ability to add it to the Safari reading list, as I often wanted to mark pages to read later and didn't like having to open the page in Safari first before saving it to the reading list.
Over the years, StumbleUpon's recommendations have become more nuanced and sophisticated, helping anyone and everyone discover new web content that fits their interests and curiosity better than any other comparable service. And without doubt, the iPhone app has blossomed into a beautiful, compelling, and cerebral plaything.
That said, a little bit of backend tweaking to make pages load faster would help the app reach its full potential – and I'd like to see the return of options to save pages for offline reading.