Election fever: 6 mobile apps that can keep you informed

We check out 6 iOS and Android apps to see how well they follow the race for the U.S. presidency.

The big game is on -- and by that, we don't mean football, basketball, baseball or Angry Birds. We're talking about the biggest pastime in the U.S.: Watching (and taking part in) the current Republican primaries and the upcoming presidential elections.

After all, what could be more exciting? There's a president under fire from both sides of the aisle, a group of opposition contenders who are hurling more mud at each other than you'll find in a swamp and a media that's eager to publicize every misstatement and accusation.

If you're one of those who really wants to follow the play-by-play as it happens -- the debates, the ads, the back-and-forth on the talk shows, the Twitter conversations -- the best way to do it is via your mobile device.

In order to find the best apps for the job, some of the politically interested staffers here at Computerworld have tested six interesting election-related apps on our iPhones and/or Android phones. Four of these -- CNN Mobile, ElectionCaster, NYTimes Election 2012 and USA Election 2012 -- offer election-related news and information, either from a single publication or from a variety of sources. The other two offer insights on what the politicians are saying (PolitiFact Mobile) or let you have your say (VoterMap).

We've downloaded and installed each app, put it through its paces and figured out what it's good at, what it's not-so-good at and whether we want to keep it on our phones.

(Note: Some of these apps also have tablet versions. While we didn't test any of the apps on either an iPad or on an Android tablet, we have noted where separate versions exist.)

So if you're a politics junkie, or just an interested citizen, here are some apps you may want to try out.

CNN Mobile

Cable News Network

Price: Free

OS reviewed: iOS

Other OSes: Android (phones and tablets), iPhone, iPad, Symbian

CNN Mobile is a generic news app that is not specific to the election, although of course you can get election news on it.

It is a slick app, and supports swiping and using various gestures to get to the last and previous stories in any section, as well as to navigate around a particular story.

CNN Mobile
CNN Mobile

Videos play well, as one would expect. But to get access to the live version of CNN you'll need to register with the name of your cable or satellite provider as well as your username and password for the provider's site (this is true on the main CNN site as well).

Another nice touch: you can swipe the category list at the top of the home page to the right or left, so you can find all the various story topics.

I'm a big CNN fan and was prepared to love the app, but I was disappointed. When it comes to in-depth politics, it doesn't have a whole lot of 'there' there.

It's a perfectly reasonable general news repository, with stories organized according to topic -- top stories, world, U.S., politics, election, justice, entertainment, health and others. Within each of these categories is a list of eight or so stories and a few photos. When you choose a story, you can access the others in the category by swiping. At the end of each story is a list of related stories and, sometimes, videos.

But the photos, strangely, are not optimized for an iPhone 4S. They look more like funhouse photos -- which, depending on your feelings about any or all of the candidates, might not be a problem.

For more elections coverage, and for an experience that translates better to smartphones (to my iPhone, at any rate), you'll want to point your smartphone's browser to the mobile version of CNN's Election Center site. From here, you can access top election-related news stories and opinion pieces, as well as candidates' bios, information about upcoming primaries and a neat calendar view of upcoming political events (just tap on any of the highlighted dates).

And a bonus: If you look at the bottom of the Election Center mobile site, there's a link that says 'Full Site.' Tap on it, and you'll get access to the main CNN site. While it's not specific to mobile, it sure looks better on my iPhone, although I do have to use gestures to make the text bigger. At least the photos seem right.

Bottom line

Overall, I was disappointed with the downloadable CNN app. I was much happier navigating over to the mobile version of CNN's Election Center site, and from there to the CNN main site.

--Johanna Ambrosio

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