Call me a news snob.  I subscribe to The Economist.  I read The Guardian’s RSS feed.  I don’t have a TV (well, not one that can receive a signal anymore) On the road, I tend to tiptoe around the USA Todays that lurk outside my hotel room door.

But yesterday, thanks to TUAW’s glowing review, I installed USA Today’s iPhone app. Wow.

USA Today is trying to solve a different problem than the NY Times and Wall Street Journal apps.  Take a look at the screenshots to see what I mean.  Here’s what each app offers:

USA Today

  • Weather.  Current temp and conditions on every screen.  Pick your location
  • Sports scores one click away on the main menu by your thumb
  • Share stories by email, of course.  Or by SMS.  Or Facebook.  Or by whatever Twitter client you’ve installed
  • Also share the app – use email or Twitter to send your friends a link to the app
  • Get support by email

New York Times

  • The contents of the paper, arranged by section
  • Photojournalism
  • Most emailed stories
  • Crashes every other time I use it (though it will restart; and yes, I have the latest version that was supposed to fix the crashing problems)

Wall Street Journal

  • The contents of the paper, arranged by section
  • Free.  WSJ.com on the web is not
  • Additional video top stories audio podcast
  • Barrons and All Things D content

Comparing these lists, it seems the Times and the Journal are both busy being Newspapers of Record – even on the phone.  Now don’t get me wrong, it’s fantastic to get the entirety of the Times or the Journal on the phone, for free.

But this user just wants to know what’s going on.  For quick hits of mainstream news, the USA Today works better for me.

On the phone, anyway, USA Today is much better than the newsprint I slink past in the hotel hallway.