Where is the best Twitter experience on the iPhone?

image by @surenix

Welcome to 9to5Mac’s new Smackdown series, where we compare the top hardware and software accessories for your Apple products.

If you’re anything like me, you’re constantly on some form of social media or another. You’re not a self-proclaimed “social media guru” or some kind of “expert” on getting people to follow you, just someone who enjoys talking to interesting people online.

For most of us, our network of choice is Twitter. But, when it comes to using Twitter while on-the-go, there is a ton of different apps to choose from. To help make this decision easier (and save you a few bucks in the process), we compared five of the most popular Twitter clients available for the iPhone.

Everyone uses Twitter for something different. The features you want may not be the same features I want. Whether you’re a long time iPhone user or just stepped into the world of iOS for the first time over the holidays, we have an app for you. If you’re a Twitter power-user, we got you covered. If you just want to read your timeline and keep up with your friends, there’s something here for you, too.

Note: Before jumping into this, let me take a minute to explain what you’re going to find below. Each app has its own dedicated section. Every section starts with important information about the app that you’ll want to know right away. This includes the price; whether or not the app supports Push Notifications (not all do!); and whether the app will grab your Twitter login information from iOS 5, or you’ll need to manually login (an annoyance or deal-breaker for many, depending on the strength of your password). You’ll also find a link to download the app. A slideshow of screenshots from each app can be found at the end of each section.

Unless otherwise noted, each app listed below is a universal app compatible with the iPhone 5, fifth-generation iPod touch, iPad, and iPad mini.

echofonEchofon – Download: Pro | Lite
Price: $4.99 (Pro – no ads); Free (Lite – ad-supported)
Push notifications: Yes
Uses iOS Twitter accounts: No

Echofon is one of the oldest clients on this list, and its age is beginning to show. It has a cleaner interface than some other clients, but also lacks a lot of Twitter’s newer features. While it does support the majority of the core features, like direct messages and lists, you won’t find support for many power-users features.

Unfortunately, Echofon falls into the trap of being under-designed in many areas. Actions that could be accomplished through icons or buttons with glyphs are instead put in menus or on buttons with plain text on them.

What Echofon really has going for it is its speed. It’s much faster than many other Twitter apps. Actions like replying and retweeting can be quickly accomplished by tapping on a user’s avatar in the timeline. Almost any anything you might need to do can be accomplished quickly and without lag in only a tap or two.

The app also supports muting hashtags, users, and clients that you don’t want to see in your timeline. These mute filters and your timeline position sync between your devices. There was a Mac version of Echofon that synced with the iPhone version, but it has been discontinued. As a result, there are no Mac clients that currently support syncing with Echofon, and it does not appear the developers plan to integrate another solution like Tweet Marker any time soon.

Overall, Echofon’s speed and performance are its strongest factors. The app has looked the same for several years and doesn’t seem to be changing any time soon. The core experience of Twitter is there, but most power users will find Echofon lacking in features geared toward their usage.

Echofon Screenshots

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tweetbot iconTweetbot – Download
Price: $2.99 (iPad version sold separately)
Push notifications: Yes
Uses iOS Twitter accounts: Yes

Tweetbot was released in April 2011, and it has become one of the most popular Twitter clients on iOS since then. An iPad version was released a bit later, and Mac version recently released to round out the Tweetbot family.

Tweetbot is an incredibly robust app that will satisfy almost every power-users need, but that doesn’t mean “regular” users should just write it off. Tweetbot is designed for maximum user satisfaction, from the customizable Timeline interface to the ability to completely replace your main timeline with a Twitter list of your choosing, Tweetbot has a ton of handy features, many of which you may never even use.

Among the power features are hashtag, user, client and keyword muting; support for using any of your lists as your main timeline; translation of foreign-language tweets; a gesture-based interface; Favstar.fm integration; and more. The iPhone, iPad, and Mac versions all sync timeline positions and mute filters using iCloud (or optionally, you can use Tweet Marker for timeline position syncing).

Tweetbot’s mute feature is more powerful than those found in other apps, featuring the ability to create filters using regular expressions to make sure only the tweets you want to mute are muted. You can also tap and hold a mute filter from your list to share via Twitter, and can tap a link from anyone who shares a mute filter to automatically add a filter to your list. Even if you don’t understand regular expressions (I sure as heck don’t), you can get regex-based filters from friends who do and start using them in as little as two taps.

However, for all it does right, Tweetbot’s design seems to be getting stale, and many find it to be over-designed. The app hasn’t undergone any serious changes since it was originally launched, leaving some users looking elsewhere for something a bit more eye-catching.

Another design flaw is that there seems to be very few places you can tap a tweet without accidentally trigger some action, especially if the tweet contains a few usernames or hashtags. Tapping a tweet opens the action drawer, but if you miss the tweet’s background area and accidentally hit a hashtag, username, “retweeted by” tag, profile picture, or link, you’ll be quickly redirected to another part of the app. This seems like it would be difficult to do by accident, but it is a fairly common occurrence and many users have complained about it for quite some time now.

Tweetbot also suffers from some performance issues. Because the interface is entirely custom, it uses a lot of memory, even on the iPhone 5. Opening the action bar by tapping on a tweet sometimes takes more than a second, leading users to think they’ve missed their target and tap the tweet again (and thus canceling the action bar) before it even opens.

Tweetbot is one of the strongest contenders in this market for a reason. The developers have put a lot of time and effort into making sure that every feature is useful, rather than simply cramming in features to pad their iTunes description. Even the most powerful features are simple enough for a new user to figure out and use regularly. However, the design and performance issues are enough to drive some people to other apps that are faster, prettier, or just less laggy.

Tweetbot Screenshots

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twitter for iphone iconTwitter for iPhone – Download
Price: Free
Push notifications: Yes
Uses iOS Twitter accounts: Yes

Twitter for iPhone is the official client created by Twitter. While it may seem like the “official” solution would be the obvious choice for the best experience, that isn’t necessarily the case. Twitter for iPhone looks great, works smoothly, and features most of the core Twitter features, but it oddly leaves out some functionality that you might expect to be there.

Twitter has done a great job designing this app. Everything is smooth and fast. Twitter Cards—the integrated preview of many websites and media sharing services, like YouTube—looks great on the iPhone, and the swipe-to-reveal action bar on the timeline has made its way into many apps across a multitude of genres.

One of Twitter for iPhone’s best features is the Interactions feed. This is something that Twitter hasn’t allowed other apps to integrate, so it’s exclusive to the official client. Interactions is a list of all of your recent mentions, retweets, favorites, and follows. It’s a quick and easy way to see when someone retweets you or favorites a tweet, even if it’s a really old tweet, as opposed to something like Favstar.fm that only shows those stats for your 10 most recent tweets.

But, for all its polish, Twitter for iPhone lacks some basic functions. While it’s possible to view any of your Twitter lists from the app, the option is buried under a bunch of menus, and there is absolutely no way to manage your lists in the app, unless you log into the site on a desktop computer (the mobile site doesn’t support this feature either).

Frustratingly, you can’t tap on usernames, hashtags, or links in the main timeline. You have to tap on the tweet containing those items, and then tap on them in the tweet’s detail view. Direct Messages are also bizarrely removed from the main interface and hidden on the “Me” tab, while the “Discover” tab, which features trends and recent friend activity, gets a spot on the main tab bar.

For most users, Twitter for iPhone is a great choice. Many people don’t need the fancy syncing or muting found in other clients and just want to read their timeline and keep up with their friends and family. Those users will be perfectly happy using Twitter for iPhone. It’s fast, it’s free, it looks great, and it does exactly what they want.

Twitter for iPhone Screenshots

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twittelator icon

Twittelator Neue – Download
Price: $4.99 (no iPad support)
Push notifications: Sort of (see below)
Uses iOS Twitter accounts: Yes

Twittelator Neue is a member of the expansive Twittelator family that includes a host of Twitter apps, all with only a few differentiating features from one another. Twittelator Neue, however, is the latest one, and bears a significantly different interface and experience.

The latest member of the Twittelator family was designed solely for iOS 5 and higher, specifically integrating features and design principles that did not exist in iOS 4. For example, the linen texture that made it’s debut in iOS 5 and is now found in home screen folders, Siri’s background, and the app switcher can also be found just about everywhere in Twittelator Neue.

Twittelator Neue supports timeline position syncing via Tweet Marker, a few photo upload services, and the popular read-later bookmarking services.

The interface is an interesting mix of columns that you can switch between using swipes or a bar at the bottom of the screen unlike any regular tab bar in any other app. You can also add extra columns, called “shortcuts,” for any search term or list. These don’t replace your main feed but will be located just a few swipes away from the main timeline.

One extremely bizarre quirk in Twittelator Neue is the status of push notification support. Initially, you could buy an in-app purchase to enable push notifications. Then, as Twitter started cracking down on third-party developers, the creators of Twittelator decided to pull the in-app purchase from the store because they feared that users would buy it and then the Twittelator push service would be shut down by Twitter, thus giving the customers a poor experience. However, when I installed the app a few months ago, I found that push notifications were automatically turned on even though I’ve never purchased them. Because the options were all grayed-out, I couldn’t choose which items I got notifications for, and they all came through even when I didn’t want them.

Twittelator Neue’s interface is so different from most other apps that most people either love it or hate it. There isn’t really much middle ground with this app.  The app is fast and fluid on my iPhone 5, but when I used it on and iPhone 4, the non-standard design elements slowed the entire thing a crawl. While it supports most of the main Twitter features and a few power features, the appeal is somewhat stunted by some jarring design choices and a confusing implementation of push notifications (or non-implementation, I can’t actually tell). On the other hand, many users love the interface and find that the app’s quirks are worth putting up with.

Twittelator Neue Screenshots

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twitterrific iconTwitterrific – Download
Price: $4.99
Push notifications: No
Uses iOS Twitter accounts: Yes

Note: Some of this section is taken from my launch-day review of Twitterrific. For an in-depth look at the latest version, check out my full review here.

Twitterrific is the oldest iPhone Twitter app out there. From its humble beginnings, the app has been revamped repeatedly, always willing to try new things that no one had ever done. Originally, this meant creating new concepts, such as threaded conversations, or even the word “Tweet” (yes, the creators of Twitterrific actually coined that term), but they’ve gone in an entirely new direction with their app design in recent months.

The latest version features almost no real interface. The main design feature is that there is no design feature. Your tweets appear on a plain white or black background, with hashtags, links, and usernames all highlighted and tap-able. All text sizes, user pictures, and even the font of the app can be changed to suit your tastes, making Twitterrific the most cosmetically customizable app on this list.

The customizability doesn’t extend into many other functions, though. For example, you can’t actually choose which photo sharing service to use. The inability to choose a video upload service means you can’t upload videos at all since Twitter does not support them natively on their pic.twitter.com service.

Another big pitfall for Twitterrific is notifications. Basically, the problem is that there are none. This is a big deal for many people who use Twitter regularly, but for others it may not be much of an issue.

Overall, Twitterrific is a solid app. The minimal design (and customizability thereof) is fantastic. Functionally, there are still a few more features that can be added (even for non-power users) while maintaining the app’s lightweight footprint, but there is enough functionality to serve as the main Twitter client for most people as it stands. However, the lack of native push will be a big deal-breaker for many potential customers.

Twitterrific Screenshots

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And the winner is…

There you have it: five of today’s most popular Twitter clients for the iPhone broken down to their best and worst aspects.

So which one wins? Based on my own usage and the massive popularity of this app, I’m calling it for Tweetbot. The power features overrule the annoying flaws in design and performance that I’ve experienced, and the simplicity of the syncing keeps me sane across platforms.

Don’t agree with my choice? Does another app better meet your Twitter browsing needs? Make your pick in the poll below, and sound off in the comments on why your client of choice is the better option.

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