What Is the Best Way to Read It Later?

Three services dominate the read later category. They are Instapaper, Read It Later, and Readability. Instapaper and Read It Later have been around the longest but Readability has been gaining a lot of transaction ever since the service was released last year and re-branded with a free service this year. I have mostly been an Instapaper user over the last couple of years but have looked at Read It Later every so often, and I wanted to take a look at all three services to determine if I still am happy with Instapaper as my read it later app of choice!

Read later services take articles, content, and websites, and let you save items in a queue for you to read later. The services will strip out all of the ads and weird formatting to leave you with just text. Instapaper and Read It Later download these articles to your iPad so you can read them offline as well.


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Instapaper

The longest running service and app in the read later service category is Instapaper. It’s available on the web, iPhone, iPad, and Kindle. The service is free to use on the web but the universal app for the iPhone and iPad cost $4.99. Instapaper does utilize a paid subscription which will unlock the full potential of search, but it is mostly in place to directly the support the service.

The App

The Instapaper read later queue is laid out with two columns of items with previews of the items in blocks. Pressing an item block will bring up a subset menu where a user can archive, delete, or open the item. Across the bottom of the block of each item is a visual display of your position in the article, which is synced so you can pick up where you left off reading. For example, if you have left off in the middle of the article, half of the dots will be lit up.

Instapaper Queue

The queue in Instapaper is presented in two columns.

On the left side of the screen is a navigation bar where you can access your liked and archived items. Also within the navigation bar is the friends section which can pull in articles that are shared from your friends on Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook accounts. The editorial section is curated content which is a collection of the finest articles saved to Instapaper, which can always give you something interesting to read.

Give me something to read

The editorial section in Instapaper always has items waiting to be read.

Across the top resides the menu bar in Instapaper. The menu bar holds a refresh button, search button, folder navigation, and an action button which lets you organize a number articles at one time.

Reading

Reading in Instapaper is a pleasant experience. Instapaper always remembers the position you left off, even if you are reading different articles at the same time. Instapaper supports tilt scrolling which will move the page up and down depending on the tilt direction of the iPad. This is a unique feature in Instapaper and makes reading those longer articles more enjoyable since you do not have use your thumb to scroll down for more content.

Reading in Instapaper

Reading in Instapaper.

The app also has a dark mode for reading in low light conditions and I really like that a setting can be enabled to automatically turn on dark mode at night. It is just one less setting that I do not have fool around with between reading during the day and night.

If you find something you really liked in Instapaper you can share the article through Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr. Sharing is not supported just through services but items can also be shared to other apps on your iPad as well.

Sharing menu for Instapaper

Instapaper offers many different ways to share content.

I share a lot of articles to Omnifocus if I want to make something actionable from the article, and to Evernote if I think I might want to reference it sometime in the future.

Overall Instapaper brings forth a strong fight in the read later services app battle. There are great unique features which make it stand out from the crowd, such as tilt scrolling and the curated editorial section.

Read It Later

Read It Later offers a web service, iOS app, Kindle Fire app, and Android app. The service is free to use and works much like Instapaper but has a better website in the works. Currently Read It Later is previewing the new design, and it’s a vast improvement in function and look from the old website.

The App

The app has a pro version and a free version. The pro version is currently available for $2.99 and is a universal app. The pro version includes sharing your items to Twitter, Facebook, Evernote, and to apps such as Omnifocus.

The queue in Read It Later is presented in a list format. Pressing an item will open the item in clean text view. Commands to control the text size, spacing, mark as read and an action button reside in the menu bar. In the text size button is an option for turning it to dark mode for reading at night.

Reading in Read It Later

Reading an article in Read It Later.

Read It Later does not have the feature to support automatic dark mode depending on time, which is a disappointment. The action button is where you share an article to social services including Twitter, Facebook, and even MySpace. Read It Later also supports sending articles to other apps installed on your device like Omnifocus and Twitter. A unique item in the Read It Later article view is that you can turn on the webpage view of items just by moving the text view button to off.

Swiping an item in the Read It Later queue will also bring up a swipe menu. The swipe menu allows a user to tag an item, re-download the item, bring up the action menu, or mark an item as read. Tagging in Read It Later is like being able to move an item into folders.

Swipe menu in Read It Later

The swipe menu offers quick access to tagging and other actions.

In the settings a user has the option to remove an item from the Read It Later queue once an item has been tagged. Turning this feature on will help keep your queue clean and you can access all of your tagged items by pressing the tags link, which is always at the top of your queue.

One thing I wish Read It Later would do is auto-populate the navigation pop-up window with your tagged items.

Navigation in Read It Later

I wish Read It Later organized tags in the navigation pane.

Right now it always seems empty with only three choices residing in it. The window could become scrollable if the user had more tags than the window could space appropriately, it seems like that would be a more efficient use of the space.

An area that Read It Later really shines from the competition is image support and videos. Read It Later always seems to keep images at their location in the article whether it is in the center or pushed to the left of a paragraph and it always keeps the caption to the image within the image. In Instapaper the image is usually displayed in the center but the caption is displayed under the image and blends with the rest of the text.

Watching a video in Read It Later

Read It Later loads a video in your queue.

Read It Later excels in video support. The video will be loaded directly in your queue and a pop-up window with the video will load in the middle of the screen. While this did work most of the time, I did have a problem when viewing certain YouTube videos within the app, most likely due to viewing limitations of the video.

Read It Later is a solid read later service which seems perfect for someone who uses an Android phone or saves a lot of videos. While it might not be as visually appealing as Instapaper, it is a solid contender in the read later category.

Readability

Readability is the newest service to make a splash in the read later genre. It started out as a service that required a monthly fee. This monthly fee was then distributed to the writers of the items added to your Readability account. The service now is completely free to use with a subscriber option available to support the writing and the service.

The App

The Readability app does not yet exist. An app is coming soon and Readability has been promising an app since it started. Now with a change in direction of the business model, Readability has re-submitted an app to Apple. The app has been in the queue for awhile so only time will tell if Apple will approve it.

Readability is accessible from your iPad through a web app. The web app even supports an icon if you save the page to your home screen. In the app your queue is presented as a list of items unread but this list has more style than Read It Later’s.

Readability Queue

The queue in Readability is more appealing than in Read It Later.

Pressing an item will open to a clean reading view. The item is presented with a menu bar across the top to star an item, archive an item, change font sizes, themes, margins, and to send content to Facebook, Twitter, and email. Readability offers themes to change background color and font color depending on your preference. The theme you have chosen will carry over to other items you read later.

Reading in the app is fluid and the article is fully loaded when you click on it so there will not be a delay if scrolling to the bottom. With it being a web app there is no way for it to remember your location if you do not finish reading an item.

Article View in Readability

Reading an article in Readability.

You can view your Readability queue and read items in other places as well including Reeder and Pulse. While using these apps will work it seems like a mediocre workaround for getting to your queue. Why not just read the article within the Reeder app instead of sending it to Readability? The only reason I could understand sending items to Readability is if you wanted to directly support the publisher.

With Readability just having a web app right now it’s hard to recommend it as a fully functional read later service. The web app takes time to load when a button is pressed and it cannot live up to the functionality of a dedicated app. Who knows if it is Readability’s fault their app is having difficulty or if Apple is being really picky about the app but if I were Readability, I would be doing everything humanly possible to get the app in the App Store.

The Verdict

I have been using Instapaper for two years. About every six months I look at the competition to see where it is standing to see if it justifies a change. This time I wanted to document this process. As for me, I am going to stick with Instapaper. Instapaper’s iPad app is more functional and more visually appealing than Read It Later’s. Of course both of these services I hold higher than Readability due to the lack of an iOS app. Maybe when I look at these services again, Readability will have an iOS app.

I am impressed with Read It Later’s handling of videos in the iPad app and the preview of the new website layout. Instapaper could use some work on the website design, but I use Instapaper primarily on my iPad, so the lack of a visually appealing website is not a big concern.

As for me there is no question that Instapaper is the right choice for me. What is your favorite read later service? Have you recently changed your mind?


  • CNWLshadow

    If you check the Readability website it says that an iOS app is coming soon. In the mean time however they hint towards the Reeder app as having good integration of Readability. However there’s no mention of an official app coming to any other mobile platform.

    • Endem

      Of course there is. An Android app is coming sooner since they are having problems with Apple’s approval process. (Could be that they tweeted this about the Android app).

  • http://thesurfernerd.tumblr.com The Surfer Nerd

    Instapaper. Can’t live without it anymore!

    Tried the other two but for one reason or the other I keep coming back to Marco Arment’s product!

  • CookMonstr

    Correction:

    “The longest running service and app in the read later service category is Instapaper.”

    That is actually incorrect. Read it Later launched in 2007. Instapaper in 2008.

  • http://cansurmeli.com C@N

    I found Safari’s Reading List option sufficient enough after using Read It Later for a very long time.

    I know they are not the same, RIL is far more advanced and helped me a lot in the past, but I nowadays we have broadband internet nearly everywhere and since I want a more integrated solution Reading List is enough for me.

    Plus, it’s Cloud integration is a pro.

  • Endem

    You are rather biased since you’ve been using Instapaper for years. Don’t get me wrong, I use it too on my iOS devices.

    However I think that Readability is better by far. First of all the formatting of text is just superb. Instapaper does a good job, but not as good. Second, the web client is great, there is no comparisment. Instapaper is just lousy on the web. Finally the entire experience of reading and supporting authors is more gratifying in Readability.

    If it gets a good universal iOS app that it deserves, i’m ditching Instapaper.

    (Read it Later is just plain bad without attention to detail and reading experience, and Apple’s own reading list is just not in the same category)

    • Phillip Johns

      Hey Endem,
      I think the premise of Readability’s business model is good but I feel there are a few questions which have not been answered. Such as, what happens to the money that a writer has accrued but has never signed up? Does the money go into Readability’s pocket when the user thinks they are supporting the writer?

      The writer might not believe in the service or want to deal with it but the user thinks they are supporting writing when in fact they are supporting Readability.

      I am not saying this is Readability’s fault but it is a tricky business model which I think they should be more open about.

  • Craig

    Personally I find that RIL is the more functional app for me. It’s pretty common these days to be saving articles with embedded video, or just links to YouTube videos, and Instapapers lack of support for video in an article is a significant annoyance.

    I try Instapaper periodically, but having gotten used to having the video support I can’t bring myself to stick with it. If you rarely want to want videos then Instapaper is a somewhat more attractive app, and it has some nifty bonus features (tilt scrolling etc) but I find it’s just a bit lacking in the essential reading features department for my use.

  • John

    Theres also this app called spool that allows you to save articles (including images). I don’t know if it’s better than any of these, but it exists.

    • CB

      Late to this party, but on Spool (http://getspool.com/): it has one unique feature, which is that it can automatically download resources other than text (pdfs, vids, sounds). That’s actually pretty nice on an intermittently-connected device. I don’t like the fact that I have different queues for materials in different formats (particularly a problem for PDFs VS text, but also a problem with vids).

      OTOH, it’s not as good at any of these things as more specialised apps. Its PDF reader is comparatively crude (and there’s no way to ‘open in’ another app). The text reader isn’t as good as Instapaper (though it’s quite good, and actually is better at not messing up source code formatting).

      So .. swings and roundabouts, as usual.

  • Phillip Johns

    Looks like Readability is releasing the app on March 1st. http://blog.readability.com/2012/02/readability-for-ios-arrives-march-1/

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  • Matt

    Great article! Thanks! Finally discovered the right app for me (Readability) as it has good iOS apps AND good Bookmarklets.

  • Dragon

    You should rewrite your article because Readability publish iOS app and Pocket (Formerly Read It Later) redesign site and app’s and change a lot of apps aspects.

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  • Mikael

    The best method and “Read it Later” is to use none of the mentioned apps or services.

    In the Chrome browser, I create a bookmark folder appropriately named “Read Later”. I then drag that folder to the bookmarks bar. Now you can only drag the address to that folder, very smoothly. Click on the folder to see the contents.

    Best of all, use it with your google drive account to sync it over all your computers as you would do with any syncing from the chrome google account. No need for a third party service.

    Simple and easy. I tried many apps, but this was right infront of my eyes. Simplicity at best.

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