As someone that spends a lot of time searching for and trying out new apps, I get really excited when a developer releases a major update to their app. What’s even more exciting is when a developer decides change nearly everything about it. Such an event occurred this month when Read It Later was re-released and dubbed Pocket.
I recently reviewed Readability (a major rival of Pocket), which I dubbed as “a simple and elegant tool that not only allows you to save web pages to read later, but displays web pages in a clean and customized reading view.” After spending time with Pocket as my default “save for later” app, I’m ready to share my thoughts on how it stacks up against such heavy competition.
If you’re a previous user of Read It Later, you’ll be able to log in with your same username and password (you can sign up within the app if you’re new to Pocket). Before doing so however, Pocket provides a multi-page tutorial to show just what features are available for use. From the get-go it’s apparent that Pocket is not just an app to save articles for later (the major functionality of Instapaper, Readability and even the old Read It Later); instead, Pocket is an app that lets you save multiple types of web content, including articles, videos and even images.
Adding Content to Pocket
One of the most important features of a “save for later” app is the ease in which you can add content. Unlike Readability, Pocket does not provide a method in which to add content from within the app itself; instead, it relies on third party methods. Luckily, over 300 third party apps support saving content for Pocket, including Reeder, Pulse, Flipboard, Zite, Tweetbot, Twitter and Echofon.
Having this much third party support is great, but not everyone uses apps like Reeder or Pulse to browse content and may prefer to use Safari instead. In order to save content from Safari you’ll need to make use of a bookmarklet, which will automatically save whatever page you’re viewing to Pocket. If you’ve never added a bookmarklet to Safari, fear not, as Pocket offers a simple tutorial to get the job done.
Once you have a few items saved to Pocket, you’ll see the content displayed in a list. For each item you saved, you’ll typically see the article or video’s title, website URL and a brief description. In addition, an image will be displayed on the right side of the page, provided the article or video included a banner or graphic. I really love this feature since I’m a very visual person, and find it easier to recognize an article or video if I can see the accompanying graphic.
Swiping a content item to the left or right will open up an actions menu that allows you perform five actions, including adding a tag, sending the content item to your archives, marking the content item as a favorite, deleting the content item, or sharing the content item using multiple services (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, Evernote, and more). You can perform most of these actions on multiple content items by tapping the pencil icon in the top right corner, tapping the desired content items, and then tapping the action icon you desire.
Since Pocket is a tool designed to save different types of content (not just articles), it offers four types of views (accessed by tapping the icon in the top left corner) — All, Articles, Videos and Images. This small, but important feature, really shows that the Pocket team knew the direction they needed to go to make this concept work. Another small touch that I really enjoy is the different use of icons to help you remember what view type is in use.
Reading & Viewing Content
If you’re viewing an article in Pocket, the content is displayed in a single column with all clutter removed (similar to Readability and Instapaper). Videos and images, on the other hand, are displayed as in their original format. If you want to archive, favorite or share a content item, you can do so by tapping on your screen and tapping the corresponding icon in the action bar at the bottom.
A nice feature in Pocket, that is handled a lot better than Readability, is the manner in which images are displayed in articles. In Readability, an image isn’t scalable and the caption is difficult to differentiate from the article content. Pocket takes the approach of adding an outline around the image and caption, as well as making the caption text smaller and a different shade. You can also tap on an image, which will open it up in a new page that allows you to scale it.
One of the biggest selling points for Readability was its vast customization options, which include multiple fonts and a good use of gray instead of black as the night view. Just like its predecessor, Pocket falls a bit short on this front by only offering a choice of one serif and sans serif font, as well as using black for the night view (a personal preference, I admit). However, Pocket does include two features missing from Readability, including a brightness slider and a justification option (stretches text to align on both the left and right margins). Unfortunately, neither app can compete with Instapaper’s vast set of fonts and article alignment customization.
A feature I didn’t touch upon with Readability that is more prominent in Pocket is viewing your content offline. Let me start by saying that you can’t view a video or image offline, only articles. This may be a bummer, but the way in which Pocket saves content is by downloading the article to your device, which would eat away greatly at your iPhone’s storage if you saved videos. Both Pocket and Readability save the articles in the Article View (clean view), but only Pocket will save the Web[site] View (if you’ve turned on the option), which is great if the article is better in Web View than Article View.
While there are a lot of similarities between apps like Instapaper, Readability and Pocket, only one app has taken a new approach with the “save for later” mind set. The point of this type of app is to easily save content to consume when you have time to do so, and that in no way applies strictly to articles. While I personally won’t find much use in saving images with Pocket, I constantly find myself stumbling upon videos I simply don’t have time to watch the moment I’ve discovered them.
Pocket is free to try and I strongly recommend any Readability or Instapaper users to give it a serious trial run. You may just find that your opinion of the best “save for later” app has changed, much like myself.