Instapaper 4.0: Read Later, with Style

Instapaper is a staple on many a homescreen. The application and service has been powerful in shifting the digital landscape, offering a useful service at a fantastic price.

With a brand new interface design, changes to the reading view, and some other features that really improve the functionality of the app, 4.0 is a huge update that shot for the stars. Did it reach its lofty goals? Read on and find out.

Using Instapaper

Instapaper is a digital bucket that you can save articles that you come across into. It’s a bit more complicated than that on the backend, I’m sure, but while you’re using it the service really feels like magic.

There are more than a few ways to get articles into your Instapaper after you sign up for an account. While the applications are paid, the account itself is free, with a $1/month optional subscription fee. Instapaper’s creator Marco Arment provides a bookmarklet to save a webpage to your account, which is by far and away the most popular method I use to save things for later.

Tweetbot (left) and Reeder (right) are two of my most-used apps and both support sending articles to Instapaper

Tweetbot (left) and Reeder (right) are two of my most-used apps and both support sending articles to Instapaper

Beyond that, taking advantage of the extensive (and I do mean extensive) third-party support for adding articles is an astoundingly useful feature. From feed readers to Twitter clients, most anything that provides you with written content will let you save that content to Instapaper.

What if neither of those works for you, though? What if you can only grab the URL of an article? Instapaper has you covered. If you enter the app with a URL selected, the app will automatically show a dialog box that asks if you’d like to save that article for later. The first time this happens it really surprises you, and subsequent times are only slightly less astounding.

Interface Changes

One of the most exciting changes with this update, for me, was the interface overhaul. Things haven’t been changed quite as much as they have with the iPad version, but it does look more appealing now.

Instapaper's new icons are a nice change of pace and give the app a unique style.

Instapaper's new icons are a nice change of pace and give the app a unique style.

Instead of using default UI elements (as with previous versions) Instapaper 4.0 has a newly designed interface with some nice, all-black icons and some reworking of the fonts. The changes are subtle, but they really help Instapaper stand out more than it did before.

Instapaper's reading view; notice the lack of a status bar.

Instapaper's reading view; notice the lack of a status bar.

Another important change is the removal of the status bar in the reading view. For a long time users have clamored for a full-screen reading experience on the iPhone, and removing the status bar is a good first step. I would have preferred the iPhone app take on the look of the iPad app (moving the action bar from the top to the bottom) but this is still an improvement.

Let’s Get Social

Instapaper has had support for finding articles via your Twitter or Facebook contacts for some time. One of the nice things about Instapaper’s social aspect is that you have no idea if someone (or anyone) is following you, allowing you to like articles guilt-free.

Unfortunately, other aspects of the social side of Instapaper were lacking. You could only add people to your Instapaper if you had them on Twitter and they had an Instapaper account. Even then, they had to like an article in order for anything to pop up. Some people don’t tap that little heart icon very often, so this area could get barren.

The newly improved Friends pane.

The newly improved Friends pane.

4.0 changes that. Now Instapaper can pull all of the links from your Twitter timeline or Facebook News Feed, meaning that there will almost always be something waiting for you. This makes discovery that much easier, and is a nice change over the original.

If you want to only view what the people you follow have liked, though, that’s an option too. Instapaper gives you a choice on how you’d like to get your content, which is nice.

A nice feature of Instapaper 4.0 for subscribers is the ability to search all of the content of every single article that you have saved to your account. That includes your folders and archives, but not deleted items.

This search is a great feature that can be beneficial for a number of reasons. Sometimes you’re writing something or trying to curate articles on a particular subject and can’t quite remember the exact article. Other times you may be in the mood to read a certain article again and you can’t find it based on the title alone.

Unfortunately, the Search feature can't be tested without becoming a subscriber.

Unfortunately, the Search feature can't be tested without becoming a subscriber.

As I said, this feature is only for subscribers, but it may be worth the $1/month that it costs for some people. If anything, this may help cut down on the Google searches that you run during the day.

Instapaper Against Reading List

With the release of iOS 5 and Safari 5.1 Apple unveiled Reading List, a built-in method of bookmarking sites for later reading. Has Apple managed to supplant Instapaper on the iPhone (or other devices)?

Nope. Reading List has a lot of things going for it, but it can’t match Instapaper in terms of functionality or presentation.

Apple's Reading List is barely comparable to Instapaper.

Apple's Reading List is barely comparable to Instapaper.

First, Reading List doesn’t have the powerful ecosystem support that Instapaper has. Instapaper has a bunch of different applications, unofficial extensions, and handy features for adding articles to your queue. Reading List has a button.

Secondly, Reading List doesn’t save the articles that you add for offline viewing. It’s easy to save articles to Instapaper, switch your iPhone to Airplane Mode, and still have those same articles saved to your phone. Not so with Reading List.

Other Competition

Other competition offers the same functionality as Instapaper. The main competitor is Read it Later, a similar app/service suite that saves your articles for later.

Read it Later is nice, and until this latest update I actually preferred the Read it Later interface to the Instapaper UI. Now that Instapaper has been updated I prefer its look, but Read it Later is also going to be updated over the coming months and is certainly worth checking out.

Between these two, it really comes down to personal preference. One nice thing about Read it Later is that the suite has a free iPhone app (with a Pro version available as well) so those that don’t want to lay down the money for Instapaper can get much of the same features (sans search and social) for free.

Conclusion

With version 4.0, I feel that Instapaper has really hit the ball out of the park. It was already a strong service, with powerful capabilities, excellent sync and strong support from the community; it just had a few things that needed updating, and each of those were answered with this update.

Is it worth your money? Absolutely. While I would love to see some strong competition in this space, Instapaper is the king of the hill right now. For $4.99 (and that includes the iPad app as well) there isn’t a better deal out there that’s nearly as powerful as Instapaper.


Summary

Instapaper is an app/service that saves articles for you to read later, even for offline viewing. Its 4.0 update is a welcome upgrade and cements it as best in class.

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