Review: Instapaper Pro for iPad and iPhone
Developer – Marco Arment
Instapaper Pro – $4.99 (£2.99) – iTunes store
App version – 2.2.3
Instapaper is one of those services that I’ve been dubious of for a while but a few weeks back decided to give it a go. Remaining sceptical I picked up a copy of Instapaper Pro on the second day of owning my iPad. Simply put Instapaper has very quickly become a major part of my daily routine and has easily increased my reading consumption and discovery.
Instapaper’s principle is basic, “a simple tool to save web pages for reading later”, making them available offline across numerous devices. The biggest selling point of Inspaper is the ease of use and ability to discover reading material. I have a bookmarklet installed in Safari on my iPhone, iPad and MacBook Pro, one click of this and the text of the page is stripped of it’s CSS styling and sent to my Instapaper account. Open Instapaper on the iPad and with an available internet connection it’ll sync all your “read later” articles a long with an assortment of “editor’s picks” and if you happen to be following anyone else you can view their “starred items”.
Instapaper makes the consumption of large pieces of text comfortable, feature articles from The New York Times, The New Yorker and Esquire often stretch beyond 5,000 words sometimes even past 10,000. Such long pieces of text are difficult and tedious to read on a desktop based computer with all its distractions and the text is often spread over multiple pages. I find myself often coming across a long piece of text, hitting my “Read later” bookmarklet, picking up my iPad, leaning back in my chair and reading the article. It should be noted that often long articles that are paginated across multiple pages that Instapaper sometimes reduces them to one block of text.
So let’s take a look at the iPad and iPhone app.
Instapaper Pro for iPad
First the iPad. As of version 2.2.2 of Instapaper Pro the app is now iPad and iPhone native. In version 2.2.3 Instapaper Pro received a UI overhaul on the iPad moving a lot of the on-screen controls from the bottom of the display to the top, more in line with other iPad apps. The app is simple in its build, open it up and you’re greeted where you left off, whether that be in the middle of an article or scrolling through a list of unread articles.
In portrait mode folders are hidden in a pop-over menu much like any other iPad app, and in landscape mode as expected folders are displayed in a panel to the left of the article list. Touch to view an article and in both portrait and landscape mode the article appears at centre stage with a small strip of buttons across the top. Instapaper Pro offers a wonderful trove of tweaks that can be applied to text, a choice of six fonts, increase or decrease font size, increase or decrease line spacing, margin sizes and a light or dark interface. Also in there is what appears to be a backlight dimming feature á la iBooks, but due to that API not being available to developers, Instapaper Pro just applies a transparent black overlay to artificially dim the display.
Confusingly the Instapaper Pro interface shows an icon of a bin (trash can) next the star icon, which would suggest that this would delete the article from the “read later” folder, which it does but it is only moved to the “Archive” folder not deleted forever. Then to make matters worse when viewing an article in the “Archive” tapping this trash can icon offers the choice to “Restore from Archive”.
Despite this rather bizarre icon choice the iPad version of Instapaper Pro has one unmistakably unique (to Instapaper that is, iPhone has it too) and superb feature, it is a feature that many Mac OS X users have become used to. The ability to define a word from the dictionary anywhere is a godsend on the Mac and I can’t think how many times I’ve wanted to do it on the iPhone and now the iPad, with Instapaper you can, hold the word and up pops a menu, select define and a Wikitionary definition is presented. Wikitionary isn’t perfect and sometimes even the most obvious of words are missing but it does the job. A feature I’d certainly like to see rolled out to all iPad apps, especially Safari.
In all, the Instapaper Pro for iPad is a superb app, it is fast, well built and most importantly serves its function of serving up web pages for later reading perfectly.
Instapaper Pro for iPhone
Instapaper for iPhone is similar in feel to the iPad version and no doubt that it should be considering it pre-dated the iPad version. But the functions are different, reading on the iPhone is not nearly as comfortable or as enjoyable as reading on the iPad. The feature set of Instapaper Pro for iPhone is virtually identical to its iPad brother, with a couple of minor differences; only three fonts, no dark/light mode and no artificial backlight dimming. It’s possible these features are coming but they’re not nearly as important.
In my own use I only ever use my iPhone for reading Instapaper Pro is when I don’t feel entirely comfortable having my iPad out, it’s simply not as easy or comfortable to do so.
While we’re talking about the iPhone it is important to discuss how many third party apps have included Instapaper functionality, by that I mean the ability to send text to Instapaper with a couple of clicks. In fact I don’t know of any Twitter clients that don’t allow such simple interfacing with Instapaper.
There is one big feature in the iPhone version which isn’t lacking from the iPad just simply isn’t needed but works perfectly on the iPhone. The feature known as tilt reading is exactly how it sounds, tilt the iPhone and the text will begin to gently scroll away from you. No need to constantly flick the screen.
Making the Most of Instapaper
You won’t be far into your addiction with Instapaper before you realise that you’re running out of material to read. You’ve exhausted the “Editor’s Picks”, you’ve added your acquaintances “Starred Items” and you’ve checked out all the “Greatest Hits” on Instapaper.com but you’ve still not read enough!
It was at this point that I begun desperately trawling website after website looking for interesting material to read without much success I have to say. Then I discovered Longform.org, a website purposely built for Instapaper and updates regularly during the day.
- Ability to define words on iPad app
- Easy syncing across multiple devices
- Perfect reading experience on the iPad
- Increases ability to discover and consume text
- Service is easy to use and setup
- iPad app beautifully built with lots of easy tweaks
- iPhone app is well built, but lacks the same comfortable reading as the iPad
- iPad app is a little buggy
- Use of trash can icon for arching is confusing
- Formatting of text not always perfect
Instapaper is one of those services that once you start using you can’t live without and thankfully there is a wonderful infrastructure across the Mac, iPhone and iPad to keep you connected with Instapaper at all times. The construction quality of the iPhone and iPad apps is second to none with regular updates focusing on speed and UI improvements.
Begin using Instapaper and you’ll spend endless hours reading on the iPad wherever you go.