Chances are you stumble upon a lot of articles during the day that look interesting, but you don’t have time to read them right then and there. Lots of services have cropped up to solve this problem, and today we’re looking at the most popular three and pitting them against one another: Read It Later, Instapaper and Readability. Here’s how they stack up.
Read It Later
Read It Later was the first of these bookmark and read later services, and as such has an impressive spread of supported devices and apps. It may not be the prettiest, but it has some nice organisation features and has great support for embedded video.
Supported Devices: Read It Later has official clients for iOS, Android and the web. There are also third-party clients for Windows Phone and webOS available.
Supported Apps: Read it Later has, by a good margin, the most support among third-party apps. If you want to save articles from Pulse, Flipboard, the Onion, TweetBot, the Alien Blue Reddit Client and other apps, Read It Later is the service to use. It does have official extensions for Chrome and Firefox as well, plus a bookmarklet that works in any browser and a save-by-email function for everything else. You can view the full list of supported apps here.
Interface and Features: If you buy the pro version of the app, you’re also privy to some nice features, including the ability to share articles via email, Twitter, Google Reader and lots of other services. It’s social features sadly don’t go very far beyond that, but it’s support for embedded video is awesome and something you can’t get in the other two apps. It also includes a one-touch rotation lock, a tagging system for organising your reading list and more. Its feature list isn’t quite as impressive as Instapaper’s, and its interface isn’t quite as good-looking, but the embedded video support is enough to make it a serious competitor. It’s also the only client that doesn’t downsize all of the images in a given article, which is a nice touch.
Price: The Read It Later service is free, but the iOS and Android apps costs about $3 for the pro versions. The free versions are hardly worth using, since they’re stripped of all their useful features, but it’s nice to have them there if you want to play with the interface before you decide to buy it.
Who Should Use It: When in doubt, Read It Later probably supports your device of choice and the apps you use. It has a solid feature set and a more-than-good-enough interface, plus it’s supported by nearly everyone that supports a bookmark and read later app. It isn’t my first choice, but if Instapaper and Readability don’t cut it for any reason, Read It Later will.
Instapaper has a nice interface and some very cool advanced features, but its biggest strength lies in its article discovery. Not only can you save articles you found on the web, but the ability to follow your friends on Instapaper is a great way to pick up a few more, plus the Editor’s Picks help you find articles you wouldn’t have otherwise read. It’s mainly focused on the Mac and iOS side of things, but has a lot of third-party support on other platforms too.
Supported Devices: Instapaper officially only supports iOS, the Kindle and its web interface, though you can get third-party clients for Android and other platforms like Windows Phone 7. You can also export your articles in ePub format for use on any ereader that supports it.
Supported Apps: Instapaper doesn’t have quite as many supported apps as Read It Later, and many of them are iOS and Mac apps (like Reeder, NetNewsWire and Twitter), but the list is still impressive. Check out Instapaper’s list of supported apps for more information.
Interface and Features: Instapaper’s interface on iOS is fantastic, though its web interface is pretty ugly (not to mention confusing). Still, if you’re using it on iOS, it gives you six different typefaces to choose from, a dark mode for reading at night and other little readability tweaks. It also has a very cool tilt scrolling function, that lets you tilt your device to scroll up and down. It can share articles via email, Facebook, Twitter, Evernote and others, plus it lets you follow other Instapaper users and read their “liked” articles. I’ve noticed it has more issues parsing certain complicated web pages, which is kind of a bummer, but the rest of the interface is fantastic enough that I almost don’t notice. Lastly, it lets you organise your articles into folders, which is great if you tend to keep a bunch on hand for later access.
Price: The Instapaper service is free, but the iOS app is $5.49. In addition, if you want to read your Instapaper articles on other devices (like Android), you’ll have to subscribe to their $US1/month pro service, which also gets you article search, better Kindle support and more.
Who Should Use It: If you’re a Mac and iOS user, this is definitely the app to go with. Even if you aren’t, though, I’d highly recommend giving Instapaper a serious look. It’s the priciest of all the options, but it also has a great feature set and lots of configurability. You’ll definitely want to check and make sure all your favourite apps support it, though, which can be a bit more difficult if you’re an Android user.
Readability has always been a big name in making web articles more readable, but it’s way behind the times on the bookmark service and mobile apps. Still, while it may not be as mature and feature-filled as its cousins, it might be the best-looking of them all — plus it’s completely free.
Supported Devices: Readability supports iOS and Android devices, and it has extensions for Firefox, Chrome and Safari, plus the usual bookmarklets and add-by-email features.
Supported Apps: Readability’s new, so don’t expect to see a ton of support around your favourite apps just yet. Certain apps, like Pulse, Reeder, Tweetbot and Ubersocial all work with Readability, but not much else. Check out Readability’s apps page for more info, and keep an eye out for more widespread support now that Readability finally has a few mobile apps out.
Interface and Features: Readability is straight up gorgeous. When it comes to looks, it’s only slightly better than Instapaper, but its usability is where it really shines. Your controls stay out of your way when you read, only popping up when you tap on the page, and you can swipe to the left to go back to your reading list. The animations are smooth and the typeface options are great, plus you can share to Twitter, Facebook and email. It doesn’t have any standout features, unfortunately (it doesn’t even support folders), so you’ll have to be a big fan of UI design to appreciate it. But if you don’t need the extra features of Read It Later and Instapaper, this is where it’s at.
Price: The service and its mobile apps are all completely free.
Who Should Use It: If you don’t need integration with all your other apps — just a browser bookmarklet and maybe a Twitter app — Readability is a great choice. Its interface is probably the best of the bunch, and it supports both iOS and Android. If you’re looking for extra features, though, you can probably write off Readability right now — it’s far too young compared to the others, and it doesn’t have anywhere near the feature set or widespread support. This is the perfect bookmark and read later app for your grandma, but not for the app-hungry power user — yet. Keep an eye on this one, because with time new features could tip the scales in its favour.
So which one is best? As usual, it’s impossible to say. I’m really digging Readability right now, despite its lack of features, and Instapaper is another fantastic option as long as you’re doing your reading on iOS. Read It Later is king when it comes to support from other apps and for other devices, so if you’re sharing articles from all over the place — especially ones that contain embedded video — it might win out over the other two. Try them all out to see what you like best, and if you have a favourite, tell us why you love it in the comments below.