Instapaper is one of the most famous apps for iPad, an app that was initially designed for iPhone but has become a must have app on your iPad thanks to the larger screen real estate it offers. The original “Read Later” service developed by Marco Arment (also the founder of Tumblr) lets you add the webpages you want to read to the Instapaper’s servers, which are in turn downloaded in the background and can be read later at your comfort; even when you are not offline. What this means is while you can select the articles you would like to go through while driving to office or having lunch, you can come back to the content when the time permits or when you don’t have a wifi connection – like in the park. There’s plugins and a generic bookmarklet available for any browser, so you can save articles from anywhere, basically.
Instapaper believes in KISS (Keep it Simple, Stupid) philosophy and doesn’t do anything to spoil your reading experience. It rids all the distracting stuff from your webpages and presents the content in plain text format with the help of a text parser. This has a number of effects on your overall experience with the app. It improves the readability of content, improves performance by downloading webpages quickly and avoids any distraction by removing any advertisements. Not all publishers are happy with it as it steals away considerable traffic from their sites and also hampers their advertisements earning (the industry is already struggling to keep itself profitable).
Instapaper was an instant hit with most iPad users as it enables you to go through your favorite content anytime and anywhere. The app is not just scaled up for iPad but a number of extensive design changes have been done to make it more iPad friendly. It has an iPad native interface and transitions gracefully from Portrait to Landscape mode. You can categorize articles into Read Later, Liked, Archive, Feature and Web folders. In case you want your own custom named folders, you can create them. There are three buttons at the top i.e. Friends, Editors and Web. The Friends button lets you know what your friends recently shared or read on social networking sites such as Facebook or Twitter, Editor’s button aggregates Instapaper’s own editor’s picks and by tapping on web button you can add the web address of your favorite website and read through all of it’s without the need of launching Safari.
The good thing about the app is the freedom it gives you to customize the content based on your choice by allowing you to select your favorite typefaces, increasing/decreasing font size, changing line spacing and widening/narrowing margins. All the saved articles are displayed in a grid format displaying the heading and first few lines of the article. It offers you a number of ways to share your favorite articles with friends which include email, Evernote (allows you to save anything interesting you found on the web), Facebook, Pinboard (a bookmarking site), Tumblr, and Twitter. You can “star” your favorite articles and can also import all the “starred” articles of your friends.
You’re offered a number of ways to go through the text on your iPad. The app utilizes the motion sensing your device has to offer and allows you to scroll through the pages up and down by tilting your iPad. Another feature is Pagination that helps you turn to the next page by tapping edge of the screen. As soon as you highlight a word a toolbar pops up with Define and share options. The Define feature pops up the Wiktionary page giving the definition and related information regarding the term. The good thing being that the dictionary is built-in to the app and you don’t necessarily need to be online to use it.In case you don’t want to go with Wiktionary you can also use Apple’s default dictionary from the app.
But the two ace features that currently help it stand out from the crowd are its Twilight Sepia reading mode and background update locations. Twilight Sepia is the sunset-based Automatic Dark Mode that reduces the brightness of your screen to sepia tone during sunset hours. There is another Night mode that ensures you don’t trouble your partner on your bedside due to your late night reading habits. This functionality works out really well on the latest iOS 5, thanks to a better brightness control. The background update locations feature on the other hand keeps track of your current location and automatically downloads your web pages as soon as you enter or leave select premises. Notably, iOS doesn’t allow you to download content in the background all the time and the workaround for this was using geofencing. The feature though works on iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, iPad 2 and iPad 3. Another recent addition to the app is displaying of footnotes as three dots (…), a clever tweak that pops up a new window saving you from scrolling down to the bottom of the page.
If you’d like to search all your saved articles, you need subscribe for the price of $1 per month, which I feel is quite unnecessary and is a little awkward - I don’t remember many apps that ask you to pay a dollar every month for search function in addition to purchasing the main app. I also found the Status bar at the top of screen a little intrusive, considering the whole purpose is to simplify the reading experience. The multi-column reading option is also missing, a feature available with other similar apps. In case you’re one of those who likes to go through pictures and videos in an article first, the app is not for you, though you can always use the option “Open in Browser” and can view the original content as it is.
The app costs $4.99 upfront, but be aware there are similar apps such as Pocket, Readability and Flipboard that come for free. Oddly, Instapaper is available for the Android platform for the cheaper price i.e. $2.99. The latest 4.2.2 version of the app comes with improved performance, runs on iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch, and is worth considering by anyone who loves reading long form web content.
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