We’ve all been there: You see an interesting headline, but you don’t have the time to dig in. Hopefully, you don’t forget to look for it in the future — but even if you remember, tracking it down again could be tricky. Fortunately, there are read-it-later apps designed specifically for this problem.
Read-it-later apps are a simple concept. They serve as hubs for all the articles and links you’d like to set aside for future reading. Although bookmarking is commonplace in nearly every browser, the most avid news aficionados can certainly benefit from the extra features these apps offer.
For example, the best read-it-later apps allow you to tailor the experience to your liking by customizing font styles and sizes, as well as colors and themes. They strip away some invasive ads and help you focus on the content you want to see, for a more comfortable and appealing format. They also allow you to save content for offline viewing, so you can take your saved articles anywhere.
Recently, many read-it-later apps have also added light social functionality as well, allowing you to share articles with friends who also use the service. Some even encourage you to curate your own list of links that other users can follow.
So which are the best? There a ton of content-sharing and pinning platforms out there, but only a few actually nail the basics. Here are some of our favorites — though your mileage may vary depending on your usage habits and the kinds of devices you own.
Pocket is one of the leaders in this space, and for good reason. Having been around the longest, it boasts the most comprehensive feature set in the segment. There’s support for a boatload of RSS and news apps, as well as a feature that will automatically detect URLs on the clipboard so they’re easier to add. You can also follow companies and individuals within the app if you’d like, and their contributions will be shown in your Recommendations tab for easy access.
Pocket’s most useful feature, however, is its organization system, which operates by tagging articles with searchable terms. If you’re using Pocket for research purposes, it will help keep everything in order.
Mac users will appreciate Pocket’s dedicated desktop version, which works the same way as the mobile app. Unfortunately, there’s no such app for Windows or Linux users. Extensions exist for various browsers, though, so at the very least you can still save content no matter what operating system you’re running.
Pocket can be downloaded for free, though, the premium version ($5 a month, or $45 a year) obliterates ads and expands search abilities. It also gives you a permanent library that retains a copy of saved content even if it has been taken offline, and provides tag suggestions.
Alongside Pocket, Instapaper is the other half of the read-it-later duopoly. Although its feature set matches Pocket on paper, it does feel like a different app in practice. Whereas Pocket might be a bit easier to grasp at first, with a more intuitive and colorful card-based interface, Instapaper boasts a more stoic aesthetic and focuses first and foremost on the reading experience.
No other app on this list boasts the same breadth of customization options; in addition to being able to manipulate basic formatting, you can change the width of the margins, line spacing, and set custom screen brightness specifically for the app. What’s more, Instapaper allows you to highlight text and provide annotations, and there’s even a speed reading mode that flashes the article’s text on screen at a chosen words-per-minute rate.
Instapaper’s method of content organization utilizes folders, rather than Pocket’s tags. While it works nearly the same, articles can only be placed in one folder at a time, and after they’re moved, they’re no longer present in the main feed. Depending on your usage, you may find this limiting.
Where Instapaper makes up some considerable ground is in its pricing — or rather, complete lack thereof. The app was formerly sold on a model similar to Pocket’s, with an optional monthly or yearly cost. After Pinterest purchased the company last fall, however, the premium iteration of the app was made standard for all users. This means Instapaper is now completely ad-free.
Shout is the newest app on our list, so it doesn’t quite match the extensive feature set of either Pocket or Instapaper. However, if collaboration and sharing are important to you, Shout could be your new go-to app. The app is currently only available on iOS and in the desktop version of Chrome.
That said, using the mobile version couldn’t be easier. Simply send the link in question to Shout from the iOS sharing menu, like you would any other app. Without leaving your browser, you can easily title and categorize the content, almost as if you were composing a Facebook post or tweet.
Within Shout, you can set certain lists as public or collaborative, so other users can see or even add to them. That’s a huge benefit, particularly for students or teams pooling information together for projects. You can also easily send email digests of lists to your followers with just a swipe and tap.
It must be said that Shout lacks the customizable, reader-friendly view of the previous two apps — it’s really just meant for curating content in lists exactly as it comes. For users who demand a consistent visual style, or one they can tailor to their comfort level, Shout isn’t the best option. But in terms of sharing and productivity, it’s one of the more promising apps available.
A recent update to the iOS version of Amazon’s Kindle app added “Send to Kindle” functionality to Safari — a feature that had existed on Android devices and various desktop browsers for quite some time. With it, Kindle could become your makeshift read-it-later app.
Now, it goes without saying that Kindle was not designed to be a read-it-later app in the strictest sense, so it does lack the sharing and organization features that make the previous three examples stand out. However, if you already own Kindle devices and are heavily invested in the ecosystem, using Amazon’s app for such a purpose makes a lot of sense.
For one, you’ll be able to read articles on the very same tablets and e-readers you may already use for books — so just for the sake of convenience, there’s an argument to be made. Second, Kindle already boasts powerful formatting, customization, and annotation tools, and these can be used for articles and documents as well. That said, you may run into problems with video and other types of media.
Safari Reading List / Chrome
Here’s an option that couldn’t be easier to start using right away, depending on your smartphone or tablet. For iOS and MacOS users, Safari’s Reading List allows you to store articles and quickly view them in a reader-friendly format with a single tap. Apple has even provided a selection of fonts, as well as the ability to change sizes and the background color.
Reading List also supports embedded YouTube videos and practically any type of media Safari supports, so you shouldn’t run into any compatibility issues. The only significant downside is that, since it’s built into Safari, there’s nothing in the way of organization or tagging — just the ability to mark pages as read. Given it loads every site, you also won’t be able to save links for offline viewing. For these reasons, Reading List is an incomplete solution compared to what Pocket and Instapaper offer.
Chrome for Android allows users to download pages for offline viewing — proving as a bare bones alternative for people who don’t want to install a separate app.