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This is a post relating to a talk I’m going to give at the 2nd Loras Network International Workshop, called Reading 2.0 – the shift to digital screen-based reading and its implications.

I wouldn’t profess to be an expert on matters regarding teaching reading in the language classroom, but I am interested in suggestions as how to best do it. I’ve also become increasingly aware of the ways that the internet and other technological advances influence how we read, from changing our reading habits, such as the media we use (print, paper, desktop computers, tablets, etc.) to how these changes may actually lead to the need for entirely new reading skills or adapting existing ones.

It was only this year I really got interested in the type of apps that will be looked at below, apps that allow you to save online texts likes blogposts and articles for reading later. As someone who does a lot of reading online, finding a good way to save things for reading later on (maybe because I wasn’t in the mood for concentrating for the time you need to devote to an article, or because I was out and on my smartphone) became important to me. I’d previously had a look at Instapaper following a friend’s recommendation on Twitter, but hadn’t really got on with it. However, stumbling upon Pocket this year (formerly Read It Later) got me back into the online reading habit. As well as using Pocket and rediscovering Instapaper, I also came across another called Readability.

Quite an apt name for a reading app, since I discovered that, more than being simple repositories for saving online reading content, these apps had a few nifty features extra and above this basic functionality. See below for a table summary of the similarities and differences between them, which may convince you to use them or make you aware of their more useful features if you already do.

Disclaimer: I am only including desktop and iOS apps or versions in this overview. If there are features in Android, Windows or other versions I have missed, please add them in a comment below. The date in brackets refers to the latest available version of iOS app for each service, all available free on the Apple Appstore.


 

Pocket 5.5.2 (24 Jun 2014) https://getpocket.com/

Formerly known as Read It Later, this app is one I’ve noticed that has had comparatively more of an advertising push behind it. Go on YouTube and you’ll find its slickly-produced trail.

Pocket

Pocket

Accessibility and reading

The iOS app has three background colour schemes: light, dark, and sepia; two fonts: Serif and Sans-Serif; and you can control both the brightness of the display and text size.

Any article you save is stored and synced to the Pocket app when you are connected to wifi or mobile internet connections. If the article is in a blog like format, Pocket will present it in a clean, advert-free version. The app also caches a full version of the webpage for offline viewing.

Saving

You are able to ‘clip’ articles from the web in most internet browser desktop applications using a bookmarklet (a weblink you save as a favourite in your bookmarks bar, which runs a script to save whatever website page you are on to the Pocket app). You can save articles by copying the URL from your mobile browser and adding it in the app. You can also save directly to Pocket from a number of third party apps, like Zite and xxx (fuller list here). On Twitter apps you can set Pocket up as a service to save tweets to, with the app then collecting any linked webpage in the tweet.


 

Instapaper

Instapaper

Instapaper 5.2.1 (23 Jun 2014) https://www.instapaper.com/

Instapaper is the app that I first came across that performed this collection and curation of online content (before I realised what that actually meant). Back when I first used it, the interface wasn’t the most attractive, particularly when using the web version.

Accessibility and reading

While the Instapaper interface certainly isn’t at pretty as others, it is very functional. Articles that have been saved are presented in a clean layout. There are four background/colour choices: white, sepia, grey and black. There are a total of 14 fonts to choose from, including Dyslexie, a font designed to help people with dyslexia with problems they may experience while reading. There are options to change the text size and level of brightness. You can also alter the space between lines of text and change the size of margins on the left and right.

Saving

Instapaper also allows you to save articles from most internet browsers by use of a bookmarklet. If you have copied a URL to your clipboard you are also prompted as to whether you wish to save it to your Instapaper library.


 

Readability

Readability

Readability 2.0.1 (20 Feb 2014) https://www.readability.com/

Readability is the one of the three reviewed here that I have least experience in using. It seems to view itself as more of a social reading platform, encouraging you to follow other users to make Readability better for you, and for you to share your recommendations to your follows, should you have any. In fact, the app seems integrated with your twitter accounts as it asks for permission to access these as soon as you sign in on your phone.

Accessibility and reading

Readability bills itself as ‘a free web and mobile app for reading comfortably’, and that is what you get. There are two background colour schemes and three fonts to choose from when reading your saved articles. You can also alter the size of the text in the mobile app. As well as all of this, in the web version you can also change the size of the margins.

Saving

Readability, like both Pocket and Instapaper has a web bookmarklet for saving articles as you browse. You can also add copied URLs in the app – you are prompted to save any URL you have copied when you open the app. You can also save articles from people you follow on the Readability platform.


 

Summary

Feature Pocket Instapaper Readability
Versions Web, mobile and Mac app Web & mobile app Web & mobile app
Saving options Web bookmarklet, add copied URL in app, Twitter ‘Read later’ service, various other apps integrated Web bookmarklet, add copied URL in app, Twitter ‘Read later’ service Web bookmarklet, add copied URL in app, add from others on Readability platform
Fonts 2 – Serif, Sans-Serif 14 – including Dyslexie 3 – Sentinel, Whitney, Mercury
Backgrounds 3 – light, dark, sepia 4 – white, sepia, grey, black 2 – light and dark
Social options Share on Facebook, Twitter and with other Pocket users Share via Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinboard Follow other users on Readability, share in app, via Facebook, Twitter, email
Star rating ★★★☆☆ ★★★★☆ ★★★☆☆

There is obviously not much to choose between these services, and a lot of it will come down to personal preference. They are pretty much level with each other in terms of being able to save and share content, with Readability perhaps edging into the lead slightly on this point by dint of having its own social platform. However, sharing options are largely the same otherwise for all three. Pocket is perhaps the most polished-looking of the three applications – having a well-produced advertising campaign and bright colour scheme on its site and app interfaces. However, in terms of making reading easier and helping those who have trouble reading, Instapaper seems to be the best bet, with the most choice in terms of background colour and different fonts.