Pocket: The best “save for later” app today?

“Save for later” apps – apps like Instapaper that capture and cleanly format text articles for later consumption – are essential to my workflow. I rely on them to read long form content for my job, for blog posts and just for fun almost every night. But last week there was a serious shakeup: Popular app Read It Later reinvented itself as Pocket. It aims to be a save later service for not just text articles but almost anything online, from videos to photos and mp3 clips. That’s ambitious, something I had to investigate further.

Thirty articles and a few days later with the app I’m hooked. Overall Pocket is an awesome app, albeit with a few rough patches. It’s a tool I’d recommend to almost anyone, especially to iOS newbies given its straightforward setup process. There are several things that Pocket does especially well:

A consistent experience across multiple platforms. A lot of other media apps provide a smart UI on both the iPhone and iPad. Yet it’s rare to see an app ecosystem work so consistently on the iPhone, iPad and the desktop. With Pocket there’s a uniform, drop down based navigation on each device that’s easy to use. Its grid based, Flipboard-esque layout works especially well on the iPad or web while remaining fully usable on the iPhone.

Visual design. Many apps dedicated to browsing or media discovery have a color scheme and layout that is heavy on contrast or overly skeuomorphic. It makes a strong first impression but can get a bit boring or distracting when you’re trying to browse through or read individual articles. Pocket avoids these problems by leveraging a light palette with subtle contrast and few gradients to maximize readability. This minimalist design looks borderline “non-native” to the iOS platform, but I think for Pocket it’s a smart move. The look feels fresh and distinctive, much in the same way the Twitter client Tweetbot distinguished itself visually with a chrome, metal and gradient heavy design.

App integration. This is where a lot of competition falls short; you can have an awesome reading experience, but that becomes meaningless if you can’t move articles in and out of your save for later app easily. That’s not a problem with Pocket. It uses the same API as Read it Later which has been around for years and consequently there’s huge app support.

Video integration. I’m a big film nerd, so naturally I capture a lot of clips, video essays and trailers. Pocket has native support for Youtube and Vimeo, which gives each saved video article a proper headline and thumbnail. With two taps I’m watching a video full screen on my device. Instapaper, Readability and other choices either can’t play video at all or add a lot of cruft around the video itself.

The setup process. Pocket goes out its way to make capturing content as easy as possible. On iOS devices it identifies other apps that are Pocket compatible and provides custom setup instructions for each. To add a web bookmarklet, an essential capture tool, its step by step tutorial is best in class.

Nevertheless Pocket isn’t perfect. The app’s filter for switching between text articles, images and videos is occasionally inaccurate; usually the articles view accidentally pulls in a few videos or vice versa. Also Pocket’s web site needs a bit for work on typography; its body text color is too light and it doesn’t offer the same font choices available on its iOS app. Finally while the default sans serif and serif options look nice, text customization (i.e. font choice, line height, margin size) lags behind what Instapaper provides.

So is Pocket better than Instapaper? Yes and no. If you trend toward content that’s graphic heavy, video based, or anything that strays from pure text, Pocket should be your first choice. For die hard readers of news articles, blog posts and other text-heavy content, stick with Instapaper.

I plan on using both: Instapaper for reading, Pocket for videos and everything else. I’ll detail in a future post exactly how I integrate both apps into my daily workflow.