Is Instapaper Finally Worth It for Android Users?

With Marco Arment’s recent announcement of his sale of a majority stake in Instapaper to Betaworks, his work on the app is worth returning to with an eye towards where it is now and where it will be in the future.

For a long time, Instapaper was crippled on the Android platform in comparison to its iOS counterpart. As a matter of fact, we took a look at the app’s many problems in July 2012, and found that its biggest struggle was for feature parity. However, Android developer Mobelux has recently caught up to the iOS feature list, but does that make the app worth getting or is it still inferior compared to contenders like Pocket and Readability?

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Feature Parity

Instapaper for Android finally has the same features, across the board, as the iOS app does. The Feature, a sort of curated section by Marco Arment himself of great long-form articles, is also now on the Android platform. Also, Sharing is built right in and functions exactly how you would expect in any Android app.

The settings match every iOS feature and sharing finally makes it into the app.

The settings match every iOS feature and sharing finally makes it into the app.

Tilt scrolling, which is as poor here as it is on iOS, is finally an option, albeit a forgettable one. Pagination can be turned on and full screen mode can be set to come on automatically or be activated with a double tap on the screen.

In true Android fashion, the app seems a little more customizable than the iOS version, but that might just be my imagination playing tricks on me. I certainly feel like I have more options, particularly with sharing my favourite articles.

Paying for Privacy

The app is still $2.99, which is more expensive than the competition — Pocket and Readability — but some people will like the privacy that comes with paying for the app. Pocket and Readability are free, and although neither appear to be selling user information currently, the lack of a business plan is unsettling to some users.

Beyond privacy, what you’re paying for is the excellent font rendering and great typography.

Beyond privacy, what you’re paying for is the excellent font rendering and great typography.

And the cost gets steeper. To read articles on a Read Later app for OS X, you’ll have to pay a subscription fee for the app. You can, of course, just read from the Instapaper website for free, but that won’t be as convenient for most people as Pocket’s free desktop app.

Rendering is equally as precise on a smartphone screen.

Rendering is equally as precise on a smartphone screen.

The bottom line is that, like most things, privacy comes at a steeper cost than many of us might like. I’m uncertain if privacy alone is enough to make me buy the app, but Instapaper’s excellent typography and font rendering — along with its focus on text and brilliant sepia background — keep me coming back.

Planning Ahead

Marco Arment just sold the future of Instapaper to Betaworks. What does that mean for the future of the app? Marco has suggested that the iOS version is currently under development and aiming for a major new release this year, and although Marco’s been against an Android version of the app from the start, Betaworks might think differently.

I’m hoping that Betaworks gives the menu screens a fresh coat of paint.

I’m hoping that Betaworks gives the menu screens a fresh coat of paint.

Currently, the app is developed by Mobelux. It might not be for much longer, but the full implications of the deal with Betaworks aren’t clear yet. Mobelux may be retaining development of the Android app, but working with Betaworks to ensure that updates are frequent and important features aren’t ignored. We simply don’t know right now, but I can’t imagine the app will fall into disrepair.

Is the Ship Sinking?

A lot of people will be wondering if Instapaper is a business they want to buy into right now with all the change going on. Quite simply, I believe that the app is only going to get better.

Visually, some elements of the app are in need of a fresh coat of paint — not an overhaul, but a little freshening up could do some good. It’s been clear that, although Marco is interested in his baby, he’s not been able to give it adequate attention for a while. With more focused iOS development, Android development — whether it comes from Betaworks or Mobelux — will have to become more focused too.

If you haven’t invested in Instapaper yet, I’ve heard of far worse things with less promising features to spend $2.99 on. If you have, this is a good time to try the alternatives. But Instapaper remains the best text parser on the market with the smoothest typography on any device, and I suspect you’ll be back. It’s a laid-back reading experience, focused solely on text, that I don’t think anybody can beat.


Summary

Instapaper could use a fresh layer of paint and is expensive compared to the competition, but it's still my favourite reading experience on any platform.

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