Review: Read It Later for iPhone

Lex Friedman
6 July, 2009
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App Guide

Sometimes, you would rather read a lengthy article on your computer screen than your iPhone. Just as often, you might find that you’d like to load up your iPhone with some longer content from the Web so that you can read it, say, during the bus ride home. Several iPhone apps aim to help you achieve those two dovetailing goals; one such app is Read It Later.

Reading List: Both versions of Read It Later let you save Web pages for reading when you’re offline.

Read It Later—available from Idea Shower in a $3.99 Pro edition and a free lite version—lets you save Web sites to (surprise!) read later, and it gets the job done. You’ll need an account at to make everything work, but the account is free and painless to set up. The Web site offers a couple of bookmarkets that you can add to your favourite browser, so that on any web page you can click “Read It Later” to add that page to your list. (There’s also a Firefox extension that offers even tighter integration.)

Reading List: Both versions of Read It Later let you save Web pages for reading when you’re offline.

On your iPhone, Read It Later lists all the pages you’ve saved. The app can optionally download the entirety of the pages you save, so that you can read them while offline. That’s a great feature before a long flight, or for iPod touch owners who expect to be offline for a while. When you’re reading content on the device, you can choose to read the current online version, the cached page, or a text-only cached version. When you’re reading the text-only offline version of an article, you can tweak the font size and style to match your reading preferences, which the app then remembers. These offline reading options are smart, and implemented well.

Not every feature is quite as nuanced, though. Clicking links within an article inside Read It Later brings up two options—“Open Link In Safari” and “Read Link Later.” I long for a third option to “Read Right Now.” Reading the linked page in Safari means exiting out of Read It Later, which seems unnecessary given how nicely the app can handle loading and displaying Web pages. A recent update to the app mercifully fixed a supremely frustrating bug with handling links set to open in a new window.

You can sort your saved pages alphabetically, chronologically, or by site. Once you mark an article as read, it’s moved to your “Recently Read” list—a considerable improvement upon the previous version, which simply removed read articles completely.

Read It Later provides step-by-step instructions for installing a pair of very useful bookmarklets in Mobile Safari. One is simply to mark the current page to read later. The second, available only in the “Pro” version, is called “Tap to Save.” On a page loaded with links—like’s homepage, Reddit, or Digg—you access the bookmarklet, and then any links you tap on that page are added to your “Read It Later” list. This is the Pro version’s killer feature. When you have the time to read a lot of Web pages on the iPhone, Mobile Safari doesn’t make it easy to open a bunch of links in multiple tabs and read them. But using this bookmarklet lets you queue up everything you’d like to read within the Read It Later app, making surfing a lot easier.

More Links: Tapping links within an article inside Read It Later gives you the option of opening the Link in Safari or storing it for later reading.

None of the other Pro features strike me as compelling: Fullscreen reading mode is frustrating in practice, because getting the app’s navigation bar to reappear is too complicated when the content you’re reading is link-laden. Automark as Read would be solid feature, were it not for the app’s aforementioned poor choice to hide all read content. The only other premium options—disabling rotation, showing your unread count on the app’s icon, and the ability to share pages from your list on sites like Twitter—don’t do much for me, either.

Read It Later Pro’s recent update—allowing access to read articles, and fixing some small bugs—make it easier for me to recommend. (One new bug with rendering some special characters incorrectly, though, is a step backward.) The app doesn’t wow me in the way some people rave about Marco Arment’s Instapaper Pro, but it certainly performs capably. The Tap to Save bookmarklet works very well, though, and is the strongest reason to go Pro. If you don’t need that feature, there’s no reason not to stick with Read It Later Free.

Both versions of Read It Later are compatible with any iPhone or iPod touch running the iPhone 2.x software update.

[Lex Friedman hopes you’ll read his Web site later.]

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