Thursday, 21 June 2012

InstaFetch vs Pocket

Because it's free, and because ... well, actually, that's the main reason I'm giving myself a trial run of Pocket, formerly known as Read It Later. This is basically to see whether a different service besides Instapaper (my current solution for reading articles offline) works any better.

Currently my offline reading solution is Instapaper via InstaFetch (a free third-party app), and my offline video viewing is courtesy of PwnYouTube which lets me download videos from YouTube easily. Pocket, and its free official app, claims to handle both of these things, which is something I need to try for myself, to see if my life can get any simpler. I usually add articles to Instapaper, then sync them to my phone with InstaFetch, being careful not to load more than about 5 at a time, because of an InstaFetch bug. It's a fiddly process. Pocket synchronises automatically in the background, which is much more convenient. It also allows me to sort from oldest to newest, which is how I like my reading organised.

One annoyance I've had with InstaFetch (no fault of Instapaper, mind you) is that the app requires a network connection to open an article, basically spitting in the face of the idea of offline reading right away. Pocket also seems to require a network connection when it first opens an article, but at least from then on it caches images and doesn't download them a second time (InstaFetch will download images from scratch every time the phone is rotated). So, really, no (free) app scores at all on that front. UPDATE: Actually, Pocket works pretty well offline, even pre-caching images, which is better than InstaFetch did. Sometimes it doesn't get a full article for some reason, and then requires a network connection to open it, but if you're offline, those articles will be grey.

Reading on Pocket is at least as pleasant as in InstaFetch, and it remembers my current position in the article just like InstaFetch does. Well done there. The font is fine, and the background and layout is adequate.

On the whole, for articles, I'm handing the prize to Pocket for its automatic sync and smoother image handling, plus the ability to sync more than 10 articles for free. For video, InstaFetch doesn't even aim to handle it, so from here it's a competition between downloaded video and video on Pocket.

My downloaded video clips can come from anywhere. If I rip a DVD from home (say, I want to watch Futurama over again) I can mix that right in with my YouTube playlist that I keep in Dropbox. All the videos are right there and ready to go. I often queue up 30 minutes of video to watch over my lunch break. I don't usually grab video for viewing on the train, because my phone has been a bit inconsistent in that regard, and it's safer to stick to mp3 podcasts there. But Pocket does aim to handle online video for later, so it's worth trying.

My first attempt is a video from Cracked, which even PwnYouTube can't extract for me. Pocket does no better, showing me the whole web page and the embedded flash player, ready to stream the entire video over my limited 3G connection. No thanks. Another Cracked article, with an embedded YouTube clip, fares poorly too, but at least shows the embedded video frame. InstaFetch treats the same embedded video as if it doesn't exist at all, neatly snipping it out.

Figuring that embedded clips are not really handled well, I go for TableTop and follow the three clicks necessary to load the video directly from YouTube instead of embedded. Pocket takes a long time to sync this new page, which seems like a good sign when I'm looking at a 30 minute video. Unfortunately, that doesn't seem to translate to downloaded video, because the item that shows up in Pocket opens in my phone's YouTube app and plans to stream the whole episode from the web. So I'll be sticking with downlaods for video for now.

After this brief review, I'm beginning to wonder whether any app developers know what "offline" actually means. All their "offline" reading apps seem to assume that, surely, you must have some kind of internet connection, right? If you don't, then both of these free apps will have a problem. Other than that, Pocket is the winner for the reasons noted above. Instapaper does have an official app, but it costs a few dollars, and this review was all about free apps. I'm fairly confident that the official Instapaper app would outperform InstaFetch, but when Pocket outperforms InstaFetch too, and is free, well, Instapaper might have some competition on its hands.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Each program does have other features I have not reviewed.
PPS - Because they're free, you could try them both yourself to see which you prefer.

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