Comparing low-distraction readers

Services like Instapaper, Pocket and Readability are great for saving articles for later reading. But sometimes I want to read something right when I find it and, better yet, with a clutter-free layout like those services provide. This is when an in-browser reader like Apple’s Safari Reader, Instapaper’s Text Bookmarklet and Evernote’s Clearly come in handy.

Each has its own pros and cons, but which is the best? Everyone has their preferences, but I took a look at three options and picked my favorite. Here’s what I found while comparing Safari Reader, Instapaper Text, and Clearly:


Safari Reader

Apple introduced Safari Reader with Safari 5. Like the others, it offers a distraction-free reading experience by presenting an article without ads, sidebar images, headers or footers. Instead, you get a center-aligned, black-on-white version of the article with any inline images intact. Plus, multi-page articles are displayed in one flow. That’s it.

It works by first detecting an article or post on a web page. Once it has, a grey “Reader” button appears in the URL field in place of the RSS button. Click it to view your article in the Reader interface (Command-Shift-R works, too).

The article appears on a white background in the center of Safari’s window. Also, the Reader button turns purple while the Reader view is active. Finally, a scrollbar on the right allows you to navigate the article.

There are several tools available while Reader is active. Move your cursor toward the bottom of Safari’s window and the toolbar appears. From left to right, you’ll find “-” and “+” re-sizing buttons, as well as options to email or print the article. Lastly, a big “X” closes the Reader UI and restores the original website (clicking outside of Reader does the same).

Pros

The best thing about Reader is that it works as advertised. The black text looks great and is highly legible. It loads quickly and lets you adjust the text size, print and share via email. Plus, it’s only available after a web page has fully loaded, so advertisers aren’t cheated out of impressions.

While Safari’s Reader for the Mac isn’t my favorite (more on that in a minute), it absolutely shines on mobile Safari. Especially on the iPhone. Typically I dislike long periods of reading on the iPhone because the screen and text is so small, but Reader fixes that. It commandeers the screen completely (unlike on the iPad, which still shows the toolbar and any open tabs), with big, legible text on a lightly textured background that just feels nice. An unobtrusive share button offers several options, like tweet, print, add to reading list and more.

Cons

My main gripe is that Reader doesn’t fill the browser window. Instead, the original web page is seen behind the Reader presentation. Even though it’s grayed out, I’m still aware of it, which defeats the “distraction-free” aspect. In fact, it’s a deal-breaker. Sorry, Apple.

Customization is also limited, though you can alter its look with a little work. It’s nice to re-size the type, but compared to others, it doesn’t do much. Finally, it’s restricted to Safari.

Reader is nice on the Mac, super on the iPad, and, hands-down, fan-flipping-tastic on the iPhone.


Instapaper Text Bookmarklet

Instapaper offers a bookmarkelt that lets you read an article in the service’s text view without saving it to your collection of stories. It offers black text on white like with Apple’s Safari Reader, but with more options for customization.

By default, the Instapaper Text Bookmarklet centers your text on a field of white. The customization tools are hidden until you click the font icon at the top left. Options include re-sizing the type, and I clicked the button 22 times and was obliged each time.

You can also single- or double-space the text and adjust the column width. Again, it seems happy to stretch the text as wide as I like, easily filling my 24″ display. Finally, there are four fonts to choose from: Geneva, Times, Helvetica and Veranda. There’s no button to send to Instapaper, however. For that you’ll need a different bookmarkelt.

Pros

Right off the bat I’m happy because it fills the browser window. Instapaper Text also offers more customization options than Apple. It also loads quickly, and is quite legible. Since it’s a bookmarklet, it’ll work in any browser and, like Safari’s reader, it displays multi-page articles on a single page.

Cons

Can’t think of a one.


Evernote Clearly

I found this one recently and have been test driving it. Like the others, Clearly (formerly Readable) presents your target article without ads, a sidebar, header or footer. It’s an extension, not a bookmarkelt, and is available for Firefox and Google Chrome. Once it’s up and running, a click sends the article to your Evernote account. But, the single click action isn’t what I love most about it.

Pros

If looks are everything, Clearly is a bombshell. The whole point of these things is to display an article so that it looks great and is pleasant to read. Clearly succeeds better than the rest.

A click on the themes button on the right sidebar reveals multiple thematic options. By default there are three themes to choose from: Newsprint, Notable and Night Owl (pictured above). A fourth option lets you create a custom theme, with control over almost every aspect of how Clearly presents your pages. Finally, there’s a button to print the article and another to send it to Instapaper.

Cons

It’s not available on Apple’s Safari browser.


Conclusion

Evernote’s Clearly is my new favorite way to read articles without distraction in my browser. Yes, Instapaper is backed by a tremendous service that I love, but so is Clearly. Like I said, this is a beauty contest more than anything else and the team at Evernote has done a stellar job with Clearly. I’ll still send articles I wish to save to Instapaper, but will enjoy stories I want to read as I find them with Clearly.

3 Comments for “Comparing low-distraction readers”

  1. posted by Ravindran on

    Clearly is my favorite too. Actually, I am using that application even before evernote bought, improved & re-branded it.

    http://readable.tastefulwords.com/

  2. posted by eM on

    Readability does have this option – choose “read now” instead of read later or send to kindle

  3. posted by Roberta on

    Though Apple and my MacBook Pro are my basic tools, I rarely use Safari and am now using Chrome, where Clearly does indeed shine. Very nice comparisons; I’ll be staying with Clearly – I personally like the off white beige background I find more soothing for my eyes.

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