“Content is king.” Those three words have rang true since Gutenburg invented movable type, but when you look at it in context of the Web, it’s even more important. The Web is no longer just on a desktop computer monitor — it’s on laptops, netbooks, smartphones, and tablets. It’s even on wristwatches, eReaders and televisions! With the Web all around us, it can feel like content is more like an overlord than a king. We’re inundated with articles, images, videos, and more, but who has time to devote their full attention to this endless stream of information?
Here is where Pocket (formerly Read it Later) can help.
The newly redesigned Pocket is perhaps one of the best reading apps available today. Many would agree; the service currently has 4.5 million users and users have saved over 200 million items. It has also been integrated into over 300 web and mobile applications such as Evernote and Google Reader. But what makes Pocket such a standout reading app when there are dozens of others available? Let’s take a look at the Android version and see.
When you first run Pocket, you’re greeted with a simple tutorial showing you how to add items to the app for later consumption. Pocket works best in conjunction with the Pocket bookmarklet for web browsers, but keep in mind that this isn’t necessary in order to use the app. You can easily sign up for Pocket from the application, and any articles, images, or videos you save can be viewed from the Pocket website or from any device with the Pocket app (iPhone, iPad, and Kindle Fire at the time of this article). Because Pocket is also included in over 300 web and mobile applications, adding content to Pocket can be done through a simple share.
Once you’ve added a few articles, they will begin to appear immediately on your home screen. (When items are added to Pocket, they are instantly downloaded to your device; articles are also available for offline reading, which is extremely helpful for frequent travelers looking to make the most of their travel time.)
Pocket’s home screen includes a few utility icons at the top, a toolbar for filtering or tagging posts, and a list of your saved content below.
Tapping the Pocket logo shows a dropdown menu for the Home Screen, the Favorites screen, and the Archive screen. The documents icon shows a dropdown menu where you can filter the view of your home screen by content type. The refresh icon refreshes your Pocket queue when tapped, and the menu icon brings up the settings menu (which includes bulk editing of your home screen and a robust help section).
Any content in Pocket can be tagged, favorited, or archived for easy retrieval at a later date. As you can see below, the Favorites screen adds a little gold star icon at the bottom left of each of your content items and the archive simply keeps record of all the material you’ve read, watched, or viewed through Pocket. Longpressing any of these rows brings up a secondary menu of icons.
The tag icon lets you add any number of tags to the current piece of content. This is great if you have several different types of content across different screens. The plus icon will add the content back to your home screen. The star icon marks the content as a favorite, and the trash can icon deletes it from Pocket. Tapping the share icon will bring up Android’s native sharing menu, and you can share content from Pocket to any shareable service you have installed. Pocket’s share feature also includes a few more options, such as Copy Link, Email Article View, and Report Article View. Let’s explore how content is viewed through Pocket to understand these different views.
As I stated earlier, you can read articles, view images, or watch videos which you have saved to Pocket. The video and image viewers are very standard, so I didn’t include screenshots here of those. Viewing images simply brings up the image in Pocket as you would view it in your mobile browser. Pocket supports viewing videos from YouTube, Vimeo, TED, and Devour, and they are adding more sources with future updates. For now, let’s focus on how articles are viewed through Pocket.
Articles in Pocket are included between two toolbars. The top toolbar includes icons to let you toggle between Article View and Original Web View. The refresh icon will refresh the page in both views. The Original Web View will show you how the article looks at the original URL, and can be helpful if you need to see any special formatting which Pocket may have stripped out while parsing the article.
In Article View, you have several more options, all of which are included in the bottom toolbar. Tapping the check icon lets Pocket know you are done reading the article; it will move it from your home screen to your Archive screen. The star icon marks the article as a favorite. The type icon brings up a menu of options for adjusting the brightness, font family (serif or sans serif), font size, justification, and color scheme of the article. The light version is Pocket’s default, but you can switch to dark and sepia-toned color schemes as well. (Note: the Dark color scheme will also change the color scheme throughout the application.) The share icon will let you share the article with the same options that I detailed earlier.
Longpressing any word within the content will bring up another toolbar at the very top of the page; this allows you to copy your selected word (or phrase if you expand your selection) to the clipboard, share the clip through the default sharing methods detailed earlier, find the word or phrase in your open document, or perform a web search using that clip. Clicking the checkmark to the far left will dismiss this toolbar.
Tapping the menu icon from the home screen will show a dropdown for bulk edit (where you can tag, delete, favorite, or archive multiple pieces of content from the home screen), settings, and a help section. For now, let’s focus on the settings.
Pocket’s settings are fairly simple. The settings are split into six sections: About, Reading, Offline Downloading, Syncing, List, and About.
Under Account, you can edit your account details (username, password, email address), log out, or manage your site subscriptions (which conspicuously isn’t available for Android 3.0+).
The Reading section gives you options for reading articles. Pocket will open articles in Article View by default, but you can let Pocket choose what you think is best based on the original article’s formatting. There is also an option to let you turn pages using your device’s volume buttons instead of swiping.
Offline Downloads is the largest section here, and it’s where you can manage how Pocket stores information from articles you’ve saved to the service. There are options here to manage current saved content, choose a mobile user-agent, or download articles only on Wi-Fi. You may have to play around with the settings here a bit here to determine what’s best for your workflow.
Syncing for Pocket occurs in the background by default, but you can change this under the Syncing section. You can also set the app to sync upon opening.
The List section gives you a few options for your home screen, such as starting your view in Untagged (in case you’ve tagged a bunch of media) or sorting your list from newest to oldest and vice versa. You can also toggle to a dark theme for the app’s interface for nighttime viewing.
Finally, there is the About section which includes social links to follow Pocket online (Facebook and Twitter) and a link to credits for resources used for the app.
I would be remiss if I said that Pocket was a perfect app. While it gets many things right for the reading experience, I did find a few tiny issues.
Orientation support feels a little sluggish with Pocket. If you give your device a hard shake to the left or right, you’ll briefly see an icon flash in the middle of the screen of a lock with an arrow encircling it. Pocket allows you to read your content in either landscape or portrait mode, and you can lock the mode in case you want to swipe from page to page with your fingers, or use the volume buttons to turn pages. But when you switch between modes, the article may jump around to different places, and in some cases, part of the article is blocked out. Exiting out of the article then clicking it again from the home screen fixes this problem, but it would have been nice to have this available in the options.
The other small issue I found was the lack of fonts for reading articles. Pocket allows you to toggle between a serif font and a sans serif font (Avenir, I believe). While I found both fonts easy to read for smaller articles, the sans serif font did become a bit harder to read for longer pieces of work. Increasing the font size makes the sans serif font easier to read, but then again, it makes the article longer. It’s a trade-off, but I hope future versions of Pocket at least allow the user to use the system font for reading articles.
Pocket’s gorgeous design, attention to detail, and simple options make it a prime choice for reading articles or viewing saved images or video. While there are a few drawbacks with orientation support and only two choices for fonts, overall, there’s nothing about this app that doesn’t make it worth a download. Give it a try, and I think you might find yourself using Pocket as your main app for reading web content on the go.
Pocket is available on Google Play for free and requires Android OS v2.2 or higher to run. Download the app from the Google Play Store link below or by clicking on the Google Play badge provided.
Maurice Cherry is a web entrepreneur, freelance technology journalist, and technology consultant for non-profit organizations and politicians. He is best known as the creator of the Black Weblog Awards, the world’s premier event for showcasing bloggers, podcasters, and video bloggers of the African diaspora. Maurice is also Creative Principal at 3eighteen media and an adjunct professor with DeVry University. Maurice is an honors graduate of Morehouse College, and currently lives in Atlanta, GA.