Instapaper Finally Makes Its Android Debut, And It’s Almost Amazing

Given Instapaper creator Marco Arment’s less-than-enthusiastic stance on Android, it didn’t seem like an Android version of his popular story-saving app would ever see the light of day. A handful of people have tried to bring the immensely useful service to Android with varying degrees of success, but Arment and mobile developer Mobelux have surprised us all by offering up their own official solution.

Yes, that’s right. Instapaper for Android has finally been released into the Google Play Store, where it can be yours for $2.99. Now the question changes from “when will it be released?” to “how well does this thing actually work?”

It’s worth noting right at the outset that the new Android version isn’t a one-to-one translation of the popular iOS app — notably missing is the ability to jump into a full screen view of a story, as well as the option to pore through featured stories culled from the day’s most frequently saved bits. Instapaper’s popular pagination options are absent as well, though to be honest, I’ve got no problem with just scrolling through a story.

While Instapaper fanatics may bristle at some of these omissions, the app works, and it works very well. In terms of design, Instapaper is simple to the point of being sparse, something that tends to be exacerbated by larger displays. Still, it’s clean and understated — in a sense, it’s perfectly suited to the core function of the app. Simply put, this version of Instapaper is meant to pull your saved stories to your device and display them for you with no additional cruft to get in the way. There’s also a tablet-specific view that I didn’t have much of a chance to muck around with, but it seemed remarkably similar to the iPad-optimized version of the app, down to the use of a two-column grid layout that stories live in.

Popping into a story proper reveals many of the same granular settings that its iOS counterpart is known for. It’s a snap to switch between each of the app’s three fonts, fiddle with line spacing, tweak screen brightness, adjust font size, and the like, making the reading experience very customizable.

All of those controls are nestled in a persistent option bar that runs along the bottom of the story screen, and I find it to be less of a distraction and more of a facilitator — the ability to like a story or pass it along to others via any of the networking apps on my Android phone is always just a touch away. Your mileage on this front may vary — in The Verge’s review of the app, Ellis Hamburger notes that using the app on a One X sticks users with a triple-whammy of navigation bars cluttering up the bottom of the screen, something my Galaxy Nexus thankfully managed to avoid.

As is the case with just about any 1.0 release though, there are a few hiccups. Occasionally when you enable dark mode — a feature that displays light text on a dark background — within a story and then exit it, the settings panel is similarly blacked out. You have to pop back into a story, turn dark mode off, and exit again if you actually want to see what options are at your disposal. It’s a minor glitch, and not one that seems to occur repeatedly, but it certainly made for a few puzzled moments.

In the end, even though it’s not a perfect release, most of the issues and omissions that pepper this first release don’t seem too complex to implement well (from my limited perspective, anyway). What really matters here is that the core functionality is present, and that bit works nearly as well as I had hoped — the rest will surely come down the line.