Paperback Brings a Beautiful Read Later App to Pinboard

I’ve written on AppStorm before about how much I love Pinboard, a bookmarking service that allows you to privately collect and tag webpages for easy access later. Pinboard is one of those services that sounds completely ridiculous — until you try it. It’s a great service, and its developer, Maciej Ceglowski, is truly dedicated to improving it and keeping it consistently up.

As many people know, the service can also operate as a great Read Later service. You can mark webpages as unread. Pinboard tags them as such, and you can catch up later on the Web or with your favourite Pinboard app of choice. Until recently, there weren’t any apps designed to make Pinboard a true Read Later service in the same vein as Instapaper. With Paperback, we finally have a Pinboard Read Later client focused purely on the reading experience.

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What Paperback Is

Put simply, Paperback is a simple and beautiful way to read Pinboard articles later. The service uses a text parser to extract text from a web page and make it look beautiful on any size display. In that sense, comparing this to Instapaper for Pinboard addicts isn’t far from the mark — but it would still be a mistake to write it off completely.

Instead of implementing any social networks (a la Instapaper or Pocket), the focus is on privacy. There are no extra social features like there are in Instapaper, and the app retains the status of all your saved unread bookmarks. If you’ve saved them for later publicly, they’ll remain that way even when you read them. It doesn’t do anything to damage or alter the status of any your Pinboard articles behind the scenes.

In fact, it doesn’t even automatically mark anything as read. I don’t see this as a design flaw, since that offers you more control over it. What Paperback does do is offer a few options to tag and archive posts at the top of an article’s reading view, or you can simply archive them as you go.

Your list of articles is very simple.

Your list of articles is very simple.

Reading an article is as easy as choosing from a list of titles. There’s no menu or any other extraneous elements. You can’t read the first couple sentences. You can’t The screenshots I’ve taken might not appear to do it justice, but there’s nothing else to see here. If you want to read something, clicking on it opens up the parsed text view. If you’d rather, you can view the original or archive it from your unread list.

Once you’ve finished reading an article, you can also delete it or view the next or previous article. If the site’s parser got it wrong and didn’t properly display text or images, you can also report an error at the bottom of the post as well.

These are the only buttons you can click when you're done reading an article.

These are the only buttons you can click when you’re done reading an article.

It’s that simple. There are no extraneous features or half-baked ideas. This is simply a reading service. Because of that, Paperback is all about the reading experience.

The Paperback Experience

Paperback comes most alive, not when you’re browsing in its list of articles, but when you’re actually reading the articles. First, the technicalities, in case you’re interested: You can’t change the fonts. The headings are rendered in Adelle and the body is in FF Tisa. Other elements of the site are rendered in Helvetica Neue Light and Courier New. I like those choices, and think they look good on any display.

Text looks great. The reading experience is fantastic.

Text looks great. The reading experience is fantastic.

The line spacing is great, and everything reads really well. The service doesn’t have a sepia or dark mode. I’m hoping to see them in the future.

When you’re reading on a desktop, you can use the keyboard for shortcuts throughout the service. I’m quoting directly from Paperback’s About page:

j or ↓: Scroll down

k or ↑: Scroll up

a or e: Archive selected article

h: Go back to reading list

t: Open “Archive with Tags” modal – esc closes it

T: Add selected text to Archive modal without opening modal

⌘ + enter: Submit Tags and Archive

o: Open original URL

⌘ + delete: Delete current article

p / n: Go to previous / next article

For people who like to read on a desktop, proper keyboard shortcuts could end up being the difference between a quality product and a lacklustre experience. I’m happy to report that Paperback succeeds wildly with them.

The service works on any size screen.

The service works on any size screen.

The service adapts to any screen size, which means it looks good on mobile devices too. Quite frankly, the best experience I’ve had with it is on my iPad mini, where it looks just perfect. (The only thing it’s missing is that Retina display, but beggars can’t be choosers.) There aren’t any apps currently available, but Nick sounds interested in the topic. I think the real reason it works so well on an iPad mini is because that’s when it really feels like the paperback novel that Nick is basing it on. The iPad mini is where the app’s potential is fully realized, and that makes sense. The iPad is the size of a large, high-quality paperback.

It looks simply astounding on an iPad. This is one of the best reading experiences I've ever had on a tablet.

It looks simply astounding on an iPad. This is one of the best reading experiences I’ve ever had on a tablet.

Speaking of multiple devices, one of the reasons Paperback works so well is because it also syncs your reading position, so you can continue reading from any device no matter where you left off. In my testing, it was flawless. I can’t say that for Instapaper or Pocket. (In fact, if you’re migrating from Instapaper or Pocket, you can import your unread articles to Pinboard quite easily. They’ll be available in Paperback immediately.)

As far as the text parsing goes, it’s generally excellent. Much like Instapaper, not every image or video gets parsed properly. I read one article about comic strips that included a large strip at the beginning, but Paperback didn’t display it. I had to view the original webpage.

That being said, these issues are somewhat normal for a Read Later service. They’re frustrating, but I think they’re a compromise struck up by the nature of opinionated software. A great text parser means that it’s not necessarily a great image parser — and it’s especially not a great video parser (although videos are surprisingly displayed if they’re embedded in the original webpage). These are the same compromises that Instapaper made to focus on high-quality text parsing, and the majority of the time, I think that’s acceptable.

Final Thoughts

There’s one more question dangling in the air. Paperback works really well, it looks beautiful on any display, and it’s built for the sort of Internet power user who’s interested in Pinboard — but is it worth the annual $15 subscription?

To put it bluntly, if you use Pinboard and you’re looking for a Read Later client, absolutely. This $15 subscription gives you access to the service and keeps it running smoothly. Granted, if you also use the archival feature in Pinboard, this runs your costs quite high. I hope that Nick’s business model involves giving away a universal iPad and iPhone Paperback app to subscribers in the future so they get a little more for their money, but as it stands currently, Paperback is filling in a huge niche for the Pinboard community. It’s doing so at a price that keeps it sustainable and private, and gives it space to grow. I can’t wait to see where Paperback goes from here.


Summary

Paperback is a fantastic Read Later service that makes Pinboard even more useful, but its steep entry price will be a deterrent to some. It looks great on mobile web browsers, but I do wish there were mobile apps.

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