/ Internet

Stash as an Instapaper Replacement

Stash is a relatively recent player that crosses over both the link-saving realm (Diigo, Delicio.us, browser bookmarks...) and the read-it-later realm (Pocket, Instapaper, etc...). While the fact that it does both is an unexpected and major benefit to me, what I'm focusing on here is what brought me to it in the first place--how well it serves as a replacement for the likes of my existing favorite read-it-later web app, Instapaper.

Features

Let's just jump right into it. How do the features of the two services compare on paper?

Instapaper's main points are pretty well known by now:

  • Cross-platform browser extensions and mobile apps
  • Organize saved links into folders and an archive
  • Provides an optimized and beautiful reading experience within the (web)app that strips pages of unnecessary bits and theme elements and just displays their content in a really readable layout.
  • Integration with IFTTT
  • Provides text-to-speech narration of articles
  • Highlight specific areas and add notes to them

On the other hand, Stash's focus is a bit different, though you'll notice some similarities:

  • Cross-platform browser extensions and mobile apps
  • Provides a link "stash" which combines many features of both favorites and read-it-later functionality
  • Organize saved links using tags, collections, and an archive
  • Automatically assigns tags using artificial intelligence that attempts to determine what each link is
  • Set reminders via browser notifications and/or emails for links you wish to read later
  • Add notes to links
  • Send links directly to another device

As you can see, one service is all about the experience of saving articles to read later, and then reading or listening them within that interface and optionally taking notes as you go. The other is all about (automatically) organizing links and setting reminders for them, and it does that pretty well in my experience so far, but it doesn't do anything to keep you in its interface or optimize your reading experience.

On paper, the services are different, but they do have quite a bit of overlap. You wouldn't really want to use both at the same time, but they each have some benefits over the other and a slightly different focus.

Use Case

It doesn't seem possible to definitively recommend one over the other at this point, mostly because depending on your use case you might get more mileage out of one or the other.

If you care more about organizing your links and less about having a queue of links to read later in a nice reading interface, or if you really don't like dealing with manual organization of your huge link library, then Stash may very well be your ideal service. On the other hand, if you care more about saving links to read later and staying within an optimized reading experience while you're going through your queue, it's hard to beat Instapaper.

For the latter use case, Stash currently has some glaring omissions. It doesn't save things for offline reading, it simply saves links that go to the page in question. Thus, it also doesn't provide an environment to read articles in, can't narrate articles to you, etc. I found it more distracting and difficult to try and get through my queue of links to read later, because each one brought me to its respective site with all of its ads and links to other articles that inevitably drew my attention away from the reason I saved that page in the first place.

On the other hand, as a link organizer, Instapaper wasn't really designed for that I don't think, and Stash does that very well (for the most part). With Stash, it's easier for me to jump in and find what I'm looking for, and the fact that it's already automatically filterable by type most of the time is very helpful. The browser extension is more useful for organization freaks, because you can tag, categorize, notate, set a reminder, etc. at the same time that you save the link, in a very intuitive way. If you like saving things and moving on quickly, Stash's extension seems to pop up immediately just about every time for me when I save something, whereas sometimes Instapaper's extension can take a few seconds, or once in a while a long time, to show up with a confirmation that it saved the page (and you can't do anything with it once it comes up like with Stash, it's purely a notification).

Mobile Apps

As mentioned in the Features section, both services offer cross-platform mobile apps. I'm an Android user, so that's the platform that I'm going to be talking about here.

In the Android department, the Instapaper app is currently leagues ahead of the Stash app. It's very stable, it has a nice UI, and all of its features work well. It's a pleasant app to use.

On the other hand, the Stash app for Android is still very rough around the edges based on my experience with it. The interface looks very much like a hacked-together iOS app, as if they built it to try and match the look and feel exactly of their iOS app exactly even though that's not how an Android app should generally look or feel. The UI elements are very stark and oddly spaced out in my opinion.

Additionally, the Stash app seems to crash regularly in the background, causing me to eventually uninstall it for now and give it some more time.

If what you want is a really great mobile app, I'd recommend Instapaper right now--Stash needs more time in that department.

Web Apps

The web apps for the two apps are more comparable. Instapaper and Stash both have great web versions. I have no complaints at all about Instapaper's web interface.

Stash's interface has a few quirks--bulk tagging doesn't seem to work right for me, there's no paging so my 6000+ links I imported are all just on one page (although to the app's credit, it's not slowed down at all). But overall, it gets a lot of things right, and as a link organization service I think it might be easier to use than Instapaper. But due to its feature differences (see above), your mileage may vary.

Decisions, Decisions

You might be wondering which one I'd recommend over the other at this point, but it's still too early for me to tell.

I'm giving Stash a solid try right now--I've uninstalled Instapaper, imported my links from Instapaper and Diigo flawlessly into Stash, and have been really enjoying the browser extension and web app. I could see myself organizing all my links in here long-term.

On the other hand, I'm already missing Instapaper's gorgeous interface and wonderful reading experience. I hope that Stash starts to adopt more of the typical read-it-later features along with its innovative approach to link management, so that there's less that I miss about other services.

To Stash's credit, the things I miss from Instapaper haven't been enough to get me back to it just yet. If you're willing to stick it out while Stash becomes more mature, I'd recommend that you give it a try! But if you rely heavily on the great reading experience that Instapaper provides, then you should probably hold off for now and stick with what seems to be the best reading experience of any of these apps.