October 16, 2014

Pocket Premium: A Review

Yesterday, less than an hour before an entirely different version of this review was about to go live, I received an email from Pocket’s community manager, Justin:

Hello again, Shibel!

I have some great news for you — we finally heard back from our search partner, and were able to track down the the cause of some of the search operator issues that you reported.

The good news were that almost four weeks after I’ve reported a series of bugs, Pocket Premium’s search was no longer dysfunctional. The not so good news, for me at least, were that the 2,508-word review that I was about to publish was rendered irrelevant.

This made me think about why technology fascinates me to the extent it does, especially web and software: If you ship a tangible product with faulty hardware design, like a phone, you’re screwed. At least until your next production batch. If you launch a broken web app, though, you can fix the most significant of issues very quickly. Your only dependencies are your own priorities and skills.

Anyway, here’s the revised review.

The way I organize what I read online, which I wrote about in January, has changed. This is a review of Pocket Premium and my experiences while using it as the sole tool for reading and filing articles. I’ve been using Pocket Premium for almost a month now, testing it very actively for the first two weeks.

Unique Circumstances

For me, a good bookmarking service allows the user to send links independently of where they are, or what OS they’re using. At home, I have a MacBook and an iPad. At work, I’m forced to work on Windows PCs with corporate settings, something that prevents me from customizing them for my needs. I can’t install bookmarklets or browser extensions, let alone applications.

It doesn’t help, either, that I work in a news-desk, which at many stages of the day can be an inordinately busy and chaotic place. This means that I can’t bring my MacBook there, because someone will inevitably spill coffee, sit, or stomp on it. Moreover, I often have to give my seat pretty quickly during sudden emergencies and events, so staying logged in to my web accounts isn’t an option. Try standing in the way of a producer whose interviewee isn’t picking up two minutes before his show starts.

The Previous System

The way things worked previously was that I used Pocket (the free version) not only as a read later service, but also as a docking station” for stuff that I may want to save to Evernote for future reference. What I save doesn’t have to be an article: it can be a YouTube video, a product homepage that I want to check out later, or a tweet with an embedded image1.

So, at different stages of the day I’d scan my Pocket list, and there would usually be three kinds of items on it:

  1. Articles that I saved to read later: This is the typical use case of Pocket. Some of these articles would be tagged and sent to Evernote once they’re read, and some would get archived inside Pocket.

  2. Articles that I’ve already read and wanted to save to Evernote: Funny, but Pocket was (and is) better at sending bookmarks to Evernote than Evernote’s own apps.

  3. All kinds of other content and media that weren’t really text, but that I wanted to save for one reason or another.

For this type of role, Pocket has a few strong advantages over its competitors:

  1. Wider and better support by browsers and third party developers.

  2. A better sharing system on iOS: Pocket uses its own share sheet and supports export to a plethora of services. Better yet, sharing is done in-house, meaning you don’t have to leave to the destination app to share something from Pocket. For Evernote, you can tag an article quickly from the share sheet, something that isn’t possible in Instapaper because it sends you to the Evernote app. Which, you know, sucks just like Evernote’s apps.

  3. Save by email: I called this the X factor” in my workflow review in January, and it still is, especially when I’m browsing at work: I don’t have to be logged in to any service, not even my own email address, to add something to my Pocket queue. I just set up Pocket to accept all items sent to add@getpocket.com from my workplace’s address, and since Outlook is always open there, adding an item is a breeze.

  4. Tags: Instapaper, for example, uses folders, which limits the user to one reference point per article.

My previous workflow was entirely device agnostic, something I always look for in services and products. But its weakest link, Evernote, gave me little incentive to take advantage of the hundreds of items that I’ve accumulated. What made working with Evernote such a bad experience were its iOS and (especially) OS X apps. I don’t think I need to expand on how buggy and slow they are; anyone who’s used them knows. CEO Phil Libin himself admitted in January Evernote wasn’t focusing on the core experience,” and promised better Evernote apps were coming in a matter of weeks”.

As I was writing this review, Evernote rolled out version 5.6 of their OS X app, a few days after shipping version 7.5 of their iOS app. On Macstories, Federico Viticci seems impressed with Evernote’s new sharing extension on iOS, and while it does sound versatile, it still does not support tags(!). As for OS X, while Federico writes that he found the new version to be faster and more reliable than before,” it’s not something I can corroborate since this version hasn’t hit my local App Store yet.

In any case, for me the ship has already sailed.

What Changed

A few things have changed since January, the last time I revisited my workflow:

  • Pocket launched Pocket Premium, with three features that aren’t available for free members. I’ll cover those in a bit.

  • One month later, Pocket began offering a 45% lifetime discount ($25 instead of $45) on its annual Premium plan to original Read it Later Pro” customers, who I’m one of.

  • iOS 8 was released in September, introducing extensions.

  • Evernote, meanwhile, continues to be Evernote, and I don’t have the patience for it to prove otherwise.

Pocket Premium: Features

The trigger for trying Pocket Premium was iOS 8: Pocket’s extension was the first I tried, and sharing from Safari worked great, letting me send and tag items quickly and intuitively. This is when I decided to give it a go, as each of its three major features had something in store:

Permanent Library

This looked like the perfect opportunity to ditch Evernote.

I’ve verified with Pocket’s support that it does not only save the parsed text, but also the HTML version of web pages. This is important because these parsers will sometimes trim articles prematurely, and miss (or mess up) certain elements like images and tables2. Having the HTML version as a backup is a must for those situations.

Suggested Tags

Many of the articles I read have recurring themes: Technology, Apple, finance, and statistics. If Pocket Premium spares me some or most of the tagging, that’s great. This feature also helps eliminate tag redundancy (e.g. iOS-8, iOS 8, and iOS8).

And suggested tags work excellently. Pocket nailed this feature. It isn’t particularly sharp” when you first start, only offering generic terms, but once a certain tag has been added manually, it’ll suggest it in future texts. It’s really good.

Powerful Search

Pocket promises several additional search features for those who upgrade to Premium: While the free version only searches by titles and URLs, Pocket Premium’s search FAQ advertises full-text search, search by topics and authors, multiple tag search, and the following advanced operators:

OR — Find items with either search term AND — Find items that include both search terms NOT — Find items that include the first term but not the second term sample” — Find the exact phrase +sample — Requires that the search results include this search term -sample — Requires that the search results do not include this word

Note: The search operators are case-sensitive.

When I started testing it about a month ago, Pocket Premium’s search was broken. There isn’t any other way to put it. The above operators simply weren’t working as expected. As a customer, I was very disappointed. As a reviewer, I was dumbfounded by the fact it hasn’t been noticed yet. Fortunately, Yesterday Pocket’s support informed me that they’ve fixed the operators bug that I had reported, so this section was revised.

Still, search with Pocket Premium leaves a lot to be desired. Here are a few of the tests that I’ve carried:

Say I want to limit my search for articles that contain the term Steve Jobs”. If I type in Steve Jobs” Pocket finds the articles that contain these words. But what if I want to look for an article with the word job”? Typing either job or job” still returns articles that also appear for Steve Jobs”. Yes, some of those Steve Jobs articles also contained the term job”, but many didn’t. It seems that Pocket’s double quotes operator is very forgiving.

I also tried searching for Steve Job”, which shouldn’t return any results, and while Pocket listed less items this time, many articles still persisted. I went further and gave Pocket +Steve Job” and +“Steve Job”, and Pocket still pushed results with Steve Jobs.

Pocket also displayed completely irrelevant results from time to time. Continuing with our Steve Jobs example, it listed this article in my search results: Neither of the words Steve” or Jobs” appeared in it, and definitely not Steve Jobs”. I went to the original page to see if any of these terms appear outside the article — and they don’t. It’s an article about iTunes, so maybe Pocket is trying to be extra smart here? But I’m typing Steve Jobs” with double quotes, so it should only find the exact phrase” as advertised.

When using the search bar to perform a full-text search, Pocket will look in both the archive, and the reading queue, displaying results from both. You can then filter those results to show only articles that are on one of the lists. But if you select a tag from the drop-down menu, Pocket will only display results from either lists, the one you’re currently looking at. So if you have an article in your archive tagged with keyword, Pocket won’t find it unless you switch to view that list first. When I’m searching for something, I want to find it. I don’t care what list it’s on.

Frustrated, I tried to resort to searching with tags, like I used to do with Evernote. But there seemed to be no way to search only for items that are tagged. Pocket rectifies this by giving tagged items higher priority, so they always appear at the top of search results. I can live with that.

But you can’t use operators on tags, and you can’t select multiple tags from the drop-down menu either, which means you can’t search for multiple tags. Yes, you can give Pocket multiple terms that may or may not be tags, but you can’t search only for articles that are tagged with iOS 8 and tips, for example.

Additional Quibbles

When using the (very basic) double quotes operator, Pocket doesn’t like capital letters: Looking for ios 8″ returns expected results, but iOS 8″ shows none.

On Pocket for OS X, the search bar is placed at the bottom, which to be honest, for an app that was originally designed to be a read later” service, makes sense. But not for the app that wants to be the holy grail of bookmarking. I’m not a UX expert so take my observation here with a grain of salt.

The only way to add a link to Pocket on OS X is by pressing + S, which will populate the queue with the last URL in your clipboard. You aren’t offered to tag an article once it’s added, and worse: Pocket’s OS X app doesn’t suggest tags, even if you’re a Premium member See Update Below. This is a minor issue because most times you’re adding an item from your browser, and Pocket’s browser extensions do suggest tags if you’re a Premium member. But still, what if I want to organize my list on my Mac?

Update on October 21, 2014: Pocket for OS X 1.6 was released last Friday, the same day Yosemite became available to the public. This new version does support premium features, and it does so nicely. Click the tags icon or press T and you’ll be presented with a list of suggested tags.


A good library allows both to easily archive items and find those items when the need arises. Pocket Premium does the filing part admirably with its iOS extensions, wide third party support, and suggested tags.

But the other half of the job — retrieval — needs serious work. Pocket Premium launched on May 28, 2014, and you’d expect better polish after more than four months.

I want to be fond of Pocket Premium, and I’m definitely fond of their support team: Justin has been very responsive with all my questions and complaints, and even extended my subscription (unsolicitedly) by one month as an appreciation of reporting the operators bug (which, as mentioned, was fixed yesterday).

Pocket is still the best read it later” service, but at the time of this writing, it still hasn’t graduated from that to the bookmarking Swiss army knife it wants and promises to be. I’m keeping my Pocket Premium subscription for now, but given its relatively high price, a fix for its search issues can’t come soon enough.

  1. I like to hoard graphs for some unexplained reason and there are two people I follow that frequently post some of the most interesting tech related graphs: Horace Dediu and Benedict Evans↩︎
  2. All parsers, not just Pocket’s. ↩︎
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