Watch It Later: A Comprehensive Review of four “Instapaper for Video” apps

In the past, I’ve tried pushing videos to Delicious under a “watchlater” tag or adding them to Instapaper, and neither of these options is effective. So it’s great to see this space coming alive, and how! Here are the options.

VHX

VHX is feature-rich, with hipster black background and stretching-to-the-edges full screen app experience. Login: Supports login via Twitter and Facebook. (I wish all the other services here also acknowledged site-specific login is passé. Lazy Reg ftw.)

  • Viewing experience: Uses an elastic layout where you can easily drag the side menu in and out to switch to a “almost fullscreen” view and it’s also easy to switch to completely fullscreen.
  • Discovery: The Channel feature is great – connects to your Twitter, Facebook, etc, as well as general media like BoingBoing, to find videos. There’s also a Dashboard to see your friends’ videos (and apparently the general user community if you don’t yet have any friends!).
  • Social features: You can “like” internal to the site and also share to social networks. The bookmarklet is also social.
  • Archiving: A “history” feature includes all the videos you’ve watched. (It was broken for me just now though.)
  • Bookmarklet and Adding: The bookmarklet identifies all videos and lets you click to add to your queue or share it immediately.
  • Other: One major annoyance is it launches straight into a video from the Dashboard, and this is exacerbated by the fact many of these videos are of the “funny viral” variety (Look! It’s a dog spinning around in circles. ROFLMAOCOPTER.) It would be a tiny change, but make much more sense to launch into your queue.

SQURL

SQURL is also very feature-rich, with more of a “clean website” UI.

  • Login: No Twitter/etc here…need to make a new username/password, etc, you know the drill.
  • Viewing experience: Reminicent of YouTube in HD mode – video takes up most of the screen, with white margins. Controls for sharing/liking available.
  • Discovery: Discovery happens by curation – any user can create a new “gallery” and curate it, and it’s easy to browse these galleries. (Although adding a new video from here to your queue takes 4 clicks – 3 to many!).
  • Social features: As with SQURL, you can “like” internal to the site and also share to social networks. The bookmarklet is also social.
  • Archiving: All your significant actions, not just past videos, are shown in an Activities section.
  • Bookmarklet and Adding: The bookmarklet identifies all videos and lets you click to add to your queue. There’s also a Chrome extension to automatically stick Youtubes/Vimeos into your history.
  • Other: A major selling point is compatibility with many different video platforms, whereas the others seem to be about YouTube and Vimeo.

Instafilm

Instafilm is more about simplicity and has a neat slider to let you filter by time. (I wish it let you choose minimum time, not just maximum; on a day off, I sometimes want to watch a long video I’ve saved up.)

  • Login: Yep, it’s another startup who probably loses 50%+ of potential users because there’s no federated login support. Lazy Registration people!
  • Viewing experience: Didn’t like it as much as the others, found the video relatively small. I like the max-out approach best.
  • Discovery: No discovery. This is arguably a feature – the simplicity helps it to differentiate.
  • Social features: As with SQURL, you can “like” internal to the site and also share to social networks. The bookmarklet is also social.
  • Archiving: Hmm it lets you “Archive” videos, but this seems to mean “Delete”!!! I can’t find the video I archived anymore.
  • Bookmarklet: The bookmarklet is standard, but I did find it reports ok (“filmed”) whether it captures a video or not.

Radbox

Like Instafilm, Radbox is a more down-to-earth experience that will be familiar to Instapaper users.

  • Login:Hurrah! It’s not just “create a new username and password”. You can at least login with Facebook, though other options would be nice too :).
  • Viewing experience: As with SQURL, a YouTube-like experience – video mostly maxed out on white background, with controls around it.
  • Discovery: No discovery. This is arguably a feature – the simplicity helps it to differentiate.
  • Social features: As with SQURL, you can “like” internal to the site and also share to social networks. The bookmarklet is also social.
  • Archiving: No archive as such, but you can add into a “Lists” as a form of categorisation. This feature, albeit basic for now, could make the service grow into a video an organising tool, not just “Watch Later”.
  • Bookmarklet and Adding: The bookmarklet is standard, and there are several other InstaPaper like tools available: a secret email address for inbound mail additions; an RSS feed; adding from Google Reader; and an API.

Conclusion

I’m on the fence between SQURL and VHX.

Key advantages of SQURL:

  • Platform support is a big deal here, and it seems to integrate with many more video platforms.
  • There’s already an iOS app (Android please). To be fair, I haven’t evaluated any of these on mobile, and SQURL does claim an optimised iOS web UI, though they’re also working on an app.
  • The curated galleries feature is excellent, they’re seeded it with a ton of galleries to begin with, and you won’t run out of interesting content anytime soon.

Key advantages of VHX:

  • Better UI. I like the video watching interface better overall, with its maxed-out videos, although some will find the initial jump into the Dashboard a little painful, and won’t stick around long enough to work out how the queue works.
  • One-click adding videos to queue, from within the app.
  • Exquisite bookmarklet. The way you can choose between adding to queue or sharing it immediately is awesome.
  • Channels are an excellent source of discovery, as an alternative to SQURL’s curated galleries, though so far, they weren’t niche enough to interest me. If they can build better curation into channels, ie custom channels made by users, that will be the best of both worlds.
  • Login via Twitter and Facebook.

For now, I intend to use VHX for day-to-day adding to queue…while using SQURL for its collections of videos in the event I feel like watching a random video that’s not in my queue. This may change fast though as it’s clear there will be a ton more innovation down the line.

I hope you found this useful, and please add any experiences or additional services in the comments.

9 thoughts on Watch It Later: A Comprehensive Review of four “Instapaper for Video” apps

  1. Pingback: Quora

  2. We have recently released an iPad app, which is called watchlater (www.watchlaterapp.com ).

    One of the key features of Instapaper is that it lets you save articles for offline reading. We thought that this feature is also very important for videos, since 3g connection are not very reliable for video streaming, and sometimes people also want to watch videos when they cannot be online, e.g. when travelling.

    That’s why we’ve implemented this feature for watchlater – the caching works with most video platforms!

  3. Eray, thanks. I will check it out. Living in London, and flying from time to time too, gives one an appreciation for offline technology, which is why I became a big Instapaper fan. Offline is always welcome.

    Stefan, thanks. I just whitelisted your comment and Eray’s, where he’s mentioned it.

  4. I wrote an app that has been out on iPad/iPhone for 6 months call TubeOrganizer that allows you to save YouTube videos, however, due to YouTube licensing, you cannot download the videos for watching later, that breaks the laws and Apple will not approve such an app.

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