After buying and testing far more Pinboard apps than any sane person should, I’ve concluded that Pinner is the best of the bunch. But believe me, it’s a close call these days.
Update Sep 25, 2015: Pinner just recently it received a huge update to version 4.0, that sports a slew of awesome new features:
For one, the design of Pinner has been refreshed with some changes to the colors, a new layout for the iPad version, and a slightly updated icon.
Functionality-wise, Pinner works with the iOS Spotlight search integration. Which means you can search your bookmarks from Safari on your iOS device.
Additionally, the build-in browser in Pinner now uses the Safari View Controller, which means when opening your Pinboard links from within the app you’ll have access to the same sessions, cookies, passwords, and more that you normally would from Mobile Safari.
On the iPad, Pinner supports Slide Over and Split View multitasking.
Ever since the iOS App Store opened over six years ago, there have been several varieties of “UI playgrounds” — categories of apps that share a common idea or platform but are implemented in very different ways. Twitter clients, podcatchers, RSS readers, and weather apps are a few such examples. Somewhat inexplicably, the market for Pinboard apps has exploded in recent years, becoming a developers’ playground all its own.
As fans of Pinboard who consume a lot of web content, the challenge before us was obvious: put all these apps to the test and declare a winner.
What is Pinboard, Anyway?
“…I’ve fallen in love with Pinboard. I’ve been using in it earnest ever since the day Yahoo said they were sunsetting Delicious, and now I feel stupid for not switching years ago. Even if Delicious survives, I’d never go back now.”
— Brett Terpstra
If you’re unfamiliar with Pinboard, it’s an awesome bookmarking service created by Maciej Cegłowski in July 2009. There have been many bookmarking services over the years, but Pinboard has certain advantages that put it way above the competition.
For one thing, it’s super fast — the starkly-designed website consists mainly of text and hyperlinks, so the page loading time is nearly instantaneous. The search function is similarly quick, even when dealing with large numbers of bookmarks.
But don’t be fooled by its looks. Underneath the barebones exterior is a flexible, fully-featured platform with plenty of resources for geeks to take advantage of, such as tags, APIs, and bookmarklets, oh my. It’s an extremely flexible and reliable web service.
Pinboard is not a free service though. As of January 1, 2015, a basic account costs $11/year.
However, if you really want to get the most out of the service, there is a $25/year upgrade by which Pinboard will archive the entire contents of your bookmarks on its servers. That way, if something you’ve bookmarked ends up getting taken off the web, you don’t have to worry because you’ve still got a copy. Another bonus of this upgrade is full-text search, which is super handy.
“I use Pinboard to bookmark and archive webpages as much as I rely on it as a discovery tool for interesting links and users.”
— Federico Viticci
Everybody uses Pinboard a little bit differently. Some people tie it together with a service like IFTTT to auto-save all of their tweets as they’re published. Some use it as a read-later service, à la Instapaper and Pocket. Personally, I use it as an archive for all the stuff I care about most on the web — the articles, blog posts, videos, podcast episodes, and quotes that teach or inspire me in some way.
So, once you’ve got your Pinboard account up and running (see here for The Sweet Setup’s primer on Pinboard), the question becomes, what is the best iOS app for managing, adding, editing, viewing, and searching your bookmarks?
The criteria: how we picked the best Pinboard app
To determine the winner, these were the guidelines used to help narrow down the competition and find the best of the bunch:
Quality reading experience — Easily the most important criterion. The way I see it, good bookmarks aren’t these things you save and forget about, never to be read or referenced again. They deserve more respect than that — why else even sign up for something like Pinboard? And besides, there’s no point using these sorts of apps if you’re not going to use them to read your bookmarks.
Needless to say, the reading experience must be top-notch.
Simple and fast — Two of Pinboard’s primary strengths are speed and simplicity. The same should be expected of any premier Pinboard app.
Easy bookmarking — Pinboard offers official bookmarklets for saving bookmarks from Safari, and they’re really quite useful, but what about other apps? Before iOS 8, all we had were workarounds. A select few apps granted the ability to send content to Pinboard (or directly to specific Pinboard apps using x-callback-url schemes), while the Pinboard apps themselves offered auto-recognition of pasteboard URLs on launch.
Thanks to iOS 8 and its share sheet extensions, the days of workarounds are over.
Modern design, updated often — What can we say, we like knowing our favorite apps are being actively developed and will be around for the foreseeable future. It also helps when these sorts of apps take advantage of new capabilities within iOS, such as the share sheet extensions mentioned above.
Universal app — It used to be that some of the better Pinboard clients were only available on iPhone. Though that is not so much the case anymore, we want to be clear that a universal app is still a requirement for our needs.
There’s something to be said about having access to the same quality experience on all of our iOS devices. Plus, we’d rather not have to spend money on multiple clients just because of platform incompatibility.
Fully viewable bookmark descriptions on the main list — Maybe I’m in the minority here, but I use the ‘description’ field extensively for all my bookmarks. These notes can serve many purposes: jogging one’s memory about bookmark content, highlighting article passages and quotes, listing helpful timestamps for videos, etc.
I put a lot of care into my bookmark descriptions, so they should be as visible as possible.
Access to Pinboard’s various sections (Popular, Network, etc.) — Pinboard is more than just a collection of your own bookmarks — there are some built-in social features that allow you to discover what your friends and the rest of the Pinboard community are bookmarking. It’s like a rabbit hole of interesting stuff to read.
Bonus points for 1Password integration — My theory: only developers who pay attention to the finer details of user experience ever think to put a 1Password login button in their apps. It’s an easy way to tell right from the get-go that you’re about to use an awesome app.
(Note that price wasn’t a consideration. More on this later.)
The top three
With my list of criteria in hand, it was time to test every iOS Pinboard client I could get my hands on. They are all good in their own ways, but there are three apps that truly stand out from the pack:
Pinswift » ($5 — Universal)
I really like Pinswift in most respects. It’s simple and sensible to use, plus every section of the app is clearly marked or color-coded so you’re never lost.
During initial tests, Pinswift lost points for not being a universal app, but that has since been remedied — sort of. The iPad interface is really just a stretched-out version of the iPhone UI, and I think it could make better use of all that screen space — for example, having a permanently-displayed sidebar that doesn’t overlay the bookmarks list when summoned.
Pushpin » ($10 — Universal)
Elegant and fun, with all the features a nerd could want. Pushpin used to be our top pick (and we still think it’s awesome), but that was before the major update to…
Pinner » ($5 — Universal)
We weren’t always in love with Pinner. It wasn’t even in our top 3 when we first published this review. But with the release of iOS 8, and Pinner 3 with it, that all changed. In a surprising feat of display, Pinner has overtaken Pushpin as our top pick.
This is the first example of such a thing ever happening on The Sweet Setup since it launched a year ago. This wasn’t an easy choice to make — our team debated it many times over the past two months. The fact is, both apps are so good we could easily recommend either one and call it a day. They both have their respective strengths and weaknesses, without much overlap.
It’s tempting to simply call a tie and be done with it, but that wouldn’t be fair to our readers. The goal of The Sweet Setup is to settle precisely this sort of question: Which is the best app? So now, I will make a case for why Pinner is the new best Pinboard app for iOS.
Our pick: Pinner
This is how I briefly described Pinner 2.0 in the original version of this review:
“Adheres very closely to iOS 7 design guidelines, for better and for worse. The search function is nearly as quick as Pinbook’s, but portions of the app are sparse on contextual information, or are oddly labeled.”
I still stand by this description. Pinner 2 was an acceptable Pinboard app, but just didn’t compare to greats like Pushpin and Pinswift.
To say that Pinner dramatically changed between 2.0 and 3.0 would be an understatement. What was once a “meh” in our book has become the premier Pinboard experience on iOS. Many kudos go to developer Sam Oakley for his excellent work.
Let’s start with the main bookmark list. Pinner has dropped the often strange UI and overly-minimal iOS 7 aesthetic in favor of a style more akin to Reeder.
Bookmarks are now displayed way more sensibly, with improved typography and a cleaner layout that won’t confuse the eye as the old interface did. No longer do I mistake the datestamp and URL of one bookmark for another’s, and the addition of displayed tags for every bookmark makes my inner organization freak happy.
The reading experience
On iPad (where the majority of my reading time is spent), bookmarks are displayed in the left-hand sidebar. Tapping one loads the page in the reader pane / web browser on the right. At the top of this pane are two buttons: Original and Optimised.
[We forgive Mr. Oakley for the latter button’s British spelling, and will honor — er, honour — it for the remainder of this review. —Ed.]
These buttons are exactly what you’d think: a display toggle between normal web pages and an Instapaper-like reader view. I keep Pinner in Optimised mode nearly always. Text loads quickly and beautifully, while bookmarks remain easily accessible on the left. I like that it doesn’t automatically take over the screen the way Pushpin’s reader does, so I can switch between bookmarks with a single tap.
This pane comes with a bevy of reading options, such as font, font size, text alignment, margin size, and line height. It can also be toggled to remember your last-read position, á la Instapaper.
Though not quite as customizable as Pushpin’s reader, Pinner’s is configurable enough for me. Not that I needed to customize it much anyway, since the default settings are so nice.
As for the bookmarks sidebar, what I find interesting is that it shows every single bookmark from my account in one long scroll. There is no “keep scrolling down and loading more bookmarks” process — at least, not that I’ve ever seen.
Out of our top three apps, Pinner is the only one that includes a dark mode for reading and browsing at night. You can toggle this option in Settings, or simply triple-tap the top bar at any time. Pushpin has color options for its reader pane, but they’re not applied app-wide.
Lastly, Pinner’s dialog to add a new bookmark when it detects a URL on the clipboard shows only as a little message at the bottom of the navigation menu. I mention this fact under “reading experience” because it’s just so awesomely unobtrusive. The other apps employ pop-up overlays that must be dismissed before proceeding, which can be annoying if you just happen to have a URL copied to the pasteboard you had no intention of bookmarking.
Speed and performance
On top of loading bookmark text quickly, Pinner has always been the fastest to launch in my tests. On my iPad 4, it typically cold-launches in ~1 second, with Pinswift coming in at ~2 seconds and Pushpin at 4+ seconds.
My one issue with Pinner here is that it doesn’t automatically display my bookmarks on launch, but rather the navigation menu. Pinswift shows my bookmarks, but doesn’t always auto-refresh the list. Pushpin is the only one that takes me directly to my most recent bookmarks on launch, but again, it’s also the slowest to load.
Even with that one quibble against Pinner, it still sweeps the competition when it comes to reading bookmarks, especially several in a row. Granted, all three apps open web pages at about the same speed, but when it comes to “optimised” modes, there’s no contest. Switching between optimised bookmarks on Pinner is a breeze, with text loading in less than a second even for lengthy articles.
In Pushpin, text loads fairly quickly but the full-screen reader view must slide up from the bottom first, every single time. It also must be dismissed before switching to another bookmark. These extra taps and animations are not actually slow or overly cumbersome themselves but they make the experience feel slower in the aggregate. (I say this knowing that most “normal” users will never notice or care about the difference. As a writer at TSS it is my job alone to be this picky about small things.)
Pinswift doesn’t even have a leg in this particular race, as it does not maintain the “optimised” setting between bookmarks. Every single time, you must load the web page itself, then tap the glasses icon — which causes the screen to essentially blank out for several more seconds while it generates the Instapaper-mobilized page — and then, the mobilizer must be exited before switching to another bookmark.
It seems like a small thing, but those seconds add up.
On the topic of in-app browsers, I prefer Pinner’s over the competition, in an admittedly subjective way. Its navigation layout makes sense to me, it can go full-screen in a single tap (though I rarely need it to), and in general feels more pleasurable to use. But that’s a difficult opinion to quantify. Others may prefer the layouts and general feel of Pushpin’s or Pinswift’s browsers.
It should be noted though that the browsers of all three apps exhibit weirdness when clicking links to new pages from within their respective optimised text views.
Upon clicking a link in Pinner’s optimised mode, it will exit that view and load a regular web page. This would be fine, except this new page cannot then be optimised by tapping the button up top, for that only loads the bookmark’s own optimised view again. And once you’ve done that, you can’t just switch back to the Original toggle and get the newer web page back — you only the bookmark’s own web page again.
Pinswift will exit the Instapaper mobilizer and visit the link, but if you hit the back button, it doesn’t reopen the mobilizer, but rather the bookmark’s web page. The mobilizer has to be re-enabled. Like I said, those seconds add up.
Pushpin’s behavior is the strangest of all. If you click a link from its optimised view, it doesn’t even attempt to open that page. It just exits the optimised view and puts you on the bookmark’s own web page. More of a bug than anything.
As you can see, there’s no clear winner here. Luckily, I rarely come across this issue in daily use.
Ah, share sheet extensions. Certainly one of the most exciting new aspects of iOS, which is a dorky thing to say, but still very true. For example, 1Password’s share extension makes it easy to log into your accounts in various apps, and the View Source app lets you view a website’s source code and image assets in Safari.
As for Pinboard apps? To put it simply, they reduce the friction of adding new bookmarks to your account. Whereas I used to depend solely on Pinboard’s official Safari bookmarklet, now I can easily send links to Pinboard from just about anywhere a share button exists in iOS — even Pocket Casts. And it all happens in the background, without ever having to open the respective Pinboard apps.
It may come as no surprise by now that out of our top three, I prefer Pinner’s share extension. With ‘Autofill’ enabled in Settings, it automatically pulls a webpage’s title when adding a new bookmark, and in Safari it can even fill the description field with any text you’ve highlighted on the page beforehand. Very handy.
Pinswift’s extension also pulls highlighted text from Safari into the description, but adds
<blockquote> HTML tags for some reason. Also, at first glance it seemed I could not interact with the suggested title and description text at all — the only options given to me were “Paste” and “Paste as Blockquote.” That is, until I learned you can swipe right on either field to accept the suggestion and edit from there, or swipe left to dismiss it. A nice touch, though it’s totally unclear this is possible without thoroughly reading the App Store release notes.
Pushpin, on the other hand, does not pay attention to anything you’ve highlighted. Instead it tries to pull a description of its own, but not always successfully. In my experience it either pulls the first few lines of the article being bookmarked, or the site’s own tagline, or sometimes nothing at all.
Interestingly, Pinner and Pushpin each have two share extensions: one for basic bookmarking, and one for saving ‘Read Later’ items. But it doesn’t really matter in the end — all three primary extensions already have ‘Read Later’ toggles, as well as privacy toggles.
The runner-up: Pushpin
I know that so far it sounds like I’m griping about Pushpin, but it really is a stellar example of interface design. It was our top pick this long for a reason.
The layout is nice and clean, with plenty of contextual cues to help you know where you are at all times — for example, any section you navigate to within the app will cause the top bar to change color based on that section’s icon. The main screen is blue, the ‘private’ list is yellow, etc.
Though Pinner is our new top pick, there are still areas where Pushpin excels. The first is search.
“I’ve never had a problem finding exactly what I was looking for [on Pinboard]; I can’t say the same for bookmarks I’ve had on my Mac.”
— Shawn Blanc
There was once a time when Pushpin didn’t take full advantage of Pinboard’s full-text search capabilities. When the 3.0 release came along, it allowed Pro accounts like mine to enjoy searching the contents of entire archived articles in addition to titles and tags. As of this writing, Pinner has not yet taken advantage of full-text search.
Trust me, you haven’t lived until you’ve successfully located a story you saved forever ago by searching for some weird, obscure word you knew was somewhere in the article.
I wouldn’t necessarily call it instantaneous search — that is, if the results are being loaded while the user types, Pushpin shows no sign of it. The results don’t appear until after the final keystroke, but they do appear very quickly at that point so it’s not bothersome.
I recommend using Pushpin’s search operators if you want to get the most out of its search bar. Using modifiers such as
description:will help you specify the exact thing you’re looking for. For example,
"the sweet setup" AND tweetbot NOT title:mac will tell Pushpin to search for any bookmarks containing “the sweet setup” (be sure to use quotation marks if you want an exact phrase) and “tweetbot”, but exclude results with “mac” in the title.
To see how other operators work, go into Pushpin and navigate to Settings → Feedback & Support → Search tips and it will give you some more examples.
Notes and Quotes
For me, one of the most important features of Pinboard is the description field for each bookmark. Whenever I save something to Pinboard, I typically paste in the quote that I feel best sums up the article overall. This way, I can easily scroll through my bookmarks and read all the most important stuff without ever having to open another webpage.
A bonus side effect is that if I ever want to link to something on my blog, The Spark Journal, I’ve already got the best blockquote ready to go.
Any Pinboard app that makes these descriptions fully viewable in the bookmarks list gets bonus points in my book — and both Pinner and Pushpin do just that.
In Pinner, there is a Settings toggle called Show extended text in list that does exactly what you’d think. When it’s off, descriptions aren’t shown at all. When it’s on, they’re shown in full. Nothing in between, which is fine by me.
In Pushpin, you can easily toggle between ‘compressed’ and ‘expanded’ states in one of three ways:
- Tap the pin icon at the top.
- Use two fingers to pinch the list open or closed.
Go into Settings → Advanced Settings and hit the Compress bookmarks switch.
The compressed view limits descriptions to two lines and tags to one line. The expanded view displays bookmarks in all their glory, showing their full descriptions for easy reading. Sure, you can’t fit as many bookmarks on-screen this way, but when I need to find something specific, I just use the search tool rather than manually scrolling through my entire list.
- Pinswift offers no such setting that I’m aware of. On an iPad in landscape mode, you can see a fair amount of the description text but most of mine are long enough to be truncated at the end of the row.
When it comes to accessing description text — say, to copy it for use elsewhere — Pushpin and Pinswift have a slight edge over Pinner. In either one, swiping right on the bookmark brings up an info page, where a single tap (either on the description itself or the Edit button, depending on the app) takes you to the description text editor with a blinking cursor at the end. Swipe and tap, that’s it.
Pinner takes a slightly more circuitous route. To access descriptions, you must swipe left on a bookmark, tap the now-revealed More button, tap the Edit button on the info dialog, tap on the Description line, then tap the text editor to insert a blinking cursor.
It’s not enough to make me switch away from Pinner, but boy is this interaction tedious at times.
Social Bookmarking for Introverts
The heading above is how Pinboard bills itself, and I think it’s a wonderfully apt description. You can set your account to be totally private (which I have), you can open your list of bookmarks for all the world to see, or you can find a mix of the two extremes by only setting some bookmarks as private.
“Pinboard was designed from the ground up as private bookmarking system. […] By setting my bookmarks as private, there’s less of a risk I might accidently expose some bit of research I would rather keep under wraps.”
— Gabe Weatherhead
Pinner, Pushpin, and Pinswift all provide easy access to these community sections and more in the sidebar menu, as any Pinboard apps worth their salt should. From any of these sections, you can add bookmarks to your own account or view the accounts of whomever originally bookmarked those things.
- In Pinner, swipe left on a community bookmark to reveal three buttons:
- More — Not really all that useful, as it only brings up a dialog with a share button.
- Author — Takes you to that user’s list of bookmarks.
- Copy — Brings up a dialog where you can edit and save the bookmark to your own list.
In Pushpin, tap-and-hold on a bookmark to either copy it to your account, copy the URL, or share it elsewhere. To view the author’s account, tap their username beneath the bookmark.
In Pinswift, swift right to bring up a dialog where you can share the URL, tap the author’s name to view their account, or use the Copy to Mine button.
In this regard, there is really no “winner” as all three apps more or less provide access to the same things.
All three allow you to show/hide community sections in your navigation menu, though I will say Pinner and Pushin offer far more customization options than Pinswift. For example, they let you reorder sections to your liking, and you can create saved searches for things you want easy access to at all times. Pinswift only has show/hide options.
Pushpin has the slightest edge with saved searches, since you can create them using combinations of tags and users. Pinner developer Sam Oakley tells me tag combos should be coming in the next update (as of this writing).
A Note On Pricing
Pinboard clients are not generally known to be the cheapest type of iOS app. Pushpin is $10 alone, while many others are around the $5 mark — Pinner and Pinswift included. But that’s not how we think about these things, nor do we support the “race to the bottom” mentality that is so pervasive in the App Store.
For example, when we first wrote this review, we knew early on that Pushpin would probably make our top 3. So, rather than having a criterion that required the top pick to be cheap, we tried to figure out if Pushpin was good enough to be worth the extra money. In the end, we decided that it most definitely is. Thus, if $10 is a fair price to pay for a quality piece of software (and we think so), then everything beneath that amount is fair game as well.
The point may be moot anyway since every Pinboard user, by definition, is someone who doesn’t mind spending a few bucks to use an awesome service.
The other apps tested
You might be wondering, “Which Pinboard apps didn’t make the cut, and why?” Here’s the list, with a brief summary for each one:
Pinbook ($5 — Universal) — This was once the Pinboard app to have. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been updated since June 2013, and it shows. We’re not even sure this app is still being worked on.
Pincase ($4 — Universal): It’s hard to put my finger on the reason, but to me this app looks like it was designed by Google, and not in a good way. (Update: since original publication, this app appears to have been pulled from the App Store entirely.)
Pinhole (Free — iPhone only): Pinhole is about as simple as it gets for Pinboard apps. There’s no fluff to be found, but there’s no fun or delight either. It also hasn’t been updated since February 2013.
Pinned ($2 — iPhone only): This is going to sound totally shallow, but I just don’t like the way Pinned looks. And since it didn’t have any unique features that put it above the competition, it quickly got weeded out during testing.
Pinbrowser ($1 — Universal): Pinbrowser’s emphasis is more on sharing and discovery than dealing with your existing bookmarks. This is perfectly fine, but not the type of thing we were looking for. I would call it more of a “companion” app than a standalone client.
Pinline ($5 — iPhone only): I believe Pinline is the newest of the bunch. I was a beta tester before its release, and although it’s a perfectly adequate app, I’ve never really been blown away by it.
Like I said earlier, it was a tough decision to make Pinner our new recommendation. We still love Pushpin’s more-advanced features, but we are more concerned with the reading experience above all else, and to us Pinner is simply better in that regard.
Pinner is one of the best ways to interact with Pinboard on iOS. If you’re a fan of Pinboard (and you should be), do yourself a favor and buy this app because it’s the best.