Instapaper 4 sports a new look and new features

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Perennial Macworld favorite Instapaper ( ) scored a shiny coat of paint with Monday’s release of Instapaper 4.0. The app sports a new layout, improved reading modes, more social browsing options, an integrated search option, and a slew of other improvements and bug fixes.

For the woefully uninitiated, Instapaper is an app coupled with a Web service that acts a bit like TiVo for articles. When you surf across an article you’d like to read later, instead of leaving a browser tab open indefinitely, you save the article to Instapaper for later reading on your own time. The Instapaper apps for iPhone, iPad, and the Web present the article cruft free, without the navigational elements or advertisements that surrounded the content on its native website.

Among the many new features in Instapaper 4.0 is an entirely new design. On the iPad, the app no longer relies on a full-screen list; articles are instead presented in a grid layout. The iPhone layout has been cleaned up a bit too. Like most e-reading apps, Instapaper now leaves off its topmost status bar by default when you’re reading, offering more reading space with fewer visual distractions.

In another improvement, many articles will now include the site title, author name, and publication date when available.

The scroll bar is now draggable; tap and hold for a moment to enable quick scrolling throughout the article you’re reading. And for easier nighttime reading, Instapaper includes revamped brightness controls. Previously, on the iPad, Instapaper offered pseudo-brightness controls that (necessarily, per Apple’s rules) achieved results through contrast trickery. Under iOS 5, Instapaper's brightness slider leverages your device’s true brightness controls—and it works on the iPhone, too.

It’s now easier to read articles with footnotes in Instapaper; for most websites, such notes will now appear in a popover when you tap, instead of requiring you to scroll to the bottom. Tapping and holding on a word can continue to use the app’s built-in dictionary, but you can also configure Instapaper to use the iOS 5 system-wide dictionary, in addition to performing term lookups on Wikipedia.

Instapaper 4.0 makes some tweaks to finding articles as well. In addition to continuing to show articles your friends have Liked with Instapaper, the app can now pull all links posted to your Facebook news feed, Twitter timeline, or Tumblr dashboard for you to browse.

The new search feature—offered only to subscribers who pay $1 per month—searches the complete text of every article you’ve ever saved to Instapaper, whether unread, filed, or archived.

Instapaper 4 is a free upgrade to previous owners of the app; it costs $5 for newcomers, and requires iOS 4.2 or later.

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