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Why do so few Mobile Web Browsers Offer a Distraction-Free Reading Mode?

I am having a problem, and you might be able to help.

Earlier today I set out to write a post which was going to round up all of the mobile web browsers and explain how to access the ad-free reading mode. I wanted to show you how to find a way strip out the ads and see something like this demo of the "Reading View" mode from Amazon Silk:


That looks a lot better than the average web page (which would likely be encumbered with ads), right?

I was going to write a post which explained how to find this kind of reading mode in all the leading mobile browsers, and that brings me to my problem.

Most mobile browsers don’t have this feature.

If you’re browsing the web from the iPad or iPhone, you can find a feature like this in Safari (it’s called Reader Mode). If you’re browsing from the Kindle Fire, Silk has a similar feature called Article View. And at least one Kobo tablet (the 2012 Arc) has this feature in the stock web browser.

But if you want to browse from Chrome, Firefox, Opera, or Dolphin, you’re out of luck. None of those browsers have this kind of reading mode – not on Android, anyway.

Update: Or perhaps I am wrong about Firefox. Some versions of Firefox do have this feature:

There are Chrome and Firefox plugins that will add this feature, but I can’t find a version of those plugins which will work with the Android version of each web browser. And while Dolphin supposedly has a plugin which does the job, it doesn’t work for me. (If I missed a hidden feature on any of those web browsers, please let me know.)

This being 2014, I was expecting this to be a standard feature on all mobile web browsers, but it is turning out to be rather hard to find.

So here’s how you can help. Do you know of a way to access a distraction-free reading mode in a mobile web browser?

If so, share it in the comments. I would like to find alternatives, and I’m sure that I am not the only one. While most mobile web browsers are good enough that this reading mode is not required, I still like having the option.

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Eric May 2, 2014 um 4:42 pm

IE offers it natively in Windows Phone 8.1. It’s amazing how fast I got hooked on the great readability.

Nate Hoffelder May 2, 2014 um 5:01 pm

Thanks, I forgot about Windows Phone.

Chris Meadows May 2, 2014 um 6:57 pm

The technique given here for getting the Readability bookmarklet working with Chrome for Android worked for me, though I couldn’t get his method of getting the "*read bookmarklet to pop up by swiping from something to an asterisk to work at all. I had to type "*read" all the way out and tap on it.

Nate Hoffelder May 2, 2014 um 7:08 pm

That’s not exactly simple but it’s better than nothing. Thanks!

Chris Meadows May 2, 2014 um 7:11 pm

For some reason, you have to do it that way, with a symbol in the status bar (I ended up going with # instead of *, because it’s on extended press on one of the letters on my Swype keyboard) and then tapping the listing for the bookmarklet. Opening the bookmarks and tapping on the bookmark listing there doesn’t work.

But once you’ve used it once, just hitting the # should be sufficient to bring up the listing in the URL history.

Jessica May 2, 2014 um 8:04 pm

Dolphin has a plugin for Android. Not a very good one, but it does.

I was actually reading your post from Reeder 2 on my iPhone. I personally find the article view modes on web browsers annoying. The only reason I use it in Safari is so that I can get a clean printout/PDF to push to Evernote and my Kindle.

The main problem for me is that I have to do this for everything I want to read. Which is why I’d rather just save the page, and read it within something else. Some people use Pocket just to save the articles, and then use their personal RSS feed to stick it in Feedly and read within apps like Press (Android), Reeder 2 (iOS), and Nextgen Reader (Windows Phone).

Will May 2, 2014 um 10:55 pm

Instapaper also makes a read now bookmarklet similar to Readability called Instapaper Text:

Here’s a twist. It’s not for in-browser viewing, but Brett Terpstra makes a web-page-to-Markdown converter that uses Readability’s mobilizer as the front end to remove clutter before providing the Markdown version of an article. You can then view in a favored Markdown editor or app (such as Editorial). There is a bookmarklet available so this can be done by a simple touch from the web page:

Bart Anderson May 3, 2014 um 12:47 am

On my Kobo tablet, the native browser came with this feature.

Recently I started using Firefox, and it too had a similar feature (Readability I think) – the little book icon in the address window, as Felix mentioned. It handles most but not all pages.

An alternative that should work for all platforms is Pocket (like Instapaper and Readability). Once Pocket is installed, you just click on the little heart icon A readable, ad-free version is sent to the Pocket app. You can view it right away. You can also view it on all your other computers and devices that have Pocket installed.

Nate Hoffelder May 3, 2014 um 6:35 am

Which Kobo tablet?

Edit: I just found the option on my Kobo Arc. Thanks for pointing it out; I honestly hadn’t thought to check the stock web browser.

Bart Anderson May 4, 2014 um 4:09 pm

I have the original Kobo Arc 7″ tablet, running Jelly Bean. I really liked that feature on the stock web browser. Unfortunately, that browser kept crashing, so I moved to Firefox.

BTW Nate, I think you are right to call attention to the "distraction- free reading mode". A lot of people don’t know about it and how it transforms the reading experience. I spend most of my time in that reading mode or in Pocket (~Instapaper and Readability).

Nighty May 3, 2014 um 4:43 am

HTC’s browser used to have this feature, you just had to press an icon which basically for arrows with the heads outlining a square and the shafts almost meeting in the centre. The browser still has it but only for saved pages (saved as in for offline reading, not as in bookmarked).

I have to agree, I wrote like the feature and wish it was more standard. I’m guessing some browsers don’t do it natively since it canbe unfair to websites tostrip them of ads since that removes their source of revenue (kind of that manifesto for faire ads from adblock or whoever).

David May 3, 2014 um 8:34 am

I don’t know what version of Firefox mobile you looked at, but on MY android devices, it’s always had reader mode. When you’re on a page, just poke the little icon that looks like an open book in the address bar.

Nate Hoffelder May 3, 2014 um 10:04 am

I downloaded it from Google Play on to my Kobo Arc tablet running Android 4.1.

Here’s a screenshot:

Felix May 4, 2014 um 8:50 am

It took me some time to notice that icon at all, and even longer to even consider tapping it. And maybe it was new in Firefox 28. Who knows. In any event, I can easily imagine Mozilla not wanting to advertise such a feature — it would make them even more unpopular with, well, advertisers than stuff like AdBlock.

Oh and by the way, it turns out the feature is less than perfect — for some reason, many images in the page content don’t show up. And sometimes they’re important. But it’s there.

Nate Hoffelder May 4, 2014 um 9:04 am

I checked, and I have FF 29. Maybe it was removed?

Whateveragain May 5, 2014 um 9:43 am

I checked. The FF reader-mode is available in this site, but not on some others. It’s limited by something site-dependent. I did post this before but it’s no longer here. Was it because I mentioned mobileread?

Nate Hoffelder May 5, 2014 um 9:52 am

I haven’t removed any comments.

oj829 May 7, 2014 um 3:17 pm

The original B&N Nook tablets' caged browser had a very quick and responsive "article mode" for any web page you had open. Later Google-friendly SW updates which obliterated the Nook’s native browser never got pushed to the original Nook Color (probably not the Tablet, either) so one-tap article mode is still on there.

Nate Hoffelder May 7, 2014 um 10:18 pm


Aurobindo Dharsaun January 5, 2016 um 8:24 am

Google makes 97% of its revenue by selling ads. So, a native reading view in Chrome would actually be a big blow for Google.

That being said, the distill web page experimental feature can be enabled by accessing it from chrome://flags.

Badboytim December 5, 2016 um 9:43 am

In current google app store for desktop chrome version, there is an extension called "Enable Reader Mode" just to update readers who may have stumbled upon this older article. I have not had a problem with the extension…yet!

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