Matter's Web Highlighter Is Everything Quick Notes Isn't

Here are the 'highlights'

Key Takeaways

  • Matter is a VC-funded read-later service and app.
  • It has the best web highlighter we’ve ever used. 
  • Why aren’t there more web highlighters? It’s just so useful.
Someone looking at a Matter queue on their phone while sitting on an airplane.

Stocksnap / Mockup Photos

Matter is a read-later app and a browser extension for highlighting and saving web pages. And it's almost perfect. 

There are lots of ways to save a web page to read later, from Safari's reading list, which takes the whole page and saves it offline, to Instapaper or Pocket, which turn pages into beautifully laid-out articles. Matter somehow manages to be better than all of these while remaining simple. And now it has scored the winning goal, with its web-highlighting extension. 

"Matter struck me for a few reasons: the app's reader mode is gorgeous; the ability to annotate articles with highlights is great; and, more importantly, it has the best, most human-sounding text-to-audio conversion engine I've ever tested," Apple watcher Federico Viticci writes on his MacStories blog.

The Highlights

We’ll get onto the read-later features, and the app’s odd problems, in a moment. First, a look at the best part of the whole Matter experience: highlighting the web. 

If you read things on the internet, at some point, you’ll want to reference a page, either while you comparison shop, because it’s your job to research things or one of a zillion other reasons. That’s when it would be super useful to highlight sentences and paragraphs right there in the browser, so you can quickly refer to them as you work. 


There are several (but not as many as you’d hope) apps and browser extensions that can do this, but none comes close to Matter’s implementation. Once the extension is installed and linked to your Matter account, you click the button and select the Reader button that pops up. The page loads in a new tab, in Matter’s beautiful text view, with all the ads and other junk stripped out. 

Then you just read and highlight. Hold down the H key on your keyboard to turn the mouse arrow into a pen, and drag over anything you want to highlight. At any point, you can save the article, including highlights, to your Matter queue. Or you can just close the web page when you’re done, and that’s it. 

It doesn’t sound like much, but being able to easily and quickly switch to a reader view, with highlighting, is gold for anyone who works with the web or just likes to read longer articles. It’s desktop-only right now, but on iOS, the app is just as easy to use. 

Matter vs Safari and Chrome

Both Safari and Chrome have built-in versions of this functionality. Chrome’s Highlight Links lets you highlight text and then link to that chunk of text, not just the page it’s in. And Safari’s integration with the Mac and iOS Quick Notes can also highlight parts of the page and save them as snippets, but you have to have the corresponding note open in the Notes app to see those highlights. 

Matter, on the other hand, gets it right. It presents only the text and images and lets you easily select and highlight text. You can even use the Apple Pencil as a highlighter pen if you do it in the iPad app. You can export those highlights (automatically, to supported services) and view the highlights from the current page, all in an easy-to-read overview.

Closeup on someone using the Matter app on a smartphone.

Pixabay / Mockup Photos

It’s so simple and obvious that one wonders why nobody has done it before. Instapaper almost manages it, but you must save the page first and then wait for it to open in the app. 

That’s not to say Matter is perfect. By default, it publishes your highlights for others to follow, and if you switch off public sharing, the highlights turn dull blue instead of yellow. 

“I’m just not comfortable with everything I highlight showing up on a public profile, though,” writes Matter user Greg Morris on Twitter. “Highlights should be private by default, and then I share what I want to share.”

It’s also a VC-funded service and, as such, subject to the usual perils. Your data could be sold at some point t in the future, or the company could be purchased by Google and shut down. You know how it works. 

But until then, it’s the best read-later and highlighter app around. Check it out.

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