PDFs on iPad

In response to a question on another thread I thought I’d mention a few apps I find useful for dealing with PDFs.

For organising PDFs,try:

  • Papers for academic articles. Papers allows searching and organising by detailed metadata (author, date, journal, book, etc) as well as smart and static “folders”. Syncs perfectly with the desktop version (Mac & now Windows) that also allow citation and bibliography management within third party apps.

  • GoodReader for general PDFs. Although not the most user-friendly PDF reader available, it is very flexible and powerful. I read and annotate the majority of my PDFs using GoodReader, even to the point of transferring them to my iPad in order to do so. You can do this using the “Open in…” command on your iPad or by syncing a GoodReader folder to a WebDav folder. Which leads to Cubby…

  • Cubby is similar to DropBox, but leaves it for dead in terms of ease of use and flexibility. Any folder on your computer can become a “cubby” and can then be shared with other users in your immediate network or via the cloud. And it is WebDav compliant so any app that can access WebDav folders can access a Cubby (with the correct log-in credentials). I have two cubbies (one specific to a current project, plus a general one) set to sync with GoodReader so that I can read, and annotate, PDFs where-ever I am.
    Cubby also allows increased security over and above that provided by DropBox. i.e. DropBox staff can, however unlikely, access your data. While this is also possible with Cubby, you can create an extra level of security so that no-one can access certain Cubbies without authorisation from you - if you forget your credentials then that data is gone (which is a good thing for the security conscious).

The above are great for organising, reading and annotating PDFs. However, writing is still a chore and I am looking forward to Scrivener on the iOS so that I will be able to efficiently work on my writing as well. Keith has done a commendable job in creating ways to sync our information with other apps, but nothing is as elegant as native sync will (hopefully) be.

Nom, thanks for an outstanding post.
I use Papers and Goodreader, but had not heard of Cubby.
Now off to give it a whirl; many thanks!

Yes, thanks.
H (trying to work out how to use his new iPad Mini for greatest writing effectiveness)

While I use GoodReader for annotating PDFs, I would point to other two apps: PDF Expert and iAnnotate. GoodReader has proven solid and well conceived even with weighty files. Its user interface is not the prettiest one, but I don’t plan to switch, since it has been working so well.


This thread is excellently timed, as I just got an iPad for Christmas in anticipation of a certain event, and in a desire to put the thing to work in the meantime, I’m trying to find the right app for reading and annotating PDFs–mainly in the context of editing/proofing but also for marking up notes and research (though not anything like doctorate thesis level). The three I keep seeing talked about are iAnnotate, PDF Expert, and GoodReader; I’d ruled out the last one initially mainly due to a my impression from some reviews that it was a bit more limited and the UI wasn’t so great, and I thought I’d finally settled on iAnnotate before I got to messing around with some note taking apps and realized what a huge difference the zoom windows for handwriting makes. So now I’m wavering, because I think I read that GoodReader has such a zoom for freewriting and iAnnotate (and PDF expert) both just require pinching to zoom in and out. Frankly, I am awful at pinching; I never seem to get both fingers going at the same time so that it recognizes the gesture and I end up making stray marks everywhere or making the whole screen shudder at being in the hands of such an incompetent user. I can only hope this is something that will improve with time, but it remains that once I have zoomed, I then have to hold the iPad and stylus at awkward angles to write, whereas with the dedicated handwriting zoom I can write more comfortably at the bottom of the screen. On top of that I like seeing the regular-size view of what I’m writing in context and some of the handwriting apps have a nice auto-advance feature, but that aside, I still think for the extended handwritten margin notes I’m intending, such a feature would be excellent.

So I’m back to indecision here. Most of the more helpful reviews and demonstration videos I’ve found that say something worthwhile about specific functionality are all several updates old, and it looks like iAnnotate at least has had some rather big overhauls in the UI department and elsewhere; UI was one of the main things people had against it compared to PDF Expert, but it seems more comparable now. And I’m a sucker for colours and customisation, so I leaned toward iAnnotate over what seemed PDF Expert’s main selling point, the ability to fill out forms. Frankly, I do not have to fill out that many forms and if I do, I can do it on a computer. But if I found out PDF Expert had a handwriting zoom, I’d probably hop to that. Or maybe iAnnotate already does, and I just haven’t seen anyone mention it? Augh! Such indecision.

The other key features I know I’d like are the ability to easily switch colours for highlighting, to extract and compile the highlighted text (even better would be to do this by colour, but that’d just be icing)–preferably to RTF or TXT, but PDF is workable–and to scroll through the PDF continuously rather than having to swipe for each page (though with some kind of option to jump to specific pages). I liked the multiple tabs of iAnnotate and now PDF Expert, which I’m not sure GoodReader has, but I think most of the other things can be done more or less by all three.

Any thoughts on this from those of you who’ve used one of these apps? I’m just running around in circles! :confused:

Another similar app that seems to have gathered quite a lot of attention is PDFPen. Its Mac cousin appears to be a market leader. But like Jennifer, I find comparing and evaluating the latest versions of all these not straightforward.

I only use GoodReader so I am not sure I can be of much help. I like it, obviously, since I am not looking around for alternatives. But it could be that my needs in the PDFs department are limited. As a form of help, I want to provide my general experience with text editors on the iPad. I have way too many. I noticed that over time they all tended to converge, to have similar features. There are still differences between different apps, but they are getting smaller and smaller. I think that’s what’s going to happen for apps for PDFs on the iPad. I’d pick one app and stop agonizing.

Oh, I will eventually. I like a little drama first. 8)

Can GoodReader extract just the annotated portions of text in some way?

Me too. Otherwise, where’s the fun?

Yes, it’s the main use I do of it. After you have highlighted and annotated a PDF document, you can mail yourself a “summary” (or the annotated PDF). Annotations appears like this one:

[size=85]— Page 6 —
Highlight (yellow), 27/dic/2012 01:05, PT:
che sono il risultato di un rapporto di comando e di obbedienza e che vengono compiuti senza un diretto interesse

Note (yellow), 27/dic/2012 01:05, PT:
Cfr. Kant: Che cos’è l’Illuminismo (in Foucault).

Not as elegant as iBooks on ePubs, but it works great.


Paolo beat me to it and I’m kicking myself* that I forgot to mention that this is one of the best bits of GoodReader. This export feature works for all text annotations, not just highlighting. So any notes you make will also be exported, along with a description of where the note is. The only annotations I don’t think are exported are free-style notes (e.g. handwritten notes or drawings).

For me, the reasons I stick with GoodReader over the alternatives are:
(1) the export features
(2) syncing (via WebDav,DropBox, Google Drive, SugarSync, box.net, mail servers, FTP, SFTP, AFP or SMB)(3) easy highlighting with a simple way of changing between 4 colours (yellow, green, red, blue, or adding your own custom colour).
(4) ability to set the screen zoom for the entire document (and lock the screen rotation)
(5) because I have a tendency to collect apps so I deliberately limit myself with my work apps to ones that I actually use and that will play nice with other apps. Other PDF apps may very well work just as well, but I need to draw the line somewhere. GoodReader works well, so I stopped trying to find a “better” app and now get work done. :slight_smile:

GoodReader and Cubby are two of my most used apps on the iPad.

[size=85]*gently and with great forgiveness[/size]