This roundup focuses on PDF reader applications and general file viewers and managers for the iPad. These days we're all storing documents online, and sharing more PDFs than ever before, and we need quick and easy access to those files no matter where we are. The iPad is an ideal device to view files, so choosing the right app can keep you productive and frustration free. Some of the best apps available on the App Store right now are featured below.
Fast PDF ($2.99, universal app for iPad and iPhone)
If you've used iBooks, then the Fast PDF iPad app will look very familiar to you. It uses the same bookcase interface as the popular eBook app, which is nice for a change. All of the other apps reviewed for this article used the standard file name listing. You can import your documents via local WiFi, download them from the web via URL, or browse/search for them using the integrated web browser. You can organize documents into folders if you like, and you can also add your own bookmarks to each file for fast access. Almost everything can be accomplished with the right touch controls, explained in the short manual, or a single touch will bring up the tool bar for tasks such as viewing the document outline, adjusting the screen brightness, and changing the settings.
Out of all of the PDF readers reviewed for this article, Fast PDF does the best job of living up to its name. In a word, Fast PDF is FAST, performing better than all of the other readers. It doesn't have some of the advanced annotation features of the other apps, but I am extremely impressed with the performance. Even my largest test file, which weighs in at 12MB, loaded almost instantaneously, and I was able to flick through page after page with lightning speed and without any slowdown whatsoever. If you don't care about marking up your documents and just want a Fast PDF reader, then Fast PDF is the app for you.
gogoDocs ($4.99, also available for iPhone)
If you're a Google convert like me, and all of your documents are already stored online with Google Docs, you'll want to take a very close look at the gogoDocs iPad app. It's a unitasking app, in the sense that all it does is allow you to view your Google Docs, but it works exactly as advertised. Just enter your Google credentials and you're good to go -- the app automatically downloads your documents.
All you have to do is tap on the item you want to view, whether it's a document, spreadsheet, presentation, or PDF. You won't find any fancy features like annotations, notes, or highlights, but gogoDocs is FAST and the scrolling is ultra-smooth. You can email any file to any recipient, and you can also star particular files to ensure that they will be available for offline viewing.
I really like gogoDocs and the app performs extremely well, but I think that it's a bit overpriced for what it does, especially since it's not a universal app. If you're a heavy Google Docs user, however, don't even blink at the price. Being able to access all of your files without having to upload them to multiple cloud services or mess with iTunes file-sharing will save you time, money, and frustration.
GoodReader (99 cents, also available for iPhone)
GoodReader is an all-purpose document management and reader app, capable of handling a variety of formats from Adobe PDF and iWork/Microsoft Office, to plain text, images and videos. It handles even very large files gracefully, and you can also edit some file types. Files can be downloaded from the web, from cloud services such as Box.net, DropBox, Gmail and Google Docs, or via iTunes App Sharing or via local WiFi connection.
The latest update, released Sept. 30, adds extensive new highlighting and annotation features. When you tap and hold to select a specific portion of the text, a popup menu allows you to copy, select, add a note, highlight, markup, or add a freehand drawing to the document. The markup menu includes underlining and strikethrough options, while the drawing menu allows you to add lines. Even better, the first time you annotate a document you are given the option to save all of your changes within the original file or create a copy of the file and save your changes there, so you can keep both the original file and the one you've updated with your own notes and drawings.
GoodReader was already one of the best values on the App Store and deserved a place on every single iPad. Now it's even better, and I can't think of any other app that I can honestly say is worth ten times the asking price. At 99 cents it's simply a must-have.
iAnnotate PDF ($9.99)
If you like to take handwritten notes on your PDF documents, then iAnnotate PDF is the app for you. It has a very clean interface with large, easy to see icons and controls; tap the file cabinet in the top left corner to access your files, or tap the arrow right next to it to download files from the Internet or Dropbox. You can also use iTunes file sharing from your desktop or save an email attachment. The toolbar on the right contains all of the annotation controls, and the one at the bottom is for navigation. The tool bars are fully customizable, so you can create your own if you like.
The app is nicely designed and works very well, even with large files -- I had no problem loading my 12MB copy of the Gospel of John from the Voice. I appreciate the small touches such as the tabbed interface that allows me to switch between documents quickly, as well as handy little graphic in the bottom right corner that helped me keep track of which portion of the page I was viewing. My only real disappointment relates to annotation colors. There is no on-demand color picker, so the only way to change to blue ink instead of red, for example, is to create a custom pencil or highlighting icon for the toolbar.
In all other respects I found iAnnotate PDF to perform very well, and I believe that it would be especially helpful for students -- electronic textbooks are becoming more and more popular, and this app can allow them to still take notes and mark up documents without having to print them out.
PDF Reader Pro (99 cents for a limited time)
PDF Reader Pro is a relatively basic PDF reader, with a clean interface and a few helpful features. You can import files via local WiFi connection or iTunes file sharing, or download them directly from the web if you have the URL.
Once you open a document in PDF Reader Pro, you can use the controls at the top to email it to someone else, view the outline for quick navigation, lock the orientation, or use the night mode to dim the screen for comfortable viewing in low light conditions. The controls on the right side of the tool bar allow you to search for specific text in the document, navigate page by page, or jump to a specific page.
The app generally worked well, but it was not able to load my largest test file, the 12MB Gospel of John from The Voice. The app didn't crash, but it refused to load that particular file, even though none of the other PDF readers I tested for this review had that problem. PDF Reader Pro performs pretty well, but GoodReader has it beat for the same price.
ReaddleDocs ($4.99, also available for iPhone)
Like GoodReader, ReaddleDocs is an app that is designed to read a variety of file formats, from PDF to Microsoft Office. It also has an impressive number of ways to import files, from email attachments and local WiFi, to Gmail and other email services plus cloud storage from just about every service I've ever heard of. You can even sign up for a Readdle Storage account if you like.
Once you open up a PDF document, you'll find a very small toolbar on the top right corner of the screen with all of the controls. You can add annotations and highlights (that will be embedded within the original file), search, a pop-up navigation and sharing menu that allows you to go to a specific page, send the file via email, or reflow the text. The last two icons are for the bookmark feature.
Everything works perfectly, and ReaddleDocs didn't have any trouble with my largest PDF. The interface is clean and all of the features are easy to find and use. The text reflow feature works well, though with a few (expected) hiccups; the real star here is the annotation feature. While it doesn't allow freeform doodles like iAnnotate PDF, the feature is more polished overall. Tap and hold to access the highlight menu, then drag to select and either highlight or copy the text for use in another app.
If you don't want to highlight in yellow, the default color, tap again to choose from the other five available colors, or to clear the highlight altogether. ReaddleDocs is more expensive than GoodReader, but it's still a good value and worthy of your consideration.
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