When the iPad was young, many wondered about its potential as an e-reader. Comparisons to the Kindle, while not entirely fair (they’re different devices, each with a unique purpose) were inevitable. Today, a year into the grand experiment that is the iPad, reader apps abound. Books for kids and adults, as well as Apple’s own iBooks app, fill the store. When it comes to reading PDFs, however, my choice is PDF Expert (US$9.99).
This app features a slew of PDF editing options, generous cloud storage options, a smart “recents” feature, bookmarks, signature support and more. Here’s my look at PDF Expert from Readdle.
In short, this app looks great. On the left, you’ll see four headings: Documents, Recents, Network and Settings. Each is clearly legible and accompanied with an attractive icon. To the right, a detail page seems to rest on top of the background, providing information on whichever option is selected.
In fact, these beautiful, descriptive icons are used throughout the user interface. The supported file types — I’ve been able to open PDFs, Excel worksheets, JPGs and Plain Text files — are identifiable at a glance. Once you’ve opened a file, an unobtrusive toolbar at the top of the screen which features black icons on a field of white. It disappears after a few minutes of inactivity or can be hidden manually with a tap.
Finally, PDF Expert is very responsive on both my iPad 2 and original iPad. There’s no waiting while navigating the UI and even large files stored remotely open at a reasonable speed.
Now that we’ve discussed how PDF Expert looks, lets explore how it works.
Of course, PDF Expert’s usefulness skyrockets once you’ve added some actual files. There are several ways to do this. The first and least exciting is to grab an email attachment. In Mail, tap the attached PDF and then tap the arrow icon in the upper right-hand corner. The Open With dialog appears. Select PDF Expert from the list and the app launches, complete with a copy of your file.
Alternatively, you can sync documents the wired way. Connect your iPad to your computer running iTunes. Select the iPad in the source list on the left, and then click the Apps tab. Scroll to the bottom and you’ll see the file sharing section. Click PDF Expert and then drag and drop PDFs into the window at right. They’ll be sent to the app immediately; no iTunes sync is necessary.
Now for the fun way to add files. PDF Expert supports a number of cloud-based storage services, including iDisk, MobileMe public iDisk (if you know someone’s public address), Dropbox, Google Docs and SugarSync, as well as your own FTP and SFTP server, WabDAV server and Readdle’s one store solution (you can store up to 512 MB of files for free).
Set up is a snap. Simply tap the service you’d like to use, enter your login credentials and you’re set. Now you’re free to navigate your Dropbox, for instance, and open supported files.
Here’s where it gets nice. Files you’ve opened most recently are listed under both Documents and Recents. The Documents listing includes folders and files while Recents only lists files. Additionally, Recents displays the file type and name of a recently-opened file, and they’re kept accessible at all times. No matter where you are in the app, a recent document is always one tap away.
As you’d expect, files open in full screen and can be navigated by swiping left to right and up and down, depending on orientation. You can also pinch and zoom for a closer look. A toggle on the bottom of the page lets you move quickly within a document and the Go To Page option in the toolbar lets you jump immediately to a certain page.
Bookmarks are also handled well. Simply tap the “+” the upper right-hand corner to add a new one, then tap the book icon to browse your list of bookmarks. You can even give them a nice descriptive name, which is better than “page 7” when you’re trying to find that certain passage.
I love the way PDF Expert handles text highlighting. Unlike Apple’s iBooks, which makes you tap-and-hold and then drag to encompass the highlight area, PDF Expert lets you simply draw onto the text. Plus you can choose from among 9 highlight colors (if yellow isn’t your thing) as well as adjust the point size and opacity. It feels more like drawing with a marker than Apple’s solution (If you prefer Apple’s way, don’t worry. That’s possible too).
Here’s a super cool feature. Let’s say you’ve brought a contract to a client meeting on your iPad. Open it up in PDF Expert and once it’s approved (of course it will be), tap the signature icon in the toolbar. A new window appears, with a nice, healthy area for your client’s signature. Once they’ve drawn it with a finger, tap Save and then return to the document. Then tap-and-hold above the signature line and a contextual menu appears. Select Signature to paste the signature. It’s like magic!
Yes, you can easily add your own annotations to PDFs. Simply tap-and-hold over the desired area to produce the contextual menu. Tap Text and then start typing on the sticky note that appears. Tap done when you’re finished and your annotation will appear on the PDF.
You’ll find six settings to play with. The first is a passkey, meant to protect files. Note that your code will be required before opening every PDF you’ve got.
Wi-Fi Drive is pretty interesting. Basically, it gives your iPad an address that allows it to be used as a flash drive with your Mac. It works pretty well.
Other settings include PDF viewing options (scrolling can be turned on and off while in either orientation for example), auto-open after download and options to send feedback to the Readdle team.
In conclusion, I can recommend this app. It looks fantastic, includes support for the cloud services I use, opened every file type I threw at it and boasts some cool features. If you’ve got ten bucks and a hankering for a nice iPad PDF reader, give PDF Expert a spin.