I know it has been a long time coming, but here it is, a review on the most popular 3 PDF Editing programs for the iPad. I have been contemplating on how to compare the 3 apps for a few days now – how to set it out etc on wordpress, so this may be a bit messy if you are trying to read it; I will do my best to make it as legible and succinct as possible. The 3 apps being compared are all in their latest versions (PDF Expert just released version 4, iAnnotate released 2.1 a couple of weeks ago).
You can find them here:
PDF Expert 4 ($9.99 USD)
iAnnotate 2.1 ($9.99 USD)
GoodReader 3 ($4.99 USD)
NB: Price varies in different countries for the apps – I paid more in AUD for them.
The review is actually long and tedious – If you are after something quick, I suggest looking at the pictures and reading the conclusion down the bottom ;)
Update: As requested, I have added examples of the export options of each app and what they look like on desktop. Currently using Adobe Acrobat Reader X
If you have read some of my earlier posts, you would know I use Dropbox as my main cloud app to store all my files – books, photos, lecture notes etc. But what happens if others don’t use Dropbox? Here’s what I found:
- Goodreader – Can connect to a variety of servers – Google Docs, Dropbox, SugarSync, WebDav, MobileMe, POP3,/IMAP FTP, SFTP, Box
- iAnnotate – Can connect to Dropbox, Box, WebDav or Webpage
- PDF Expert – Can connect to servers exactly like Goodreader + Readdle (Their own server); They don’t connect to POP3/IMAP though
- Goodreader & PDF Expert allow for WiFi transfer which is very handy – just type in the iPad’s IP address and you’re able to upload to your iPad (Security is available for those who are paranoid). iAnnotate does not.
- Setting up to automatically syncing files from Dropbox is easy (for all 3 apps)
- iAnnotate only allows you to mirror your files/folders in Dropbox – you cannot move files or folders around
- Goodreader & PDF Expert allows you to move files/folders around on your server as you please
- Goodreader allows you set syncing parameters – you can download files only, delete local files or delete remote files mode – I must admit, these different modes confused me a bit, it was altering and timestamping files that it deemed to be “altered” (you can see that in Fig 2 with the “laws1100 lecture 5s” files)
- iAnnotate and PDF Expert allows syncing in the background so you can access you files while it’s updating others (Refer to Fig 3 & Fig 5)
- Goodreader requires you to wait whilst it syncs with the server – not practical (Refer to Fig 2 )
- PDF Expert 4 has the new thumbnail view of each file (Fig 4), and it also allows for drag & drop which is brilliant! Again, I love its simplicity – less is more
- Goodreader (can’t drag & drop) & iAnnotate (can drag & drop [Fig 1]) – all seem to have the same functionality as PDF Expert but fails to look nice & clean – I get a headache looking at the options available in Goodreader (Fig 2)
- iAnnotate is the only program that is able to convert Doc/docx, ppt/pptx files into pdf
- Update: Not everything is converted accurately in iAnnotate – I have noticed that equations/formulas from my economics lecture notes (pptx) don’t appear at all; certain bullet points (arrows for example) don’t appear properly also. Having said this, not every app is perfect – my Quickoffice Pro HD (which is designed specifically to view/edit docx/doc, ppt/pptx, xls/xlsx etc) can’t view the same equation either from the same economics lecture pptx file (it was a total waste of money purchasing this app – I don’t use it at all) (Fig 19 shows this clearly)
- Goodreader & PDF Expert can view word & powerpoint docs but cannot convert to annotate
- iAnnotate & Goodreader allow multiple files opened at once – tab viewing
- PDF Expert is only one at a time
- iAnnotate does not lag when zooming in and scrolling around the document
- Goodreader & PDF Expert has a delayed reaction, especially around pdfs with graphics
- iAnnotate has the side thumbnail view which is very useful for scrolling large documents (Fig 9)
- PDF Expert requires you to click onto thumbnails button to view thumbnail of each page (ie can’t view thumbnail on same screen as the main document)
- Goodreader doesn’t have thumbnail view? I can’t seem to locate it
- iAnnotate & PDF Expert both have stamps (iAnnotate more so [in terms of variety & customisabilty] than PDF Expert)
- Goodreader gives you the option to change page layout to view single or double pages (does warn you though that it may slow down the iPad)
- Goodreader also allows you to extract the text from your pdf (not sure why would want to do this?) and to rotate all your pages to the right/left/upside down etc (which I like, since I read in bed sometimes and changing the orientation is handy)
- PDF Expert allows you to add blank pages to your document under thumbnail view
- iAnnotate allows for this as well, but it’s sluggish – so you end up tapping the “add page” icon a couple times, thinking it didn’t respond, but then find out later that it was just lagging & now you have two blank pages instead of the 1 (it actually crashed on me the last time I tried adding pages)
- Can’t find this function in Goodreader?
- PDF Expert – Undo/Redo button is the best function you can ever put into an editing program
- PDF Expert search function within pdf document is far superior to Goodreader’s (iAnnotate doesn’t have one, or I can’t find it?) – it shows a preview of where the searched term appears in the document (Fig 6)
- Finally managed to find search function in iAnnotate (works really well, better than PDF Expert’s, as it is off on the side panel) – but the bulky highlighting + thick border of the searched term in your document impedes reading (Fig 5)
- Both PDF Expert & iAnnotate searches through annotations as well, which is very handy
- iAnnotate has best highlighting tool – has highlighting end cursors, easier to use & more practical
- After my last review, PDF Expert seems to have up their anti on highlighting – it is more sensitive & responsive to your touch – on par with Goodreader’s highlighting tool
- iAnnotate has also added signature function in the latest update so it’s on par with PDF Expert in that aspect
- Goodreader doesn’t allow you to change fonts?? I’ve searched high and low for an answer to this, but it seems to have 1 font – old school typewriter font which looks horrible! (Fig 7)
- Goodreader’s typewriting tool was an immediate turn off for me when I first used it (Fig 8) – Adding text (whose font you cannot change) with the text box window taking up half the screen is frustrating when you need to read some of that obscured information as you’re jotting down notes at the same time
- iAnnotate’s Font option is slightly annoying too – taking up a good top right quarter of your screen (Fig 9)
- iAnnotate’s font to stamp function (Fig 9) looks useful – you can save your typed text as a custom stamp & use that stamp time and time again, instead of copying and pasting the text each time
- PDF Expert’s text editing again is clean and simple (Fig 6), doesn’t annoy you or hog up all your screen space
Free hand writing/Drawing
- Hands down, Goodreader has the best drawing function – it has the “zoom in” function that allows you to write super small on your document. It also has the palm rest area for you to rest your palm on (Fig 10)
- Neither PDF Expert or iAnnotate have this feature
- PDF Expert has a variety of presets which you can set your colour (limited to 9 colours), brush thickness, opacity (Fig 12).
- iAnnotate’s customisable toolbar allows you to set your own presents if you wish. Although you have the option to chose from a whole spectrum of colours, it takes up a third of your screen (Fig 13)
- Goodreader doesn’t have presets but its menu options for drawing is very intuitive and practical (Fig 11)
- The eraser function on PDF Expert is superior compared to the other two apps - you can erase what you have drawn whenever you like
- With Goodreader & iAnnotate, you can only use the erase/undo function in that time frame you drew/wrote in pen – after this, you can only delete
- iAnnotate’s toolbar is highly customisable – this is a curse and a blessing (Fig 14)
- Unlike the other two apps, whereby it remembers your last settings used for typing (font, size, colour) or drawing (colour, thickness, opacity etc), iAnnotate will continue to default back to the original settings, unless you create a preset for it
- This is highly impractical as you will end up with 5 different presets for 5 different font sizes, or highlighters – for different colour highlighters
- Update: As Arno pointed out in the comments, in iAnnotate’s latest update, it now remembers your last preference when highlighting/underlining/typing so you won’t have to set as many presets (one of the main reasons why I started using PDF Expert)
- Although you can have up to 8 customised toolbars, all the icons look the same, so how do you know which is the one you want? For example, if I set 5 different presets for 5 different font sizes and add them to my toolbar, how do I know which preset is which font size? Yes, I can arrange them in ascending/descending order but still, it’s not practical to do so if I have 5 other highlighters and whatnot (Fig 14)
- Update: I made an error here – the specific highlighter colours are distinguishable in the icons, the font sizes if set too closely together eg 6pt, 7pt, 9pt, 11pt etc, can be indistinguishable
- iAnnotate – it will extract full pages that have been annotated into a new pdf (you can then email or “open in” this – Fig 27)
- PDF Expert – it will extract only the sections that have been annotated, highlighted, underlined etc into a txt document (Fig 28 – 30)
- Goodreader – Does the same thing as PDF Expert but puts it into pdf file (Fig 31-32)
After using all three apps, I still find PDF Expert to be the most intuitive app to use. It’s aesthetically pleasing with its clean and simple look. Although it doesn’t have tabbed browsing, nor is it as customisable, it has all the basics and implements them very effectively. Tools are easily accessible and effective. So what if you can’t choose the colour you want for your highlighter or font from a whole spectrum of colours? It’s not a major issue for me, so long as the basic colours are there.
Goodreader just confuses me with its syncing options, and although several of its annotating abilities are unique, the typewriting tool with its big text box & mono font was a major turn off for me – I use the typewriting tool a lot, to jot down notes in lectures, so to be able to read the lecture notes and add extra notes at the same time is important. Besides those drawbacks, I find Goodreader to be really good – it’s clean and simple, much like PDF Expert. I really like the “zoom in” feature for handwriting – but I use Notability (which also has the zoom in feature) for drawing graphs, equations etc freehand, so it’s not a major setback if I don’t use GoodReader
iAnnotate is a highly customisable app. There are so many tools you can customise yourself and set (the toolbar, the stamps, individual presets etc). The conversion program built in is brilliant but its only ability to mirror server files is like having my hands tied – can’t do much about them at all. The major setbacks with iAnnotate are that some of its simple tools take up 1/4 or 1/3 of the screen when it shouldn’t have to, and the customisable toolbar – I really don’t have the patience to set the presets nor the time to remember which preset is which colour or size etc.
So in the end?
If you are looking for a good cheap app, or one that has a good freehand/drawing tool, go with Goodreader – its half the price of the other other two.
If you prefer to be able to convert files over to pdfs and have the patience to customise all your settings and toolbars yourself, go with iAnnotate
If you’re like me and want something practical and efficient for typing or drawing, stick with PDF Expert!
I hope this review helps – please leave questions (if any) and I will do my best to answer! Happy Easter guys & gals :)