My job requires me to read a lot of articles, mostly from academic journals almost entirely in Portable Document File (pdf) format. And until recently my way of managing this reading load has been surprisingly…analogue. This process—aggregating, mass printing, reading, and binning or archiving articles—pleases no one less than it does me. It kills a lot of trees. And it requires me to handwrite annotations—which is doubly painful, since handwriting’s always been very challenging for me and I often can’t read my own handwriting a day or more after taking notes.
I have tried managing things more digital with my various computers. To date none of the apps I’ve tried on my Macs (Photoshop, Acrobat Pro, Preview, Graphic Converter) has allowed me to seamless mark up my pdf files. Ditto my iPad. Until now.
A few months ago a colleague and I were discussing apps we use on our iPads. She mentioned how awesome PDF Expert was. It sounded pretty good, but I was buried, work-wise at the time. So I filed the info away and added to my “revisit when bandwidth allows or practicality necessitates.” As it happened, both converged a couple of days ago.
This week I found some bandwidth. Also this week I took a good look at the reading requirements for this program, which I’ll be starting in September. In fact, I went and downloaded all the readings. Gulp!
Why it rocks
My analogue workflow for reading articles is rather straightforward: print ‘em, highlight bits, scribble comments in the margins (often with a smug sense of superiority; thanks for that, uh, perspective, Mom.), dog ear any pages that merit revisiting, and then transcribe any bits that might be useful for papers or presentations. And then bin the original article. Lots of dead trees.
Here’s the key functionality I’m already leveraging in PDF Expert:
- Highlighting text
- Adding text annotations
- Strike-out text (to flag a point of contention)
- Circle bits of a page (using the draw function)
- Bookmark pages to revisit
- Adding post-its
- Completing fill-in pdf forms
- Add my digital signature to forms
- “Flatten” an annotated pdf to a manageable size for emailing
Of these, 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 fully replicate my analogue workflow. When I have a lot of annotations to make I whip out my Bluetooth keyboard. These features alone make PDF Expert a gawdsend.
PDF Expert is a Readdle product. Readdle offers cloud storage; unsurprisingly, readdle.com is fully integrated into PDF Expert. I’ve not used readdle.com before—or yet, to be honest—but I did sign up for the free user account offered.
Besides, PDF Expert also integrates with iDisk, Dropbox and Googledocs—or a WebDAV server. And you can transfer files between your iPad and another computer on the some wireless hub (password protected or not), since the iTunes sync option (Note to Apple: you’ve got to have a less clunky way of managing files coming with the next version of iOS, right? Right?). The cloud integration is a clever aspect. And for us old skool geeks, when you open an email with a pdf attachment, the Open As… dialogue will allow you to open a pdf in PDF Expert rather than directly in iOS Mail. Sweet as, bro.
PDF Expert is the most useful app I’ve bought since Angry Birds. Easily the best $10 I’ve spent this week.