The only PDF reader

GoodReader is a robust feature-rich PDF reader that is my killer application for the iPad. A PDF-reader sounds too simple to be a killer app until you realize that no one else has gotten it right.

I have tried reading PDFs on a PC, a Kindle, an iPhone, and, of course, printed out on paper, and every single format so far has failed miserably. The Kindle’s slow response time, small screen, and lack of effective zoom means that it can’t adapt to the various formats commonplace in PDFs (I haven’t tried the larger DX, but in talking to others the gripes remain the same). The iPhone, while adaptable in its small size, simply doesn’t have enough real estate to read PDFs effectively. Furthermore, scrolling through endless pages of PDFs on my laptops is clunky and poorly thought out, owing to the added bulk of a laptop or desktop, and the horizontal nature of the screen.

I am relieved that my struggle with reading PDFs has been solved by GoodReader. The iPad’s versatile vertical and horizontal format makes for easy reading, while the ability to flip through pages with touch eliminates any of the awkwardness of the Kindle or PC. GoodReader also uses tabs for quick switching between PDFs, a feature that I believe neither OSX Preview or Acrobat has really gotten right.

Outside of reading and reviewing, GoodReader takes advantage of the iPad’s touch input by allowing for easy highlighting, text input, and drawing. Marking up PDFs on an iPad, while not professional-caliber, far exceeds the day-to-day utility of something like Adobe Acrobat Professional, while matching all the benefits of good old pen-and-paper without the associated reams and reams of paper.

Another problem GoodReader resolves is the management of PDFs. Having a dedicated, easy to access management system means I don’t have to search through thousands of files on my laptop. The layout makes it easy to organize PDFs into folders, but the killer feature is the ability to sync GoodReader to DropBox or other servers. Now, when I edit or mark up a PDF I can easily save it and access that copy from anywhere without the hassle of email, or manual syncing.

It seems strange that a PDF-reader would become the killer application on the iPad, but it also makes sense. When it was first released, the iPad was a curiosity; a blank slate without a specific use. As it has matured, the flexibility and familiarity of touch-input plus paper sized high-res screen and long battery life has created an almost-perfect format for working with PDFs. And GoodReader is the application that has made it happen.

-- Oliver Hulland 08/8/11

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