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The Best PDF Reader Apps for the iPad

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 iPad PDF reader apps available on the App Store right now are featured below.

Best PDF Reader Apps for iPad  – ‘iBooks’

Apple’s native e-book reader is perhaps the worst choice for in-depth PDF reading. Although the app recently gained the ability to include PDFs alongside e-books, its features are still severely limited. The interface is the slowest among all the apps we tried, taking up to two seconds for a single page to be rendered (an instantaneous action on better readers), and you have no way to highlight, annotate or copy any of the text from the PDF. The search function works well, giving you access to Wikipedia and Google for a Net search if needed, but it kicks you out of the ‘iBooks’ app and into Safari instead of doing the search in-app. We’d only recommend ‘iBooks‘ for the most casual of PDF readers.

Price: Free
Verdict: Skip it.

Best PDF Reader Apps for iPad – ‘GoodReader’

The baroque ‘GoodReader’ interface might frighten off users with little patience, but this economical app still sports a few fantastic features. Besides reading PDFs (which it renders lightning-fast), you can also transfer images, audio and video files supported by iOS, as well as HTML, text files, and MS Word and iWorks documents. ‘GoodReader’ features an in-app Web browser for downloading files and surfing, and also connects to your PC wirelessly, appearing as an external drive onto which you can simply drop your files. Sadly, ‘GoodReader’ doesn’t currently allow you to highlight, or copy directly from, the PDF file, although its text-reflow feature does convert the PDF to plain text (as do all of our other apps aside from iBooks). It’s not the best reader by any stretch, but the $0.99 price tag makes it a good buy for spendthrifts.

Price: $0.99
Verdict: Lacks highlighting and annotation, but sports enough features for poor students.

Best PDF Reader Apps for iPad – ‘SmileyDocs’

In addition to PDFs, ‘a href=”http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/smileydocs/id368456815?mt=8″ target=”_blank”SmileyDocs’ reads a variety of formats, including Word documents, PowerPoint files and plain text. It allows you to highlight passages in your PDF — although the highlighting is rather crude, almost like painting over the words with your finger. You can make annotations to your documents, but neither they nor your highlights are saved to the file so that you could view them on another device. The menu bar along the bottom is extremely frustrating; you must hold your finger against the iPad for a few seconds before it appears, but you have to make your selection quickly before it disappears again. Unlike ‘iBooks,’ ‘SmileyDocs’ allows you to access your iPad from a separate computer to transfer your files via a temporary FTP; alas, we could not get this feature to work. Pages render quickly and zoom well, but the poor interface makes it a questionable buy.

Price: $0.99
Verdict: Good for crude highlighting and notes, but not much else.

Best PDF Reader Apps for iPad – ‘ReaddleDocs for iPad’

Compared to the last few apps, ‘ReaddleDocs‘ was a revelation. Its interface is organized and familiar, looking not unlike the ‘Mail.app’ for Mac users. ‘Readdle’ renders pages quickly, scrolls right-to-left with a finger swipe, and allows the selecting/highlighting/copying of text. Even better, it features an in-app browser for downloading docs and accessing Web pages, as well as connectivity to remote servers (like your laptop) and e-mail attachments. It reads MS Office and iWorks files, gives in-app access to your iPad’s photos, and allows you to quickly e-mail attachments from within the software (even compressing to a .zip if you need). Our only beef with ‘Readdle’ is that the highlighting feature is somewhat frustrating; we tended to highlight the wrong passages on pages with multiple columns, as the app uses the same kind of awkward gesture for highlighting as the iPad and iPhone do for copying and pasting. Still, for only five bucks, it’s worth its weight.

Price: $4.99
Verdict: Decent, well-rounded reader.