A large number of the files that I handle every day are PDF files. Sometimes it is a PDF of a brief that I filed in court or that opposing counsel filed. Sometimes it is a physical document that I scanned to put it in PDF format. Sometimes it is a webpage that I "printed" by saving it as a PDF (something that all Macs can do, and that Windows can do with the right program installed such as Acrobat Professional). It is often useful to have those files with me on my iPhone so that I can access them no matter where I am. Fortunately, we now have lots of different options for reading PDF files on the iPhone. On my iPhone, I currently have five options:
- Documents to Go
Here are my thoughts on the pros and cons of using each of these to manage your PDF files.
Mail. When you receive an e-mail with a PDF attachment, you can just tap on the file to read it.
PROS: (1) Very simple because you can just tap to read a file. (2) Easy to flick your finger to scroll through a document with a few pages. (3) Very fast. Pages render quickly, and you can quickly pinch to zoom. (4) Just forward the e-mail to forward your document.
CONS: (1) No real storage. As your e-mail gets older and older, you have to hunt for the e-mail with the attachment. As a workaround you can create a Mail subfolder and store the message there. (2) No ability to jump to a specific page, so it can take a long time to flick to the bottom of a long document. (3) If you forward the e-mail to forward the document, the recipient will also see the content of your original e-mail. (4) You cannot view the PDF file full screen; the menu bar is always at the top.
iBooks. Although this app was designed to purchase and read electronic books, it also handles PDF files.
PROS: (1) Very fast. I have yet to see a faster way to view a PDF file on the iPhone. Pages render very quickly. (2) You can store multiple PDF files in the app so that they are there when you want to look at something in the future. (3) You can adjust the iPhone brightness while you are viewing a file, without having to go to the Settings app. (4) If the PDF is searchable, you can search for words, which are highlighted in yellow and easy to see. (5) Tap a button to see miniature versions of 9 pages of the document at once, making it easy to get an overview of the document and jump to a specific page. (6) Slide your finger across the bottom of the screen to quickly page through the document, making it easy to jump to a specific page. (7) You can view the PDF full screen with no distracting and space-hogging menu bars.
CONS: (1) No folders, so all of your PDF files just go in a big long list. (2) No way to change the title of the PDF to something that makes more sense to you. (3) No way to e-mail the PDF file to someone else. The app can receive files, but cannot send them.
Documents to Go. A powerful application that can handle lots of different file types, including PDFs.
PROS: (1) You can store multiple PDF files in the app. (2) Option to see miniature versions of the pages making it very fast to flick through multiple pages. (3) Option to jump to the first page, last page, or a specific page number — and this last option is key for getting through a long PDF file. (4) Full screen view. (5) Lots of options for handling the PDF file. You can e-mail it, you can do a Save As to save it to online services like Google Docs and DropBox. (6) You can open the document in any other app that handles PDF files, so for example you can store the document in this app but choose to open it in iBooks. (7) You can rotate a document. (8) You can access files stored on MobileMe iDisk, Google Docs, Dropbox, Box.net, or SugarSync.
CONS: (1) Rendering files is slower than iBooks or Mail. The app slowly builds each small part of the page at a time. Having said that, it does seem to render a little faster than Quickoffice and Office2. (2) No way to search a PDF file. (3) No way to create folders in the app to organize your PDF files. (You can use a computer to create folders and then sync those folders back to Documents to Go.) (4) No way to change a title of a PDF file, although you can save the file with a different name and then delete the original file which is a reasonable workaround.
PROS: (1) You can create folders to organize your PDF files. (2) You can rename PDF files. (3) You can e-mail a file that is stored in the app. (4) You can access files stored on MobileMe iDisk, Google Docs, Dropbox, or Box.net. (5) Full screen view.
CONS: (1) Rendering files is slower than iBooks or Mail. (2) No miniature page views, options to jump to specific pages, or any other aids to manage large files. (3) You can only manage a PDF file that is stored in Quickoffice. Thus, if you have a PDF as a Mail attachment, you can choose to open the file in Quickoffice to view it, but you cannot save it into Quickoffice. And because the file isn't saved in Quickoffice, you cannot e-mail it to someone else. (4) No way to search a PDF file.
PROS: (1) You can create folders to organize your PDF files. (2) You can rename PDF files. (3) You can e-mail a file that is stored in the app. (4) There is a slider tab along the right that you can use to more quickly scroll through documents, although this method is slower than the options in iBooks and Documents to Go. (5) You can open the document in any other app that handles PDF files, so for example you can store the document in this app but choose to open it in iBooks. (6) You can access files stored on MobileMe iDisk, Google Docs, Dropbox, myDisk, icloud, Box.net, or any other hard drive on the Internet with WebDAV. (7) Full screen view.
CONS: (1) Rendering files is slower than iBooks or Mail. (2) You can only manage a PDF file that is stored in Office2. Thus, if you have a PDF as a Mail attachment, you can choose to open the file in Office2 to view it, but you cannot save it into Office2. And because the file isn't saved in Office2, you cannot e-mail it to someone else. (4) No way to search a PDF file.
Summary. Unfortunately, there is no single app that provides everything that I want. When it comes to just viewing files, iBooks is the best because it is so fast and offers great options to get to different pages in a PDF file and to search a file. But iBooks stores all files in a list with no folders, and doesn't give you an options for getting a file out of iBooks. And because Apple views iBooks as an app for reading books, I suspect that Apple is unlikely to add options to e-mail or otherwise export PDF files in iBooks. Documents to Go renders PDF files slower than iBooks, but it is the best for saving PDF files, sending them to other apps, and e-mailing them to others. Quickoffice and Office2 let you create folders to better organize a large number of PDF files and have some other minor advantages such as the ability to rename a file.
As a result, my current preference is to read PDF files using iBooks, but I really don't have a preference for storing and working with files and find myself using both Documents to Go and Quickoffice, which is not very efficient because I have to remember which app I am using to store a file. If only Documents to Go or Quickoffice would find a way to render PDF files as fast as iBooks can, then I would probably make one of those apps my go-to app for PDF files.
The others. Although these are the options on my iPhone, there are MANY more available. Do a search for "PDF" on the App Store and you will find dozens of apps that can be used to read PDFs. Many of these apps have a bunch of five star reviews. Over time I will try to check out some of the other PDF readers with the hopes that I will find that one app that excels in handling PDF files. Please let me know if you are using one of these apps now and if you like it.
Fortunately, we have an embarrassment of riches on the iPhone. There are lots of ways to view and manage PDF files, including Mail and iBooks which are free, and including three good third party apps, any of which I recommend that you consider buying anyway to manage Microsoft Office documents. Nevertheless, I am still looking for that one best app that does everything well.
UPDATE: "RFD" raises an interesting question in a comment to this post:
It would be nice to know if any of the above options allow emailed, completed Acrobat PDF forms to be read. I have clients who use Adobe Acrobat to complete PDF forms with information entered into the form's data fields, saved, and then emailed. I've yet to find a way to see the data in the completed fields on the iPhone. On the iPhone, the form itself is perfectly readable but it appears to be blank (no data in any of the completed fields).
None of the apps listed in this post can do that. The apps open up the PDF form just fine, but you only see a blank form without any of the information entered into the form. If you know of an iPhone app that can handle this, please let me know.