Aside from the critical built-in iPad apps such as the Mail client and Safari, GoodReader is the most valuable app that I have on my iPad. It is the top app that I recommend to every lawyer who asks me what they should get for their new iPad. For that reason, I'm a little amazed that I am only now writing a review on iPhone J.D. Indeed, I have so much good to say about this app that I could probably justify a week of posts on everything that I do with GoodReader. Instead, let me try to hit the highlights to share with you the ways that I use this app most often.
GoodReader manages all kinds of files such as Word documents and pictures, but where it really shines is as an app to handle PDF files and that is how I use it the most. Virtually all of my important files are in PDF format. Any documents filed in federal court must, of course, be in PDF format, I use PDF to share files with other counsel, I download cases from Westlaw or Lexis in PDF format, when I get transcripts from a court reporter I export them into a PDF format, etc. Once a file is in a PDF format, there are lots of ways to get it into GoodReader. One easy way is if the PDF file is attached to an e-mail; simply hold down your finger on the PDF icon for a second and a pop-up menu allows you to open the file in any app that handles PDF files, such as GoodReader.
Another easy way to get a document into GoodReader is to use the free Dropbox service. Any file in the Dropbox folder on your PC or Mac can be synced to GoodReader. Just tap the button to connect to your Dropbox and select the folders in your Dropbox that you would like to sync. All of the contents (including sub-folders and their contents) are synced into GoodReader. You can make changes to files in GoodReader, or make changes to files on your computer, and then by pressing just a single "Sync" button in GoodReader, all of the latest changes on both ends are synced to each other. So for example, I might take a bunch of pleadings and drop them into one folder and a bunch of cases I downloaded from Westlaw or Lexis and drop them into another folder on my computer, and then with the tap of one button in GoodReader on my iPad they are brought to my device. Any file that you have not yet opened in GoodReader has a blue title; files you have opened already have a black title:
Once a file is opened, you can easily manipulate it in many different ways. A slider on the left lets you quickly jump between pages. Buttons along the bottom let you do many tasks such as dim the screen, add or jump to a bookmark, extra the text from the PDF file, rotate a file, view all comments, go to a specific page number, find text in the file, export the file, etc.
After a few seconds these buttons will disappear and the PDF file will fill your screen, or you can just tap in the middle of a document to clear the buttons. One button that I use quite a bit to make files easier to read on my iPad is the Crop Margins button, the sixth button along the bottom of the screen. If you have a file with a lot of white space on the sides, instead of having to manually pinch to zoom every time you turn the page to make the text larger, you can crop all pages. Just tap the button and on the next screen you can either manually drag the four sides to add crop margins, or even easier, you can just pinch to zoom the page to how you like it and then tap the "To Current View" button at the top right. For example here is a page without crops from a Supreme Court brief I was recently working on:
...and here is that same page after I cropped most of the extra white space. The text is larger, and the file is now much easier to read on the iPad:
I have been discussing how to get documents into GoodReader and how to crop them, if necessary, to make them easier to read. GoodReader handles those tasks very well, but where GoodReader really shines is in reading and manipulating PDF files. GoodReader is one of the fastest PDF viewers on the iPad, so it is easy to swipe back and forth to read a case, a pleading, etc. You can even just tap on the right side of any page to advance, tap on the left side of the page to go back. Whenever I see something that I want to highlight, I just tap my finger on a word and hold down for a second and the familiar selection sliders come up so that I can adjust the words in my selection. A pop-up menu appears giving me tons of choices for what to do with the text including copy the text, add a comment, highlight the text, underline (straight or squiggly line), strike-through text, add note to insert or delete text, draw a line or arrow near the text, and draw a box or oval or draw freehand:
Once you have made any of these annotations you can adjust them in lots of different ways, such as change the color of a highlight or an arrow, move or adjust the size of something that you drew, delete the annotation, etc.
For example, a typical workflow for me might be to download some cases from Westlaw or Lexis in PDF format into my Dropbox, then press the button to sync all of those cases to GoodReader, then take my time to go through the cases on my iPad, marking them up with highlights or any notes I want to make on them (I find it easiest to do this with a stylus), and then when I am done I tap the sync button again so that the PDF files on my computer now contain all of my highlights, annotations, etc.
There are lots of iPad apps that you can use to sign your name to a file. Josh Barrett at Tablet Legal just discussed one such app called iAnnotate. But when I have a PDF file that requires my signature, I just open it in GoodReader, tap to select the freehand annotation tool, turn my iPad into the landscape position, and use the full length of the screen to sign my name. Then I can tap on my signature to change the size to make it the right size for the line, move my signature so that it is on the line, change the color or the line width if I want to do so, and then I'm done. I can send off the file as an e-mail attachment, put it in Dropbox, or just keep a copy on my iPad for when I will need it next. The iPad lacks a built-in file manager, but GoodReader does a good job of storing folders, and folders within folders, so you can keep all of your files organized.
GoodReader does not have the ability to OCR a file. So for example, an opposing party may send me a file in PDF format that is just an image of a pleading. I will use Acrobat on my computer to OCR the document before I send it to my iPad. That way GoodReader will recognize the individual words in the document, making it easier for me to highlight, circle, underline, draw an arrow, or add a "this is crazy!" note in the margin when that is appropriate.
And I'm only scratching the surface of what GoodReader can do. You can maximize security by adding a password to the app and encrypting the files, you can change a file's name or move it to another folder, you can search for files in GoodReader by name or by date read or added, you can bring up a mini-browser to download a webpage as an HTML file so that you can later launch the page even if you don't have Internet access (such as you are on a plane) or if the original webpage has changed, you can flatten a PDF file with annotations, you can connect to an external monitor, etc.
And as if all of this was not enough, this app is constantly updated to add significant new features. A few days ago, the developer revamped the annotations system, resulting in the powerful and easy to use popup menus shown in the pictures above. In the past the developer has updated the app to add syncing features, the typewriter tool, faster PDF management, and many other significant features. This is truly an app that gets more useful over time.
There is also a version of GoodReader for the iPhone, but this is not a universal app so you need to buy it separately for each device. I don't use my iPhone to read and annotate long PDF files, and whenver I do read a PDF file on the iPhone, the built-in PDF viewer is good enough for me. Thus, I haven't tried the iPhone version of the app and I doubt I will ever need this app on my iPhone.
My only real gripe with GoodReader is that the interface is confusing. There are buttons everywhere and menus everywhere and especially when you are first getting started it is hard to find what you need. One might argue that some of this confusion is necessary because the app is so powerful. Programs like Microsoft Word and Photoshop are plenty confusing when they are brand new to someone, but you learn to use the programs over time. Fortunately, GoodReader's developers seem to recognize the need to improve the interfae. As noted above, just a few days ago the popup menus for PDF annotations were redesigned from scratch and they are now much easier to understand than they were last month. Hopefully further such improvements are in the works.
The iPad is a great device for a lawyer to use to read and highlight or otherwise annotate documents. GoodReader is my favorite app for making this possible. If you don't have the app yet, I strongly encourage you to get it.