I work with a large number of PDF files in my law practice, and I'm sure that I'm not alone. All federal court pleadings on PACER are in PDF format and many state courts are moving to PDF electronic documents, other counsel frequently send me files in PDF format, when I do legal research I download the cases in PDF format, exhibits are in PDF format, etc. Perhaps most importantly, when I know that I'm going to work with a document on my iPad, I usually prefer that it be in PDF format. The iPad has the built-in ability to view PDF files, and the free Adobe Reader app offers even more options, but for professional work with PDF files it is nice to have a more powerful app. A few weeks ago, Branchfire sent me a free review copy of their $9.99 app iAnnotate, and I am incredibly impressed. This seems to be the most powerful and sophisticated app that I've seen for working with PDF files on the iPad. I am not sure that I would recommend this app to a mere casual iPad user because it is going to be overkill, but for those who want all of the tools at their disposal, this is a fantastic app.
There is typically a tension with PDF apps. On the one hand, you want to have access to lots of tools to annotate a document. On the other hand, you don't want all of those tools cluttering up the screen when you are just trying to read a document. iAnnotate strikes a perfect balance by providing tools on both the left side of the screen that you can easily make disappear with only a tiny tab remaining so that you can access them again when you need them. Similarly, you can tap in the middle to make the tools at the top disappear, or tap again to see them.
Let's talk about those tools at the top. The top left tab brings you to the main screen (more on that in a moment) but most of the tools at the top are tabs to your open PDF documents. Keeping multiple PDFs open at a time is incredibly useful, making it easy to switch back and forth between several documents. The gear at the far right brings up app preferences, and right next to it is a Dropbox circle. If you are reading a document that you accessed from your Dropbox account and you have modified the document on your iPad, the circle turns red to warn you that you are working with a changed version of the document. But if you tap that circle (or close the document) the changes are synced back to Dropbox. It is a great Dropbox integration that works really well.
On the right there are tools to work with the document. All of the common tools are there in the default toolbar, but what makes this app truly useful is that you can both modify the default toolbar and create your own additional toolbars. A simple flick from the right side of the screen switches between your active toolbars, so you can create toolbars with different tools for different types of tasks.
And boy are there a lot of tools to choose from. Here is a picture showing all of them, which I had to stitch together from three different screen shots on the iPad:
The tools include, for example, two instances of the pencil tool so that you can use one set by default to drop thin black lines and another set by default to draw thick, translucent yellow lines (useful for highlighting a scanned document). There is also a true highlighting tool which works great with OCR'd documents. There are tools for navigating within the document, tools for rotating the document, and tools for adding and working with bookmarks. You can use the standard pencil tool to sign a document, or you can use a specialized signature tool that makes it easier to sign and create a stamp of your signature that you can quickly and easily apply in the future.
Speaking of stamps, the app comes with a lot of built-in ones, and you can add any picture as a stamp. I created a picture of an Exhibit sticker and made a stamp out of it so that I can easily place virtual exhibit stickers on documents. For a stamp you use frequently, you can even create a custom stamp tool for the toolbar on the right that applies that specific stamp; the icon on the stamp tool even changes to a picture of that stamp.
If you ever need to save a copy of a website, iAnnotate does a better job than any of the browsers on my computer. And there is even a tool icon that brings up the full list of tools so that you can quickly select one that isn't normally on one of your toolbars.
And those are just the tools on the right side of the screen. On the left side of the screen, there are five sets of tools such as Thumbnails and Actions that give you even more options for editing aspects of the document, copying a document, etc.
On the main screen, you can view a list of files that are local on the device (either in list view or in icon view) or tap Connections to access cloud-based storage such as Dropbox.
When it is time to export documents, you can either keep your annotations intact or export a flattened PDF document.
iAnnotate also has the ability to annotate Microsoft Word documents. This is a really neat and useful feature. Simply open a Word document in iAnnotate and as you start to annotate the document, the app will create a PDF version of the document. You can then highlight, markup in a red pen, etc. all over the document and then you can email that PDF file to someone else. If you want to markup a brief for another attorney or secretary to make the edits, iAnnotate is a powerful tool for doing so.
Even after a few weeks of using this app, I know that I am still just scratching the surface of what it does. Suffice it to say that if you want a sophisticated tool for working with PDF files on your iPad, and if you don't mind a slight learning curve to figure out everything that this app can do, iAnnotate is an excellent choice.
Click here to get iAnnotate ($9.99):
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