PDFpen for iPhone: The Powerful Pocket PDF Editor

PDFs are a powerful way to share formatted content without having to worry about file compatibility or conversion errors. Printing a Pages document to PDF ensures that everyone from a Linux nerd to a Windows junkie sees an identical file. While an increasing reliance on PDFs means that all users see an identical document, fixing occasional typos and errors requires that users return to the source file, fix the errors and re-export the document. A PDF-based workflow begs for a more powerful PDF tool, one that doesn’t require users to return to the original file to make one small change. There are plenty of PDF annotation apps in the App Store, but few of these have the power to edit beyond the annotation layer.

PDFpen is a popular PDF editor for the Mac that’s both powerful and affordable. Smile released its iPad version of PDFpen less than a year ago, bringing some of the desktop version’s most powerful features to the iPad. The company recently completed the device trinity with the addition of PDFpen for iPhone.

Does this pint-sized PDF editor hold up to its elder counter parts?

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Getting Started

PDFpen can import documents from many popular services or create a blank document with several paper-template choices. Users who have the Mac and/or iPad versions of PDFpen will most likely start by enabling iCloud. This is done by tapping the Settings wrench, tapping Settings and switching the iCloud toggle to On. iCloud documents magically appear in the documents picker, and users are free to pick up where they left off on a different instance of the app.

PDFpen's vast array of import services makes it possible to import from nearly anywhere.

PDFpen’s vast array of import services makes it possible to import from nearly anywhere.

Tap a document to open the editing window. This is nearly identical to that of the iPad version, the only differences being an omitted title field and Page Shelf button, as well as a tweaked Documents button. The Page Shelf is still accessible via a swipe from the left of the screen to the right, but it occasionally appears while trying to select a document element, which complicates the editing process. Overall, the menu bar is crowded, but the self-explanatory icons help to prevent confusion.

The document shelf improves navigation of longer documents, but its unwanted appearance sometimes hampers editing.

The document shelf improves navigation of longer documents, but its unwanted appearance sometimes hampers editing.

Annotations

PDFpen provides a powerful set of annotation tools. Users can underline, strikethrough, squiggle or highlight text in a variety of colors. Select the desired annotation, and PDFpen pulls up the editing window. The annotation toolbar makes it possible to quickly switch between annotation types and colors, and the Info button contains even more colors to choose from. Once users are finished editing, tapping Done will render the highlights and underlines on the PDF document. Tapping the Info button in the annotation window hides the bottom toolbar, but occasionally this bar doesn’t reappear once the Info pane has been dismissed. Users must exit the editing window and re-enter in order to access the bar. While the developers have made great strides in the app’s overall performance, this is one of several small bugs that hamper the user experience.

Users can quickly add or delete annotations by long-pressing text and selecting an annotation option or Delete.

Users can quickly add or delete annotations by long-pressing text and selecting an annotation option or Delete.

Most iOS PDF viewers have some sort of rudimentary annotation system, but PDFpen offers a text correction tool that’s capable of editing the original PDF text. This is the perfect solution for fixing the occasional typo or making small changes. It’s also possible to move images in the PDF file. These correction features eliminate the need for re-exporting, and this alone makes PDFpen worth the purchase. PDFpen is also capable of filling in PDF forms, although Smile’s powerful form creation feature most likely won’t make it to the iOS screen anytime soon.

Tap the arrow in the popover menu to access the Correct Text feature.

Tap the arrow in the popover menu to access the Correct Text feature.

Aside from annotation and correction, PDFpen provides freehand and polygon markup tools. Users can even save their squiggles and shapes in PDFpen’s library for later use. Create a stylish squiggle, tap the Library button followed by the Person tab and the Plus button. This will automatically add the squiggle to the user’s library. The freehand tool is great for quickly signing PDF forms, however, it’s difficult to produce a stylish signature on the iPhone’s small screen. Fortunately, the user library is synced across versions of PDFpen through the magic of iCloud, and the iPad version of PDFpen is the perfect canvas to create an elegant signature. Once this signature is added to the library, it will automatically sync with other instances of PDFpen and can be popped into any PDF form with a few taps.

Aside from filling in forms, PDFpen is perfect for popping in an elegant digital signature.

Aside from filling in forms, PDFpen is perfect for popping in an elegant digital signature.

The library also houses a few predefined shapes and arrows, as well as text boxes, PDF notes and comments. Comments are a fantastic way to collaborate without affecting the displayed content of the PDF, and most PDF readers support the viewing of comments and notes. Photo Stream or Camera Roll photos are also accessible through PDFpen’s library.

Closing a comment window is difficult, due to the incredible fickleness of the Close button. Double-tapping an opened comment will automatically crash the app.

Closing a comment window is difficult, due to the incredible fickleness of the Close button. Double-tapping an opened comment will automatically crash the app.

Double-tap a comment to open and edit it. Tap an drag a comment to move it to a different location within the PDF document.

Document Organization

Although PDFpen isn’t meant to be a PDF organizer, there are several useful tools for sorting, arranging, and backing up PDF documents. ICloud sync ensures that documents remain up-to-date across all devices, but users can also sync to a Dropbox folder. It’s easy to switch between the two services by tapping on the Documents heading, in the document picker. Documents can also be moved from iCloud to Dropbox simply by dragging them to the Dropbox folder, in the Documents drop-down menu. Dragging one document onto the other will create a folder that contains both documents.

Tap on the name of the document or folder in the document picker to rename the document or folder.

PDFpen also provides document merge and duplication. Users can merge documents by selecting multiple documents at once and tapping the Plus button. Simply select a single document and tap Plus to duplicate it.

Exporting a few pages to a new document is a great way to turn the most important pages of a longer document into a manageable packet.

Exporting a few pages to a new document is a great way to turn the most important pages of a longer document into a manageable packet.

Long documents are unwieldy, but PDFpen offers several tools for managing epic tomes. Tap the Thumbnail button in any document to view page thumbnails. Users can tap and drag one or more pages to rearrange them or change the page orientation. It’s also possible to convert a few selected pages into a new document by tapping the Plus button. The thumbnail view is powerful, but the drag and drop experience tends to lag, occasionally resulting in an unwanted move or merge. Fortunately, users can undo any move by tapping the Undo arrow.

Document search and support for document table of contents make it simple to navigate larger documents.

Sharing

Unlike apps such as ReaddleDocs and GoodReader, PDFpen is less of a PDF organizer and more of a PDF editor. The app is a creative pass-through for PDFs and offers several channels to export them. Users can export PDFs with compressed annotations, or preserve the annotation layer. Compressed documents merge the annotations with the original content, which works best for viewers that don’t support separate annotations. Users can also send both compressed or editable PDFs via email. The editable versions allow users with more advanced readers to edit the highlighting, annotations and comments.

Even if PDFpen doesn't support your favorite sharing service, documents can be mailed to any service that supports mail import.

Even if PDFpen doesn’t support your favorite sharing service, documents can be mailed to any service that supports mail import.

PDFpen supports Copy to iTunes, WebDAV, FTP or any app that supports Open In for PDFs. Users can also select specific folders in Evernote, Google Docs or Dropbox and upload their documents. The plethora of options is handy for quickly annotating and exporting PDF attachments from mail to the service of choice.

Folder sync is restricted to iCloud and Dropbox, but users can upload several documents to other services all at once by selecting the documents in the document picker and choosing a service in the Share menu.

Conclusion

Overall, PDFpen for iPhone yields the same power as its iPad companion, but the developers do little to adapt the app to the smaller screen. In the end, this is a mere annoyance because PDFpen for iPhone is just so darned powerful. PDFpen for iPhone is more stable than its iPad counterpart was at 1.0, and iCloud sync makes this app a must-buy for anyone with the desktop or iPad versions. The are still a few glaring bugs and PDF comment editing is unreliable, but Smile certainly retains its reputation for producing powerful software with PDFpen for iPhone.


Summary

A pint-sized PDF editor that supports PDF annotation as well as text and image correction. PDFpen can be use to create a PDF from scratch, fill out a PDF form or quickly add a signature to a PDF document.

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