PDF Expert: Much More Than a PDF Reader

iOS is a beautifully simple operating system. However, its simplicity is also one of its major downfalls. For instance, the lack of a Finder can make for some troubling file management problems: What do you do when someone mails you a zipped file? Where can you store, view, copy, and share important documents?

The iOS geniuses at Readdle have a solution to these problems and more in their new app PDF Expert, available for both iPhone and iPad. Today we’ll be going over the excellent iPad version and I guarantee many of you will find it to be an essential piece of software.

Getting Started

On the surface, PDF Expert is exactly what it sounds like: A PDF Viewer. However, once we dive into the full feature set you’ll see that it’s actually much more.

When you open up PDF Expert you’ll see a nicely designed two-column interface with a textured background, some inset menu options on the left and a nice big list of documents on the right.

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The PDF Expert Interface

As you can see in the image above, there are four menu options: Documents, Recents, Network and Settings. The “Documents” is the complete list of files that you have loaded into the app.

The “Recents” menu item shows your three most recent items right there in the menu and if you want to see more you simply tap the “Recents” button, which opens the full list.

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Reading a PDF

Since the primary feature of PDF Expert is in fact reading PDFs, let’s begin there. To open a PDF, tap on it in the list of documents on the main screen. This will take you directly into the viewer.

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Viewing a PDF

Just like you’d expect, to go advance and go back through the document, you swipe to the left or right and do the same up or down to scroll through a page. Pinch zooming and panning are also supported.

At the bottom of the PDF viewer is a little strip of dots that indicates how far you are into the document. A black square marks your position and tapping on the square pops up a page number indicator. To quickly scan through a document, drag the square left or right and watch as the page preview above updates.

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Bottom Navigation

PDF Tools

At the top of the PDF viewer is a strip of buttons that activate various tools. Each tool or set of tools is represented by a simple icon that is indicative of what is inside the menu.

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PDF Tools

Drawing

The first tool allows you to manually markup a PDF using a primitive but effective drawing tool. After selecting the drawing tool, drag your finger across the screen to begin.

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Drawing on a PDF

There are three settings that you can customize for the drawing tool: color, size and opacity. Each of these has a unique pop out menu that either gives you a series of choices or a slider.

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The Drawing Tool Options

Notes, Highlights, Etc.

The text item in the menu bar simply gives you instructions for more ways to markup your PDF. For instance, tapping and holding at any place in document will allow you to add a note to that place. A little sticky will pop up for you to fill in and will remain in the document as a little icon that you can tap to open.

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Adding a note

If you select a word or chunk of text, you’ll see a menu with five possible actions: highlight, underline, strikeout, note (same feature as above) and copy.

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Text Options

Other Options

Also on the toolbar at the top are basic searching and bookmarking features and one final menu with a hodgepodge of leftover functionality. Here you’ll find the ability to lock the page scroll, jump to a specific page, email the PDF, reflow the text (strips out all the pictures and gives you plain text that you can resize), and finally, the option to open the PDF in other compatible apps on your iPad.

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Other Options

Network

The big question you might be asking at this point is, “How do I get documents into the app?” For starters, you can always use the File Sharing menu inside of iTunes. With your iPad connected, this is found under the “Apps” tab.

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iTunes File Sharing

If you don’t want to go through the trouble of physically connecting your device to your computer, you can use a number of different server options, including my personal favorite, Dropbox. Readdle also gives you a free 512MB storage account just for using the app.

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Server Options

The last way to add and remove files from the app is to use Finder on your Mac. At the bottom left of the main PDF Expert screen you should see an IP address. Hit Command-K on your Mac to launch the “Connect to Server” window and type in the address.

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Connecting via Finder

This will mount your iPad as a server on your desktop for you to interact with just like anything else in the Finder.

My Thoughts

All the functionality described above still doesn’t cover everything PDF Exert does. It’s simply an amazing app that takes a simple concept and blows it into a remarkably fully-featured experience.

PDF Expert can handle more than mere PDFs. You can view text files, Word Documents and other image formats like JPG. If there’s a link in a file, PDF Expert can open it in an integrated browser. You can move, copy, delete and mail files from anywhere in the app.

My absolute favorite feature in the app is the .ZIP integration. I was instantly disappointed that my shiny new iPad really couldn’t handle zipped files (which I receive on a daily basis). With PDF Expert this is a thing of the past. Not only can you create and decompress zipped files right in the app, the default Mail app on your iPad can now suddenly send .ZIPs straight to PDF Expert. This makes it a lot easier for me to actually get a little work done from my iPad.

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Finally, iPad Mail can handle ZIPs!

Honestly, as hard as I searched, there wasn’t a whole lot about PDF Expert that I didn’t like. Some users are complaining that the transition from ReaddleDocs wasn’t as smooth as they wanted and that the bookmarks are better in ReaddleDocs, but having never used that app much I’m perfectly thrilled with PDF Expert. The one thing I’d like to see added is some basic editing capabilities, even if only to plain text documents. Right now PDF Expert is purely a viewer and can’t change files at all.

Conclusion

PDF Expert is everything you’ve ever wanted in a PDF viewer and a lot more. It really fills a big gap in the iPad for document management and does an admirable job of it.

If you mostly play games and do social networking on your iPad, you can pass up spending the five bucks to get this app. However, if you’re a professional looking for a way to turn your iPad into something more useful for work, you’ll absolutely want to download PDF Expert.


Summary

PDF Expert is the ultimate reader and organization tool for PDFs and other files. It integrates with a number of different types of servers and third party apps including MobileMe and Dropbox and can even create, import, unpack and mail zipped files.

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