What's the best device for reading and annotating PDFs?
August 1, 2011 12:15 PM   Subscribe

What's the best device for reading and annotating PDFs? I'm trying to decide between a tablet pc (maybe the Lenovo X220T), a netbook fitted with a PixelQi screen, an Entourage Edge, an OLPC, or some sort of e-reader. Any other suggestions, are of course, welcome.

The Kindle is a great device, but the lack of PDF support kills it for me. Does anyone have experience with a PixelQi fitted netbook?

I'd prefer to be able to hold this device like a kindle or a book, so the fact that Pixel Qi only supports a select few netbooks counts against it for me.

I'm assuming that the outdoor viewable LCDs available on some tablets will make for a good reading experience because you could turn off the backlight to reduce eyestrain. I'm not sure how favorably this compares to e-ink.

The iPad, I assume, is safely out of the running, because of its glossy screen. I find it hard to believe that you could read a few hundred pages a day of text on it, but correct me if I'm wrong.
posted by matkline to Computers & Internet (14 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
A good friend of mine is a lawyer who does manages a doc review team. He loves using his iPad for this, and if anyone is going to complain about the screen, it's someone who's staring at pdfs 10 hours a day.
posted by Oktober at 12:23 PM on August 1, 2011

There is a (basically Android) tablet which comes with a Pixel Qi screen - the Notion Ink Adam (video of sunlight use here. However, it received some mixed notices. Read reviews and exercise caution on that one...
posted by running order squabble fest at 12:51 PM on August 1, 2011

Have you tried converting your PDFs with Calibre? I use it to read PDFs on my Kindle all the time.
posted by Jairus at 12:55 PM on August 1, 2011

I love GoodReader on my iPad. If I get a PDF I want to mark up I just send it to my iPad and do it in GoodReader. It works better than anything I've ever used in Windows.
As for the iPad's glossy screen, I got the Speck ShieldView Matte Screen Film for mine and I love it. It's not quite as nice to look at for a long time as an eInk screen. But there isn't a lot of eInk devices out there that are very powerful for marking up PDFs.
This is a solution that works great for me, YMMV.
posted by MrBobaFett at 12:57 PM on August 1, 2011

I've thrown myself at the reading/sketching/annotating problem for years now, and have tried far too many Tablet PCs. My opinion at this point is that unless you have other PC-specific needs, you will find a full-fledged Tablet PC to be unwieldy overkill (and further, that nobody has made a Tablet PC "correctly" yet). I have a Lenovo x201t (much the same size as the x220t), and it has been relegated to being a glorified notepad and sketchpad because it's just too heavy to hold for more than half an hour at a time.

So, for now I'm using an old Motion LS800 and Fujitsu u820 for basic reading/annotating -- it seems like everyone gave up on making smaller/slate Tablet PCs when the iPad came out. When I finally recover from sticker shock from trying so many failed devices, I'll be looking at iPads and/or Android tablets for this. I suspect you'd get better results and save a lot of cash going that route from the beginning!
posted by Pufferish at 1:47 PM on August 1, 2011

The Kindle DX supports PDFs and the screen is large enough that they don't need to be resized to read them, but you can't really annotate. I used mine for that purpose for a couple of years, but now I have an iPad and prefer it for reading PDFs (I still prefer the Kindle for reading books). I don't read hundreds of pages on it each day, but I do stare at it all day while using it as a writing surface, and it's almost completely replaced paper for me.
posted by capsizing at 2:50 PM on August 1, 2011

I'd try an iPad. I regularly read an hour or more at a time (Kindle app, mostly) and it's great. I find I like it better in inverse video; white text on black background. GoodReader is a fantastic PDF viewer with good annotation capabilities.

Newer Kindles support PDF natively, but not very well.
posted by Nelson at 3:21 PM on August 1, 2011

Thanks for all the excellent responses so far. I guess at this point, I'm leaning toward the iPad. I do read hundreds of pages a day, so I'm still a bit concerned about eye strain. However, if it's anything like the iPhone, Japanese support will be good, and that's a huge plus for me.

Kindle DX could be the way to go as well. I currently own a Kindle 2 and have been quite pleased with it (aside from PDF support obviously). I guess I should mention that this will be for technical pdfs, often with formulas and strange characters. Don't know if that makes any difference if there's no need for reflow given the size of the screen. Losing out on annotations would be a bummer though. Wish I could plaster a touchscreen on there myself...
posted by matkline at 3:38 PM on August 1, 2011

I just bought a tablet for a very similar reason to yours -- I also review a ton of manuscripts and need to mark, highlight, annotate and cross out text.

I just bought a Motorolla Xoom and paid for an app called qPDF at the Android store. It was under USD$10 and is well worth the money. You can do all those things and then the document saves them in PDF format so you can print them or collaborate, etc. The program is excellent and I recommended it to my colleagues, too.

So, thanks to this app together with DropBox, I no longer need to carry around folders full of articles.

FWIW, after doing a fair bit of research, I'm pretty convinced that the Android platform has more options for this sort of thing than the iPad. The one thing that the iPad has (which I am not sure is of interest to you) is handwriting apps to facilitate note-taking, but I suppose this is around the corner in the Android market, too.
posted by mateuslee at 5:23 AM on August 2, 2011

I am personally waiting for the Lenovo Thinkpad Tablet (Android-based) for similar tasks (and others), which offers the advantages of an Android tablet and also the advantages of an active digitizer. It's due out August 23, but like an iPad or any Android tablet, lacks the E-ink or PixelQi screen.

My concern about an iPad (or most Android tablets) is that annotating equations with a keyboard is a bit unpleasant (unless, of course, the person reading the annotations is fluent in \LaTeX, in which case, it's worth making sure the on-screen keyboard has all the necessary symbols.)
posted by JMOZ at 5:57 AM on August 2, 2011

Oh, and I have the 3rd Gen Kindle, and its "native" support of PDF is less-than-stellar. I made my student send me a copy of her thesis with enormous margins so I could reasonably read it on the screen (no reflow option means that a normal width is terrible on the 7" screen), but it was very much not ideal. I'm not convinced that the DX would have helped much, and again, the annotation options are limited.
posted by JMOZ at 5:59 AM on August 2, 2011

Incidentally, I'm very happy with the keyboard on the Xoom... really easy to use, contrary to what you find on the iPad and others.

Also, I had trouble displaying some PDFs on my Nook, especially if the fonts were strange.
posted by mateuslee at 6:12 AM on August 2, 2011

The Kindle DX doesn't have a problem with technical PDFs, and I used it to read stuff with formulas all the time. Usually, the screen was large enough to read in portrait mode, but if it was particularly tiny, I would switch it to landscape. It was very easy to read on it. The problems were that putting articles on it was more of a pain than simply having the iPad access my DropBox folder, and there was no annotation. A few months ago, I also started having a problem with the text in certain PDFs being tiny with a few really large words in each sentence. None of these were published articles, but I have no idea what caused that.

I use a capacitive stylus with my iPad and while it's not the same as paper, not having to lug around a stack of articles makes it worth it.
posted by capsizing at 5:28 AM on August 5, 2011

Ended up going with the iPad. I was skeptical, but it really does work out nicely as a PDF reader/annotator, especially with the Goodreader App.

Buyers beware however: Apple's walled garden approach can be frustrating and pedantic from time to time.
posted by matkline at 8:16 PM on August 12, 2011

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