Ebook reader with good PDF support?
November 17, 2011 2:20 AM   Subscribe

What's the best ebook reader for reading PDF-s, specifically academic papers?

With the number of papers and books I read in digital form constantly growing, I've recently started looking into buying an e-reader, since reading them on an e-ink screen would seem to be easier on the eyes than staring at a computer screen all day. Some of the more popular models, however, don't seem to work for me, since they either only have very basic pdf support, no way to make annotations, or both. I've read and watched tons of reviews of different readers, but they really don't tell you much about the (day to day) experience of using such a device for this purpose, so I'd like to hear about yours.
posted by daniel_charms to Technology (14 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
I have an iPad, which is not the same thing (obviously), but I use Dropbox to get a load of papers and reports I need to read onto the device. The large screen and lack of buttons to accidentally push (and the ease of moving pdfs around make it a huge paper-saver for me. Battery life has, so far, not been a problem. Downside? It's fairly pricy.
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:54 AM on November 17, 2011

You *can* view PDFs on a kindle, but I recommend against it, mainly due to the size of the screen.
posted by curious_yellow at 3:57 AM on November 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm interested in this - one of the things I was reading was that the touch screen interface for e-ink is laggier than for back-lit screens, so it might be annoying to use if you have to do a lot of annotating. Re. reading papers, G+P has a good point - how easy is it to read double columns of 9 point Times Roman on these things?

Much as I like the form factor, price, size, and weight, they seem geared to 'recreational' reading rather than to heavy academic work. You get what you pay for, I think.
posted by carter at 4:03 AM on November 17, 2011

I'm reporting someone else's experience here. An iPad with iAnnotate and a Dropbox account works pretty well.
posted by michaelh at 4:20 AM on November 17, 2011

I don't usually mind reading PDFs on my kindle (though the formatting is kinda funky at times) but don't bother with anything you want to cite. It's possible and some systems have accounted for it, but majorly annoying.
posted by brilliantine at 4:24 AM on November 17, 2011

I have experience with Kindle 2, Kindle 3, Kindle DX, iPad and iPad 2.

iPads were not a good reading exp. for me, mainly because of the weight, and surprisingly, because of the touch-screen: while I'm reading I like touching the lines on the screen/page, or "gripping" the device/book—not just holding lightly from the sides, trying to be careful not to accidentally turn the page because of the slightest touch, but really "holding" it, if you know what I mean, and iPads were too clunky for that.

I love Kindle 3, but while it is capable of highlighting and annotating them, if you wanna view PDFs without being bothered with converting them to .mobi first, the screen size is just too small. Kindle DX -the Kindle with the bigger screen- on the other hand, was the best reading experience I've ever had. Of course, that comes with a price of 300 something bucks, but if getting a cheaper one second-hand from eBay isn't a big deal, I'd go that way.

[...and if you'd be fine with an LCD touch-screen but iPad is too expensive, maybe try Kindle Fire? I did buy one but it hasn't arrived yet so I cannot comment for sure, but I don't see why it wouldn't be a nice alternative for a more reading-oriented user. And Kindle gives you 5gb of free space to sync your documents (highlights, notes and last read page positions and all) to the cloud—not only the books you bought from Amazon, but your "personal" documents as well, so there's that too.]
posted by procrastinator at 5:28 AM on November 17, 2011

My nook color (1st gen not the new tablet) handles pdfs with aplomb. I use it for academic and pleasure reading. It also does an admirable job with web browsing and rss reading.
posted by KevCed at 5:59 AM on November 17, 2011

For me, the ipad is the best PDF reader by a huge margin (I know that does not have an eink display though). I use PDF Expert and it is by far the most enjoyable and comprehensive way to read and annotate PDF files that I have encountered, its a much more "paper like" experience than reading on a PC. If you are looking only to benefit from an e-ink screen though, i would stay away at the moment. Having used a few, the PDF support on e-ink devices is basic at best at the moment, and having tried a few its not an experience I would recommend. Eink is really only very good at reading rescalable text and the annotation experience is painfully bad on both the kindle and the latest generation sony reader. I have not used other eink readers, but I have no reason to think they are any better or have solved the problems of responsiveness.
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory at 6:25 AM on November 17, 2011

I'm interested in finding something like this as well. I have a first gen Nook, and while reading properly formatted epub and text-files is very enjoyable, making annotations is a PITA and the integration with OSX sucks balls.

I've been eying the iPad, especially since you can use apps like Mendeley, and the PDF support is probably as good as it gets at the moment. My main issue has been that it's too heavy; it's unexpected given how light it is, but it's just not light enough to be comfortable.
posted by monocultured at 7:40 AM on November 17, 2011

I explored this very question, and after trying several devices and surveying friends who faced a similar question, I concluded that the iPad was definitely the best for my purposes. If you really need to have e-ink, I'd look at the Kindle DX. But I've found that just dimming the screen on the iPad sometimes works fine for me.

If you go with the iPad you'll need to explore the best combination of reading/syncing apps. For me it's Dropbox + Goodreader.
posted by willbaude at 8:37 AM on November 17, 2011

Yeah, the iPad is fantastic with PDFs, though if they're simply scanned books the page turns aren't particularly snappy in any of the apps I use. I've not had trouble with eye strain, since its a very very nice quality LCD.

Dropbox + whatever reader. There are lots of options and most are pretty darn good.
posted by pjaust at 8:58 AM on November 17, 2011

iPad + Goodreader. Half the price of iAnnotate and as far as I can tell from side-by-side comparisons the app has many more features to boot. (Markup PDFs, create/edit text files, handles Word docs and PowerPoint slides, syncs with Dropbox, iCloud and other popular online storage services)

When I want to read books I put them on my Kindle. I got the iPad specifically for use with science papers. One of the grad students in our lab is about the cheapest bastard I have ever met* - and HE was the first in our group to buy an iPad, for the same reason. I figured if it was worth it to him it was the right choice.

*said with all due respect of course.
posted by caution live frogs at 10:10 AM on November 17, 2011

Response by poster: Ok, so iPad. What about the newer e-ink devices, though? Does anyone have any experience with e-readers released in the last year or so?
posted by daniel_charms at 11:59 AM on November 17, 2011

between the ipad 2 and my kindle which was released this year, I'd take the ipad for academic paper reading and organization. The ability to easily skim through papers to locate the information that you need is one of the defining features of the ipad as a reading device.
posted by joewandy at 7:25 PM on November 17, 2011

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