Which tablet is best for reading many, many pdfs?
September 16, 2012 3:30 PM   Subscribe

Looking for a thin, light, rectangular device on which to read scientific papers... which one?? I know nothing about tablets, except that they exist.

My husband travels often for work and lugs around a 5-inch stack of print-offs of scientific papers. I would like to give his spine a break and provide him with a tablet or something similar where he could store and access the pdfs on a whim. Bonus points if the screen is large and color. Bonus bonus points if he can use a stylus to take notes on the paper. the Kindle DX seems like the right size, but no color really makes it less than ideal. I have only heard tell of all of these things, never actually seen one. He has a windows laptop, but also has access to macs, if that makes a difference. He will not be doing extensive watching shows/listening to music/etc. on this item.
posted by munichmaiden to Computers & Internet (19 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
the Kindle DX seems like the right size, but no color really makes it less than ideal.

Can you explain why? The e-ink of the Kindle really, really provides an optimal, comfortable reading experience.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:40 PM on September 16, 2012

If he decides to go with an iPad for this (I love it for PDFs, but the ones I read tend to be more technical than scientific), he might like PDF Pen for making annotations (and other stuff).
posted by backwards guitar at 3:57 PM on September 16, 2012

I frequently read journal articles on my iPad and love it. My preferred app is Papers, which I also use on my mac and windows laptops. It currently only supports highlighting and typed notes, though, not a stylus.
posted by hydropsyche at 4:10 PM on September 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have never used an e-ink reader that did a satisfactory job with PDFs. I've also never used a Kindle DX, but I have always heard that it, too, was disappointing in this regard (no notes, no highlighting, no zooming or panning).

The iPad is probably the best bet, just for screen size. I read PDF ebooks on a smaller-screened tablet and it leaves a bit to be desired.
posted by zjacreman at 4:10 PM on September 16, 2012

E-ink (as found on the b&w kindle and nook) has a lot of things going for it: it's very readable (high contrast, high resolution, good in brighter ambient light), lightweight, and low-power so your battery lasts longer. Its disadvantages are that it's monochrome and that updating the screen is a flickery process that takes a good fraction of a second— no big deal for reading documents (it's as fast as a physical page flip) but not very good for more interactive things.

If you go with an iPad, get an iPad 3; the first iPad display's graininess is kind of eyestrainy after a while. The 3's higher-resolution display (Apple markets it as "Retina Display") is worth it if you're going to be reading large amounts of text or figures. (For apps it isn't a big difference though, in my experience.)
posted by hattifattener at 4:15 PM on September 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

I recently tried to find a system for managing e-pubs/journal articles on mobile devices. Here are a few things to think about based on my very limited knowledge and budget (more knowledgeable MeFites: I bow to your expertise!):

- if your husband doesn't mind reading on an electronic screen, it's possible that using a program like GoodReader will suit his needs just fine and then he'll get all the color he wants or needs. If he finds illuminated screen reading tiresome (like I do) then you'll want to look at e-ink devices, but that means he'll have to give up color.

- If he needs to read academic journal articles, you'll want to be sure that whatever device you get will support open file formats. Just .pdf isn't enough because annotation and formatting will be limited. You'll want to be sure it supports at least the EPUB format, because then there is greater assurance the format and layout will be at least somewhat readable on an electronic device. So look carefully at the Kindle vs. Nook vs. whatever file formats.

- Stylus: is this so he can take notes in his own handwriting, or because it's easier to highlight what he wants vs. with his finger? I'm not sure if there are pdf/e-reader apps that support in-app handwriting (because e gads I would be ALL OVER THAT), but there are plenty that allow for typed notes, handwriting, and even doodling (see GoodReader [for Mac] as an example).

I guess, in short, you have to think whether e-ink or illuminated reading is for him, after that, you can narrow it down to file formats/apps/syncing/etc.

On Preview: Also what hattifattener said.
posted by absquatulate at 4:17 PM on September 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Another vote for the iPad. However, I recently played with the out-in-October Windows Surface tablet and it was rather scrumptious, if maybe overpowered for what you're looking for (but could replace the laptop entirely). If you can wait until the Christmas time product push, it might be smart, just to see what new options or better screens you'll have.

Really this is a matter of personal fit. I have a beloved Kindle keyboard on which I read reams and reams of papers. It's just the right weight and size for my small hands, but it's inflexible for notes and a little hard sometimes to get the files on there in the right format. My bestie has an iPad with the high res screen and it's lovely but in my opinion a little heavy and I've got a soft spot for e-ink that the iPad cannot fulfill. I love to read in bright sunlight.

If you and the husband have never seen a tablet in person, find somewhere that you can. These days there are Microsoft stores popping up across from Apple stores around the corner from Sony stores and Best Buys, Starbucks-style, all over the US. (And probably in other places too.) Find your nearest giant rich people mall and go on a tablet-finding journey. Make sure your husband holds each tablet and plays with the controls. I'm finding it's similar to shopping for a camera, in that, one model might have everything you want, but there's a button in the wrong place or your hand doesn't quite fit and it ruins the user experience entirely. So even if this is a gift, it's likely best not to go the surprise route.
posted by Mizu at 4:25 PM on September 16, 2012

I have a most-recent-generation-yet-quite-old kindle DX 3g. If the question is "how do I read a lot of PDFs" then the form factor of the 3g may encourage you to buy it for that purpose.

However, that would be the wrong decision. I loathe reading on the iPad but even the 1st generation iPad is better for this than the DX.

The iPad is faster, has color (which turned out to be important), has a better UI for searching, snapshotting, bookmarking, etc. It allows you to more easily add PDFs and the UI is just plain faster in every way. it also has better compatibility and VASTLY better zooming for looking at common paper line graphs.
posted by rr at 4:33 PM on September 16, 2012

IT's not so much about which reader as which software to handle the papers. I can't give enough praise for Papers from Mekentosj for both managing papers and syncing them to the iPad. The workflow becomes very efficient and gives many other benefits such as full text search in the papers and a quick way to organize them. Check them out!
posted by brorfred at 5:07 PM on September 16, 2012

My brother has to read and comment on a lot of PDFs while traveling and he swears by his iPad + GoodReader combo.
posted by alms at 5:23 PM on September 16, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for all the great answers!
The more I think about it, the more important color is - he often is looking at graphs with 6 different lines that are not tonally very different.
Sounds like my ideal world - taking notes in his own handwriting onto the pdf - does not exist. I was hoping I had missed something :) I'll have to investigate Goodreads & Papers. And what formats these papers come in. I had assumed pdf, but they are academic journal articles.
I'm pretty much going to be doing all the legwork on this. He's too busy right now. I'm just trying to save him some work...
posted by munichmaiden at 5:28 PM on September 16, 2012

Nthing the importance of an iPad 3 over iPad 2 because text on older iPads kind of looks terrible
posted by Patbon at 5:36 PM on September 16, 2012

Just for the record, I have never seen a journal article in any format other than PDF. I am an ecologist, and thus I read in life sciences, environmental sciences, geosciences, and engineering journals fairly often. Papers only really supports PDFs, but that has never been an issue for me.
posted by hydropsyche at 5:47 PM on September 16, 2012

Goodreader for iPad will definitely let you take notes anywhere on a PDF, and you can use a 'pencil' toll so that you can essentially write with your own handwriting. I do this all the time. It also syncs both ways with Dropbox, so when he annotates a PDF, he can then sync with Dropbox and open the synced file on his desktop.
posted by suedehead at 5:49 PM on September 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

Yes, taking notes in your own handwriting to pdf does exist. It's what I use on my lenovo tablet with bluebeam and Mendeley. But it's a full computer.

What I wanted to know more about is the Galaxy Note 10.1, which comes with a native Spen that's supposed to be great for taking handwritten notes. I wonder if anyone here has used one?
posted by nat at 7:26 PM on September 16, 2012

I use my Kindle all the time for books. Never for papers, and I am a scientist who has to read voraciously. The Kindle is not made for serious scientific journal articles. Screen is too small, the screen refresh is slow, and the PDF translation is poor. I use my iPad and laptop for reading papers almost predominantly, now. I tried a Google Nexus 7, but the screen is too small and the device is too underpowered for real work, with noticeable lag when moving between web pages, apps or documents. The Android tablets generally have better hardware specs, tiny screens aside, but you wouldn't know it by using the software, at least as far as real work goes. I'm pretty happy with the iPad as a professional-grade PDF reading device.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:42 PM on September 16, 2012

I'm a long-time Kindle user, and I bought a Kindle DX for nearly this exact purpose (reading technical docs and coursebooks in PDF) and it was a massive disappointment. I knew it was a bit chancy when I tried it. I now use an iPad 2 for this, and it works extremely well as long as I'm not in direct sunlight. I use GoodReader + DropBox to get and read the files.

At this point, I don't ever actually use a Kindle at all any more, even to read the tons of Kindle books I have - I just use the Kindle app on my iPad and on my Android phone for that.
posted by me & my monkey at 9:49 PM on September 16, 2012

I have a first gen iPad and I read a lot of PDFs on it. There are several apps that will let you take notes in handwriting on the PDF. Two I'm familiar with are iAnnotate and Upad. Upad also supports highlighting and typing on the PDF.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 10:26 PM on September 16, 2012

I've just started using the handwriting app Notability on the iPad 2, using the Wacom bamboo stylus, with great success. you can annotate PDFs as well and it syncs with dropbox. The handwriting uses a zoom function which helps significantly with legibility, and is quite intuitive after a while...
posted by piyushnz at 12:34 PM on September 17, 2012

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