The Best iPad PDF Annotation and Storage Apps

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When the iPad first came out in 2010, I predicted here on Lawyerist that for lawyers, annotating and storing PDFs would be one of the best uses of the iPad. In that post, I explained how I thought that lawyers would use the iPad:

(L)awyers (will) use their iPads to annotate PDF documents, something not accomplished easily while on the road using other types of devices…This ability to annotate PDFs is will facilitate tasks such as marking up a pleading or contract, making notations in the margins to a draft appellate brief, or commenting on an internal memorandum.

As it so happens, PDF storage and annotation are now some of the primary ways that lawyers use iPads in their law practices. Back when I wrote that post, there were very few apps designed for that purpose and most were not business apps. Fortunately, things have changed and there are now hundreds of apps that facilitate reading and annotating PDF documents. In this post, I’ll describe 4 of the PDF reading and storage apps most often used by lawyers.

First, there’s Goodreader ($4.99). For many lawyers, this is the app of choice for reading and storing PDF documents. Personally, I find the interface to be a bit clunky, but many lawyers prefer it since they have been using it from day 1 and it’s familiar to them. And, most importantly, it gets the job done, especially when it comes to storing and organizing PDFs. You can name documents however you choose and then file them away into folders that you create. It handles many types of files, not just PDFs and syncs with sync with Dropbox, SkyDrive, and SugarSync. And, it now allows you to annotate your documents as well.

My PDF annotation app of choice is PDF Expert ($9.99).  I find that this app offers  many of the same features as the other apps, but has the cleanest and most intuitive interface. Like Goodreader, it reads most documents types and you can easily import documents from many sources, including email attachments, your computer’s hard drive, Dropbox, SkyDrive, and GoogleDocs. Once imported, you can create folders, name your files and store them away.

But the annotation features are where PDF Expert really shines. It’s incredibly easy to fill in forms by adding typewritten or handwritten text into documents, in addition to marking up documents by highlighting text or striking through words. The app recognizes blank lines inserted into documents and automatically allows you to simply input text into the blanks rather than having to choose the “insert text” setting each time you want to insert text, as many other apps do.

iAnnotate ($9.99) is another app often used by lawyers. I used this app last summer to store hundreds of PDFs of cases when I was conducting research for a New York criminal law treatise that I co-author and have to update annually. I was seeking an app that would allow my to categorize and store cases in folders by chapter, so that I could then easily locate relevant cases and review them at my leisure. iAnnotate’s easy-to-use drag and drop interface facilitated this, although I found that its annotation features were a bit clunky. But since annotating wasn’t something that was important for that particular project, the app served its intended function very well. Unlike many other apps, it only reads PDF documents and syncs with Google Drive and Microsoft SkyDrive

Finally, there’s ReaddleDocs ($4.99), also popular with lawyers. This app shines when it comes to reading and storing documents on your iPad. It supports PDF, MS Office (Word, Excel and Powerpoint) and Apple iWork files and you can upload and download documents to MobileMe iDisk, Dropbox, and GoogleDocs, among others. But if the ability to annotate documents and fill out forms is important to you, then look elsewhere since Readdledocs doesn’t offer those functions.

These are just a few of the many apps available for reading, storing, organizing, and marking up PDFs and other documents on your iPad. And oftentimes, which one you use is simply a matter of personal preference. So, if you regularly use an app that I didn’t mention above, let us know in the comments.

(image: http://www.flickr.com/photos/cwiebrands/4835491955/)

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  • Techgal

    Things have definitely changed, but what’s new in this article? How does this add to the discussion of pdf apps? What am I missing?

  • http://www.mycase.com/ Nicole Black

    This is an issue that regularly comes up in the legal forums that I frequent. Many lawyers are now purchasing their first iPads and aren’t sure where to start when it comes to apps like these. For that reason, I figured it would be useful for me to list those apps that I find lawyers tend to use–give the new iPad owners a head start. If these are already familiar to you then congratulations! You’re well ahead of many of your colleagues.

  • http://lawyerist.com/author/joshcamson/ Josh Camson

    The draw for GoodReader is that you can actually sync your Dropbox account and access your files offline. Do these alternatives allow for that?

  • http://pollexestateplanning.com/ Dagmar Pollex

    I use Quick Office Pro and really like it a lot. It has a great user guide and easy to use interface. Combines pdf’s, Word docs and Excel spreadsheets all in one program. This makes it a great deal at $9.95.

  • Lena

    Hi there,
    Have you tried writepdf? this is just as good as the apps mentioned but never seems to get a look in? Thanks !

  • Tony

    Josh, PDF Expert handles Dropbox syncing/offline access better than Goodreader, in my opinion.

    The big draw to PDF Expert over Goodreader (or the others), however: PDF Expert seems to be the only app that CORRECTLY handles Adobe Forms. Only an issue for some, but I use forms all the time.

  • Ray

    iAnnotate is able to read word docs, ppt, and image files if you sign up for a free account. At my City this has been the app of choice!

  • Ray

    Also – it looks like “Documents by Readdle” is now a free app.

  • N

    I’m surprised no one has mentioned Notability. While I use Goodreader for going through voluminous PDF sets, Notability offers the most comfortable and no nonsense way to bookmark and annotate records with hand writing that I’m aware of.

  • Avi

    Nicole – does any of these apps allow saving/sending annotation text to someone by email?

  • Arne Bakstad

    What about Mendeley. It´s free (2GB) and works on Win,Mac,iOS. Synchronizing all documents through all platforms. Have annotation, and search thru all documents. It´s worth a try.

  • Freek Sanders

    What about Easy Annotate? I use it for my research work. It allows showing and annotating two PDFs side-by-side.

  • Chris

    I also say Easy Annotate, it’s is the only app that allows you to view, edit and link 2 PDFs in the same screen. It supports dropbox and I love the easy interface!