Reading eBooks with an iPhone / iPod Touch – Update

One of the iPhone / iPod Touch’s strongest features is the ability to use it as a PDF / eBook reader. Its nice to read something of your own if you’re in a waiting room instead of a three month old Sports Illustrated or any issue of People Magazine.

Almost a year ago, I wrote an article on the various reader apps for the iPhone / iPod Touch. Since then, there have been quite a few different apps released, free and paid, that change the PDF reading landscape.

The Hundred or So PDF Readers:

Searching the AppStore for “PDF” returns at least a hundred PDF readers, free and paid. About a year ago, there was Readdle Docs, Air Sharing and Text Guru. Now there’s over a hundred apps that fall into one of two types.

The Two Types of PDF Reading App:

I’ve noticed that the PDF reading iPhone apps pretty much fall into two different categories. There’s the reader apps which function like an actual PDF reader – allowing you to bookmark, search, and skip around. They’re what you would think of as a PDF reading app.

The other category is the reader / transfer app. These apps are primarily apps for file transferring and sharing between your iPhone / iPod Touch and your Mac (or other iPhones). In addition to transferring files and acting like an “Air Disk”, they read PDF, .Doc, .Txt, Excel, .Rtf and other files.

Which category you prefer depends on your use of your iPhone and your preferences. I encourage you to download the free “Lite” versions to see how you like the apps. Since there are so many, I’m not going to review them all – just a few of the more popular “reader” ones.

iPhone / iPod Touch PDF Reader Apps:

Readdle Docs – Readdle Docs has been a favorite of mine for a while now. With full screen viewing, landscape mode and bookmarking, it works well. Unfortunately it’s also a bit expensive, and for $6.99 they really should include a “Go To Page..” feature. Since my last review, Readdle Docs has made huge improvements in getting documents onto you iPhone. You can use WebDav transferring, the Readdle Storage Account, MobileMe’s iDisk, Downloading from Mobile Safari and saving email attachments. It will also read Word Documents, Excel Spreadsheets, iWork documents and a few other eBook formats (.pdb, and .fb2). Readdle Docs is expensive and won’t “Go To” but it’s still easy to use and works extremely well.

PDF Expert – Readdle pretty much answers all the shortcomings of their other PDF offering with PDF Expert. Go To Page: Check. Password Protected Documents: Check. Wifi upload: Check. Better Price: Check. In fact, while looking at both feature sets, its a bit tricky to figure out what exactly the difference is between the two. I’d go with PDF Expert because it’s $2 cheaper and includes the Go To Page feature. Using it is a breeze and compared to Readdle Docs, I like PDF Expert better.

PDF Reader Pro – YUYAO Mobile Software’s PDF Reader Pro is simple and surprisingly a decent reader. It has the Wifi Sharing for uploading documents, “Jump to” page, Zoom, Landscape and Bookmarking. It’s a very simple app with a straightforward UI, no nested menus to get lost in, and it works well.

Good Reader – Good Reader is the one PDF reader out there that specifically handles larger PDFs. Anyone who’s tried to open a textbook PDF, Computer eBook or just something monstrous, can tell you that after a certain PDF size, other PDF readers either crash, get freakishly slow and / or become unstable. In addition to handling larger PDFs, it has important features such as Go To Page, Bookmarking, and best of all, uploading documents to your iPhone / iPod Touch is easy, straightforward and painless. The interface is easy to use although when in full screen mode, getting the menu to reappear sometimes is a bit tricky. There’s extensive Hints and Info pages and Good Reader is well documented.

Aji Reader – Aji LLC’s Aji Reader is free and has all the decent features like go to page, landscape mode, zoom and bookmarking. However a huge disappointment is that documents can only be downloaded from the web or fetched from “Aji Server”. Unless you’re technically inclined and want to use Disk Aid, skip this one. Other that that, Aji Reader isn’t bad.

LookSee – Kristof Kowalski’s free LookSee reader had me pleasantly surprised. For a free app, it has many of the features of the paid apps out there. Features include Wifi sharing, go to page, bookmarking, landscape mode, password protection and will let you disable the screen sleep while you’re reading. The only downside is that it’s slow to load pages, even with flipping back and forth there’s considerable lag before the text appears. Hopefully this will be fixed in a future version.

Which to Choose?

This time around, its actually a bit tough to decide. All the readers do what they are supposed to and do it well. They address navigation, stability, price and uploading issues that plagued the field a year ago when landscape mode was a luxury.

While PDF Expert, LookSee and Good Reader were all my clear favorites, I have to recommend Good Reader because its well written, fast, has the important features and was specifically made for large PDFs. If you’re reading 700 page manuals, textbooks, technical books or any other larger size PDF, this is the app for you. However, PDF Expert is also a great reader app that’s well worth it.

If you’re only interested in free readers, Aji Reader is good but you’ll need to either jailbreak or use Disk Aid to get documents onto it. LookSee is also good but its performance issues will become annoying with regular use.

4 thoughts on “Reading eBooks with an iPhone / iPod Touch – Update

  1. I use FilesLite which seems pretty responsive and it’s free. Uploading is via wi-fi and you can have a public share folder

  2. Jonathan Van Matre says:

    You’ve misunderstood how Aji Reader works. It does not require that you download from an “Aji Server”. You can sync books to your iPhone over WiFi using their free companion software Aji Reader Service (available for both Mac and PC). It’s also designed for large PDFs, just as GoodReader is.

    They also have a paid app called Aji Annotate which adds extensive markup and annotation features.

    I’ve used both and would rate them both as highly as GoodReader – Aji Reader for being the best free reader I’ve found, and Aji Annotate for being the fullest implementation of annotation and markup on the iPhone. However, GoodReader also has its own particular strengths. The PDF Reflow feature is especially nice when reading books that aren’t highly layout-sensitive.

    Even though I love Stanza as an ebook reader (works a charm with every ebook format other than PDF), I use GoodReader’s PDF Reflow to read novels in PDF format because Stanza’s handling of PDFs is nowhere near as good.

  3. The best pdf reader is one that says you “forget that deprecated useless format” and exits. Pdf is not for mobile devices because it has fixed page dimensions. Even if you make pdf file suitable for iphone you should make two variants: horizontal and vertical.
    That pretty text reflow you mentioned is very CPU consuming task, which means shorter battery life. The right way to deal with pdf is to convert them on a computer to epub before uploading to a device. There are software and online converters, for example. For bulk conversion use Calibre.

  4. Just remember that the EPUB format won’t include images if your PDF contains them.