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Issue 8.4


GoodReader and Cloud Readers for iPad

Issue: 8.4 (May/June 2010)
Author: Marc Zeedar
Article Description: No description available.
Article Length (in bytes): 9,717
Starting Page Number: 10
Article Number: 8402
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I never bothered to install a PDF reader on my iPhone. That's because by their nature, PDF documents don't reflow to fit the size of the screen, and most PDF documents are designed for letter-sized pages, not tiny cellphone screens. Reading something like REALBasic Developer magazine in PDF form on an iPhone would be a nightmare of scrolling and zooming. But the iPad is a different story: one of my first missions was to find a good PDF reader.

If you're wanting just a simple reader without much else, and you aren't concerned with archiving material for long-term storage on your iPad, I recommend Cloud Readers. It's apparently designed for Japanese comic book reading, but handles any PDF. Since it's free, there's no harm in checking it out for yourself.

You can wirelessly beam PDFs to Cloud Readers via the simple built-in web server. Just activate the feature in the app by tapping the wireless icon. Then, on your computer, just go to and you'll see a web form that lets you browse and select a file for uploading. There are also fields for the book's title and author, if you want to fill those out (you might want to as the program will otherwise use the filename and there's no way to edit it later). This one-at-a-time method of loading files works, though it's tedious.

For basic book reading, Cloud Readers is fine, with simple touch-the-right side page advancing. However, for RBD I found one potentially fatal flaw: links within the document don't function. This means you can't tap an item in the table of contents to jump to that page. For books that don't require much jumping around, like a novel, this isn't a problem, but it's not so good for a magazine. Another problem is that all imported books are simply displayed in a long list, with no method for organizing items into folders, meaning the app isn't a good way to archive reference material.

GoodReader, on the other hand, is far more powerful. Initially on sale for just a buck, it's a tremendous value. It works in a similar way, allowing you to upload files via a built-in web server. However, GoodReader's web upload interface doesn't show a progress bar on the computer side (there are progress bars on the iPad but they are covered up by the server dialog).

But GoodReader offers far better ways to get content in and out of it as it also supports importing files from your iPad's camera roll, email, FTP and WebDav servers, iDisk, DropBox, Google Docs, and other cloud storage systems. It offers powerful folder support, allowing you to create, rename, and move items between folders. You can even password protect certain folders. The interface for doing this isn't pretty (think Font/DA Mover from System 7 days), but it works. One gripe is that imported items go into the root folder, instead of the folder you're viewing, so you have to manually move them after the transfer.

While both programs support the uploading of .zip files, Cloud Readers didn't unzip my test archive of RBD PDFs and tried to display it (blank pages) while GoodReader calmly extracted all the files in the archive, meaning with it I could send up a slew of files with one transfer. (Some normally invisible Mac OS X files were extracted from the .zip file, though it's not a big deal to delete such superfluous files.) GoodReader can even create a .zip archive from within the program (just select the files/folders you want to archive and click the ZIP button). I zipped a folder of images I'd imported and copied them from GoodReader to my DropBox, where I was able to easily retrieve them on my Mac. Sweet. (In fact, that's how I transferred the iPad screen captures for this article.)

GoodReader can also let you open any document it has imported in other programs that support such data. For instance, I tried to open an EPUB file in GoodReader, which didn't work, but it offered to send it to Stanza, which supports EPUB. (Unfortunately, Apple's iBooks software, which does support EPUB, apparently has not registered itself as supporting that format so other apps can't send it files.)

GoodReader even gives you a way to search through all your imported media, making it great for archiving. You can organize your material in folders and search it. Plus, GoodReader supports far more than just PDF: it can handle plain text, image, video, and even Microsoft Office files as well.

For reading PDFs, GoodReader supports internal document links and even conveniently opens web links right within the app instead of kicking you out to Safari. However, its page navigation system is somewhat confusing. Turning a page only works in the lower right quadrant or the "turn page" button at the bottom center (the upper left quadrant will turn back a page). You can also scroll with a vertical swipe. Since most book readers use a horizontal swipe and let you tap anywhere on the sides to turn pages, this is a strange decision and confusing if you're used to other readers. Another limitation is it doesn't display two pages side-by-side in landscape mode, a nice feature of Apple's iBooks app.

GoodReader offers most standard reading features: search, jump to a specific page number, a vertical slider that scrolls through the document, a button to lock the screen orientation, night mode (which dims the backlight), a table of contents (which reads a PDF's bookmarks nicely), and a unique "convert to text" mode which attempts to display just the text of a PDF without formatting. Unfortunately, the latter feature strips out all formatting and often isn't too good about keeping text in contiguous order, but it could be useful in some situations (it also lets you copy the text to the clipboard). There's a nifty "column lock" feature which is useful within RBD's multi-column layout: you can zoom in (via pinching) on a single column of text and then finger scrolling vertically keeps you within that same column. The app has a ton of preference settings, so you can customize how you'd like it to work.

Unfortunately, GoodReader as yet doesn't offer any annotation features or the ability to add your own bookmarks. Nor can it search through the content of all your documents (just the filenames or inside the file you're viewing). GoodReader isn't free and there are some rough edges, but it's my favorite of the two apps because of its power and flexibility. What's nice is that all that power is hidden if you just want to read: tapping the app opens right back into the book you were reading and the page you were on. You only see the app's interface elements if you want to browse through your library or transfer files.

End of article.