Since I started my masters, I’ve tried several times to go all-digital, with limited success. One reason is that paper still rules for reading and annotation speed while maintaining good comprehension levels. Another reason is that PDF annotation on Android still sucks even in 2014. I’ve tried all the apps I could find, paid or free. Here’s what I’ve found so far.

In my use of my tablet for reading academic articles, and I have to read a metric shitload of them pretty much all the time, a major consideration for me is that an PDF-reading app should get out of my way as much as possible, preferably allowing the speed of reading/page flipping/annotating to be similar to that of using pen & paper. That is a pipe dream, I know, but the more I have to divert my attention to doing these as a conscious task, the worse it is. My requirements then, in order:

  1. Fast page flipping. Anything that blurs or delays the text while flipping is out, as it breaks my reading flow.
  2. Page flipping like flipping through a book. With this I do not mean stupid animations, which I abhor; they usually add delay to the page flip, which is already slower than I want it to be, I mean like a book as opposed to continuous vertical scroll, which makes it just that much harder to mindlessly tap to the next chunk of content knowing sure that you haven’t skipped anything, or to go back to the piece that I saw “3 or 4 pages ago”.
  3. Effortless text selection for annotation. If I have to fiddle around multiple times to select the sentence I want to highlight: reading flow gone.
  4. PDF-standard highlighting and notes, or otherwise a well-documented annotation format. I highlight these texts digitally for a reason; if I can’t extract these annotations later for summaries/search, they’re useless, and I could just as well have stuck to paper & pen.

So what have I found?

OK(ish)

These 3 are my current compromise. None of these hit all the points.

ezPDF

ezPDF is my current mainstay, even if I’m not 100% happy with it. Main reason is that it supports page flips by taps & volume button, and that it’s not impossible to mark up text (that means you, Moon+). If I’m doing more than just very occacional markup, I go to PDF Max (see comments for PDF Max for some ezPDF annoyances that it fixes).

Moon+ Reader

Moon+ syncs your current reading position to Dropbox, and has easy brightness control. The text positioning is fantastic for reading, and if I know for very sure I’m only reading, Moon+ is my favorite. But for highlighting it’s somewhere near the bottom, beyond the ‘Meh’s.

PDF Max

This is a good alternative to ezPDF. Text selection is much better, but only swipes for page flipping, and I prefer taps or volume buttons. If I’m doing moderate markup, PDF Max is my go-to viewer. One downside is that in order to highlight the selected text you need to tap a button at the top of the screen, which means I have to ‘let go’ of the text. I prefer ezPDFs method, where a popup menu appears right above the selected text. That is, once you have actually managed to fiddle with the expletive deleted drag handles to select the text you want, in which time you also have lost track of your reading, and in the time it takes to get this right in ezPDF you’ve done this 5 times over in PDF Max. Why is PDF Max not my top choice?! Oh yeah, the page flipping swipes, and the occasional ‘block mode’ problem.

Meh

iAnnotate PDF

This client is just such a huge friggin’ let down. I’ve used the iOS version of iAnnotate, and in my view, if there is a single reason to almost get an iDevice, it’s iAnnotate. It’s that good. But not on Android. On Android it’s free, which just goes to show that free isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. I’d gladly pay triple the iOS price of the app if they brought the Android version on a par with the iOS version.

RepliGo PDF Reader

Foxit MobilePDF

Xodo Docs

Rubbish

Mantano Ebook Reader Premium

Mantano syncs documents & reading positions to the cloud – their cloud, to be specific, so you can forget about things like GDrive/Dropbox integration

qPDF Notes Pro PDF Reader

EBookDroid - PDF & DJVU Reader

Adobe Reader

Kingsoft Office + PDF/Kingsoft Office + PDF

Docs To Go

Qiqqa

Zooming is broken, and standard zoom doesn’t use the full screen real estate, stupid random bubbles on the left hand margin. No idea what the idea behind this is.

Fabrik Cloud Reader Stories

Note Anytime

Amazon Kindle

Quickoffice

SmartQ Reader