High Variance

PDF Expert 5.0

More than a year ago I wrote a quick review of what I thought were the three best PDF annotation apps on the iPad. The clear winner for my needs was PDF Expert. Things haven’t changed much since then. Ben Brooks just did a super-comprehensive review over at The Sweet Setup, and the latest version of PDF Expert (5.0) floated to the top. I just upgraded and worked it through its paces grading twenty 15-20 page papers.

All the features PDF Expert had before are still there, and now they all work just a little better. The new annotation toolbar sits on the side taking up very little room. You can have multiple documents open simultaneously in separate tabs. I flipped back and forth between each student’s final paper and their graded midterm draft so I could see if how they incorporated my earlier feedback. The synchronization with Dropbox is more reliable than it was–I used to get the occasional failed sync and 5.0 has been rock solid.

There are lots of new features I haven’t even tried yet. The most intriguing is a review mode that let’s you edit the text and then transforms those edits into MS Word Track Changes style annotations. If I’m working on a document with someone, I would much rather see their changes in a source format (like MS Word) where I can choose to accept or reject the changes. On the other hand, if I’m giving heavy-handed feedback to a student on a draft, this might be just the ticket.

My only complaint about 5.0 is ridiculously minor: when I backspace delete in a text box, the text flickers. That’s it–everything else works great.

For the last several months I’ve done most of my PDF annotation on the Mac. A big screen and a real keyboard are advantages that are hard to beat. PDF Expert 5.0 has brought me back to the iPad. In portrait mode, I can thumb-type fast enough and the new toolbar is very efficient. With my reading glasses and a 12 point font, my iPad’s screen size is fine. It’s nice to be able to spend some productive time on my couch again.