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PDF Expert 6

The Best App for Managing, Editing, and Reading PDFs on Your iPad

PDF Expert 6


Ben Brooks originally slogged through seventeen different PDF apps to find the best PDF app for managing, editing, and reading PDFs on the iPad. PDF Expert took the crown way back in 2013 and PDF Expert continues to be the very best PDF option for iPads in 2021 and beyond. Many apps have come and gone, while others have debuted and given PDF Expert a run for its money. But make no mistake — PDF Expert 6 is still the best app for managing, editing, and viewing PDFs on the iPad.

PDF Expert is delightfully easy to use, offers the fastest PDF app reading experience, works with many syncing services, and has the most robust toolset available on the iPad. In most cases, PDF Expert’s free toolset outmatches other for-pay options.

For almost any contract-based business, PDFs are a way of life. For many professional-based businesses — such as accounting, law, and realty firms — PDFs are a necessary evil. For many students, PDFs are the future’s version of last year’s textbook.

PDFs happen to be one of the best and most universal ways to send a document to another person. Almost any computing device can view them, and they will almost always display as intended — with formatting and layout intact — across all manner of platforms and devices.

Curated List of Must-Have Apps

We spend an inordinate amount of time sorting through hundreds of apps to find the very best. Our team here at The Sweet Setup put together a short list of our must-have, most-used apps in 2021.

You will get…

  • The current list of The Sweet Setup’s top 8, must-have apps.
  • A special, pro tip for each app to help you save time and become more of a power user.
  • A hidden feature of each app that you may not have known about.

The Sweet Setup Staff Picks for 2021

These apps work on iPad, iPhone, and Mac. And they range across several different categories but are mostly focused on productivity. They will help you get the most out of your devices and your day.

Get the List »

This is a boon for design-minded people who want to ensure that invoices, contracts, proposals, and brochures come across looking perfect, regardless of what device they’re viewed on. PDFs are the most reliable way to do this, and are an important part of any serious iPad user’s workflow.

Which PDF apps we tested, and how we tested them

For our testing, we included both paid and free apps that were popular or recommended. Many apps have been discontinued since 2013 or have seen major updates. The apps we tested include:

  1. PDF Expert 6
  2. Foxit PDF Editor
  3. PDF Hero
  4. Highlights
  5. LiquidText
  6. PDFpen 2
  7. iAnnotate 4
  8. Adobe Acrobat Reader
  9. GoodReader
  10. iBooks
  11. GoodNotes 5
  12. PDF Box
  13. PDF Pro 4
  14. DEVONThink To Go

Our testing for each PDF app involved working with three PDF files: a fillable PDF form containing a basic rent application, one annotated PDF app, and one seven-page legal-sized scanned lease that had OCR applied to it on scanning. We also utilized a 500-page general ledger PDF document as a dummy unit for testing document merge speeds.

We imported all three documents into each PDF app and ran the following tests:

  • Import speed
  • Speed at rendering pages on swipe
  • Compatibility with the different annotations and forms
  • Filling out forms
  • Redacting, highlighting, adding text, and notating PDFs
  • Exporting
  • Re-ordering pages
  • Merging documents
  • Organizing documents
  • Syncing PDF documents between devices/services

Only one PDF app, PDF Expert 6, could do all of those tasks. In almost every task, PDF Expert performed faster and/or more reliably than the other PDF apps we tested. There were many apps that could do almost every task, but often fell short in one or more tests — most notably in the merging and form-filling tests. And above all, PDF Expert offered more features inside its free toolsets — such as the ability to merge PDFs — than all other PDF apps.

The Best PDF App: PDF Expert 6

PDF Expert Hero

PDF Expert has been our pick for the best PDF app on iPad since the early days in 2013. Through numerous review iterations, PDF Expert has surprised us time and again — the last time this review was updated, PDF Expert introduced a new categorical feature all by itself. PDF Expert 6 was the only app that could merge PDFs in our last round of testing.

Of course, nearly all the best PDF apps on the iPad can now perform basic (and even complex) document merges. But none of them do it for free, do it as fast, and do it as simply as PDF Expert. In our testing, PDF Expert on the iPad could merge two documents (one 70-page PDF and another 550-page PDF) in under two seconds flat, while the same workflow consistently crashed on a 2019 six-core 27-inch iMac.

In talking with many iPad PDF users, a common theme ran throughout: The most important features of a PDF management app are organization, annotation, and reading. PDF Expert 6 offers the best of class in all three of those categories, and adds yet another: editing.

Managing and reading documents in PDF Expert

The organization offered in PDF Expert is easily the best of any of the other full-featured PDF apps. With PDF Expert, you can add favorite files to the sidebar, tag and label your files, view files as a list or as thumbnails, sort by date/size/name, and quickly view recently accessed documents.

Many PDF apps don’t offer this robust set of filing options, yet PDF Expert ups the ante with folder support, making it an app well-equipped for handling many PDF files while not feeling like overkill for someone with few PDFs. PDF Expert’s baked-in iCloud features also sync instantly, ensuring you can move documents in and out of PDF Expert’s dedicated iCloud Drive folder with ease.

PDF Expert also has built-in universal search for quickly finding the file you stashed away, even allowing file type modifiers such as *.doc, *.xls, *.mp3, etc — a lifesaver when you’re suddenly put on the spot in a meeting.

When you first open PDF Expert, you don’t notice that much of a different organizational view than you get with other apps, and it’s not until you start diving into the app that you start to appreciate its robust options. Many of the other apps we tested hide common user tasks with gestures and tap zones the user must somehow learn and remember. And still some others have opted to use Apple’s default Files viewer for managing documents — which has some benefits, but also relies heavily on the Files app experience.

Organization

PDF Expert tries to avoid taps and buttons where it can by clearly labeling things where needed and tailoring the gestures intuitively based on the view the user has chosen in the app.

  • In list view, swiping on a document will reveal icons to delete or rename the file — a standard iOS gesture that’s easy to remember. Long-tapping on a document will provide a popover window with a plethora of management options, like copy, move, rename, upload, tag, favorite, and more.

  • In grid view, tapping a file name allows for editing; dragging the icon (or icons, if you have multiple documents selected) reveals a “Delete” zone at the bottom of the sidebar where you can drop the files to delete them.
  • In either view, tapping the button for any document brings up the full pane of actions that can be performed on that file.

PDF Expert makes it easy to tap-hold-and-drag a file to perform actions on it — no need to find the Select button (formerly Edit). Once an app is tapped and held, PDF Expert shrinks the left sidebar options down to folders available for moving. It’s quick, easy, and ensures you don’t try to drag and drop files into inaccessible spots. Like everything else in PDF Expert, moving files around is extremely quick and easy.

Side note: Dragging a PDF file on top of another creates a folder, which is shown via the files changing into a folder icon (nice touch), but we would love to be able to toggle this action into a merging action. Dragging one PDF file onto another to merge the two together would be a better use for this action; after all, folders can always be created by tapping the new folder icon.

Dragging a file to the right side of the iPad display also provides a quick jump into Split View — PDF Expert makes great use of all the latest iPadOS features for multitasking and we’re excited to see how the Readdle team implements the new mid-screen multitasking option debuting in iPadOS 15.

When you do find yourself tapping the Select button, be prepared to smile if working with PDFs is a large part of your life. As expected, tapping this button allows you to select multiple files to act on. However, it also opens up a new set of options in the sidebar, including:

  • Merge files — Tap Select, check all the PDFs you’d like to merge, and tap Merge. The files will merge into a new document and prompt you for a new name, or it will use the name of the first selected file and then append a “(Merged)” tag. The original files are kept in place, which is nice, but we’d like an option for them to be deleted after merging.
  • Zip files — Want to send a bunch of files to a client? You can zip them up in PDF Expert for sending.
  • Stars and Color Tags — Just as they sound, you can color-code file names and star documents within PDF Expert, if that helps you stay organized.
  • Upload — In addition to the normal sharing options (i.e. email, “share/open in”), you can also choose to upload a PDF to any of the web services you have set up in PDF expert, like Dropbox. This is phenomenal for keeping documents backed up.

Not all of these features are unique to PDF Expert, but it was the only app we tested with all of the features together in one app. The most elusive to other apps are the tagging, zipping, and merging features. Even at that, many other apps simply did not perform these actions as easily as PDF Expert does.

In most cases, these high-level PDF features are easier to use in PDF Expert on the iPad than they are on the Mac. One of our contributors works in an accounting office and constantly uses PDF Expert on the iPad to merge files and create outlines for PDFs — both workflows on the Mac require separate apps, additional in-app purchases, and a surprising amount of computing horsepower to complete.

PDF Expert can also store and edit files stored in iCloud Drive, meaning PDF Expert files can easily be shared between iOS apps and Apple devices.

Merging Documents

As mentioned, PDF Expert is the only app of those tested that could merge PDF files together inside its free toolset. Though specialized apps do exist for this specific task, we are trying to find a good all-in-one PDF solution.

You can do this in one of two ways:

  1. As mentioned above, you can tap Select from the file picker view and select any PDFs you want to merge, then you simply tap Merge.
  2. There’s another method that’s less obvious but also gives you more control over exactly what you merge and where it gets merged. Go into a document and enter the thumbnail preview mode for that document — it’s the button that looks like a four-box grid — which shows you the pages in the document. From there, scroll to the end of the document (or wherever you want to insert PDF pages from a separate file), and tap Insert. You can insert a blank page, a scanned page, or pick a separate file with the PDF Expert-specific file popup window.

We tried both merging methods on a 28-page OCR PDF, attaching it to the end of a two-page PDF document. We also tried both merging methods with a 550-page method. In both cases, PDF Expert handled the task quickly and without hiccups.

Annotating and Editing Documents

PDF Expert 6 comes with two main modes for when you want to do stuff with PDFs: Annotate and Edit (the latter of which is only usable if you’ve subscribed to the $40 in-app upgrade to unlock all PDF editing features). While viewing a document, tap either one from the top-hand toolbar to select that mode.

Annotations

When it comes to annotations, PDF Expert has always had the most feature-rich highlighting engine in our testing. Offering very opaque coloring and dark colors makes it one of the few apps tested that allow you to easily redact lines of text using a black highlight, but do note that you need to flatten the PDF if you want it to remain redacted when shared. This is something the NSA should probably look into.

Annotations are also done very well when moved from platform to platform. In our testing, the former “idea cloud” annotation issue from the Mac’s Preview app has been fixed and text now appears inside the bubble properly. The far more common standard PDF comment is handled with aplomb in PDF Expert. Creation of those annotations is also a simple task.

Handwritten annotations using the Apple Pencil are also best in the business. There are options for adjusting tip sensitivity, enabling you to hand-write with variable line thickness, just like with physical pen and paper.

Highlighting, underlining, and strikethrough tools can all be applied easily with the Pencil as well. Another nice trick: When using the Pencil, your fingertip is used for navigation while the Pencil is used for annotation. Other PDF apps handle this differently and PDF Expert’s choice is the most natural way to use fingers and Pencils.

The biggest trouble we’ve run into with commenting was related to positioning. The small nature of the note bubble can make for rather tricky placement with a finger. If you’re one to obsess about getting positioning just right, you may become frustrated when manipulating the note.

PDF Expert also boasts solid signature support. Under the Fill & Sign feature set, you can create new signatures if you use the signature all the time, or PDF Expert provides a one-time customer signature field that provides a gigantic signature field for signing but doesn’t save the signature for the future.

For both options, creating a new signature is easy: simply tap Create New Signature/Customer Signature, change the color and pen thickness to your liking, and sign with the Apple Pencil or your fingertip. Once completed, you can place the signature anywhere you’d like. Our only complaint is the thickest line thickness is still a little thin for many forms.

It used to be that you could only stow one signature in PDF Expert. If you wanted to save both your full signature and your initials, the only way to do it was “hack” a solution together by saving one of them as a “stamp” by snapping an image of it. We’re happy to say PDF Expert provides the option to save multiple signatures.

A few other niceties of PDF Expert:

  1. Of the apps we tested, it has the fastest page reordering and deleting capabilities, always operating smoothly and quickly.
  2. Solid support for forms on par with the likes of Adobe Acrobat, which many other apps we tested sorely lacked. Form fields were clearly denoted in blue and you could jump between fields easily using the bar located above the software keyboard (or using the Tab key on an external keyboard). Most other PDF apps do not denote fields in blue and leave it unclear as to whether there is a text field available to be filled in.
  3. PDF Expert’s external keyboard shortcuts are fantastic for a PDF viewing app. There are options to quickly add bookmarks, to zoom in and out, to move between PDF tabs, and more, all from the external keyboard.

PDF Editing

PDF Expert largely led the way in terms of PDF editing on the iPad. Once Readdle created the ability to edit PDFs on the iPad, most other PDF apps followed suit. If PDF Expert’s free feature-set for annotating and merging isn’t enough for you, you can unlock the following features for $40/year:

  • Change text in PDFs — Ever wanted to change a single word or number in a document? How about an entire paragraph or more? With this feature, you can do exactly that. It’s even smart enough to automatically detect the font, size and opacity of the original text.
  • Edit images and links — Lets you insert images within PDF text, and convert images and text into links to web or PDF pages.
  • Black out or erase sensitive content — This isn’t merely a black highlighter like the annotation tool we mentioned above; this is true redaction for permanently removing sensitive text and/or images from documents you share. One nice touch is being able to search for and redact all instances of a word, character, or phrase throughout an entire document.

Overall, PDF Expert presents a powerful editing and markup tool for PDF users.

Reading PDFs

PDF Expert allows you to switch between vertical and horizontal scrolling modes, both of which perform admirably. To switch modes, tap the ᴀA button in the toolbar and select whichever one you like.

You can also view PDFs in two-page mode. This is great for providing an overview of a specific section in a PDF, and is doubly good on the largest 12.9-inch iPad Pro in landscape mode. The two-page viewing mode gets a little cramped on the 11-inch iPad Pro, but will do the job in a pinch.

As in previous versions, PDF Expert 6 offers Day/Night/Sepia reading modes that make for a great reading experience in any lighting situation — as does the app-specific brightness control — and a nice clutter-free reading interface.

PDF Expert has a Crop Mode that analyzes the PDF and gets rid of blank white space in the margins to bring your text front and center. This is helpful for providing larger text when viewing in two-page mode on an 11-inch iPad Pro, but otherwise eliminates margins where many tend to create annotations.

Finally, PDF Expert also has a Text to Speech option, whereby PDF Expert uses accessibility features to read out your PDF text in audible language. The voice reads quite slow by default, so make sure to tap on the gear icon and speed up the voice a little. Pushing the speed all the way to the hare end of the spectrum is ridiculously fast — somewhere right in the middle should do for most people.

Overall, the reading experience is solid, offering one of the fastest renderings of large PDF files we tested.

To The Cloud

One of the most important factors when choosing a PDF app is: How do you manage your files?

As with just about every other PDF app, you can use the iOS standard share button to send PDFs from Safari, Mail, and others directly to the app. However, PDF Expert also has built-in support for the following services: iCloud (which also works with Readdle’s own Documents 6 app), Dropbox, Google Drive, Box, OneDrive, WebDAV, FTP, SFTP, Windows SMB, SharePoint, and Yandex.Disk.

In other words, no matter what your office uses, you can probably sync your documents in the app.

PDF Expert works very well with Dropbox and OneDrive shared folders. If you have several different people you collaborate with on certain PDFs, you can all share a folder in Dropbox or OneDrive and that folder can be added to your Documents tab in PDF Expert. Then, any changes, updates, or other annotations you make to PDFs are synced to everyone else, just like you’d expect.

Readdle has also created a secure and fast way to transfer PDFs from your iPad to your Mac and vice versa when both devices are connected to the same local network. Simply open https://pdfwifi.com/ on your Mac and tap the Computer option in the left sidebar in PDF Expert on the iPad. Enter the code into the site on your Mac and watch as your Mac and iPad instantly connect to one another. Opening PDFs on the Mac is lightning quick and can be viewed right in the browser, or can be downloaded locally to your Mac. You can also upload files from the Mac that will be added to PDF Expert on the iPad.

If you are worried about the back and forth opening up a security hole in your file storage, PDF Expert also allows a user to set an app passcode that will lock immediately (Settings → Security → Passkey Lock). The app also allows you to enable iOS Data Protection file-encryption system. These are great options that help keep access to your cloud storage secure but easily accessible to you.

PDF Expert is the Best

Of all the PDF apps we tested, PDF Expert was better in almost every way because of its modern design, fast PDF support, and the most robust PDF toolset available on the iPad. In many cases, working with PDFs in PDF Expert on the iPad is better than working with them on a Mac.

PDF Expert is free on the App Store and is the best PDF app for the iPad.

PDF App Runner-Up: Foxit

Foxit PDF Hero

Foxit has stormed onto the iPad in recent memory after hitting its stride on Windows. One of our team members uses Foxit PDF Viewer full-time on Windows and was surprised when it was available — and so feature rich — on the iPad Pro.

Foxit has great design taste, a strong set of tools in its free tier, and a reasonable annual subscription for editing, organizing, and filling and signing forms.

Foxit’s free toolset lines up pretty closely to PDF Expert’s free toolset, save for one major drawback. Commenting tools — which oddly includes highlighting, underlining, comment boxes, and more — are diverse and customizable. Drawing tools house the actual pen tool, whereby you can mark up the margins with a pen or brush and with any color you’d wish.

Two oddities when it comes to Foxit’s toolsets, however. First, it seems counter-intuitive to the workflow to switch between Commenting and Drawing tools when studying a PDF and you want to highlight and write in the PDF’s margins. There is one extra tap between drawing and highlighting, and if you’re studying or in the zone on any PDF, this is quite a frustrating workflow hiccup.

Second, signatures are super finicky in Foxit as of the time of writing. You can create and save multiple signatures, however placing and resizing and reshaping signatures is super frustrating. We simply couldn’t resize the signature using the dots in the box around the signature. This could be a bug, or even something related to the iPadOS 15 public beta. But if signatures are fundamental to your PDF work, this may give you pause.

A few other issues with Foxit have it as the runner-up selection for the best PDF app for iPad. Apple Pencil support is present and totally workable, however some interesting UX choices here have it feeling awkward.

The Pencil performs dual usage based on how long you tap. So if you quickly tap and drag, the Pencil will move the PDF around and swipe navigate through the PDF. If you tap and hold slightly then drag, you’ll be able to highlight text and highlight/underline/strikethrough accordingly. PDF Expert handles this by making all finger-based gestures navigational and all Apple Pencil taps and gestures as annotations. PDF Expert’s workflow makes more sense to us, but it could be Foxit’s modus operandi is superior for some folks.

Fillable PDFs work well inside Foxit. All fillable fields are highlighted in blue, just like they are in PDF Expert. Filling in fields is quick and you can use the included bar above the keyboard to jump between fields with ease.

Searching an OCRed PDF is a breeze inside Foxit, as search results show up in a sidebar after you perform your search query and you can tap between the results in the sidebar. Search was fast, efficient, and spot on, every time.

Foxit’s premium feature set costs $11/year and offers strong editing features. Tapping on any text box on a PDF provides you an editing box which closely matches the font as you change the content in the PDF. Tapping on the four box grid button in the top right brings you to a thumbnail view where you can move pages around and reorganize the PDF.

Foxit’s merge PDFs feature is available inside the home view, but it’s somewhat difficult to find. It took us about 15 minutes of tapping around to discover if the feature existed. After discovering the feature, we weren’t able to get the two major files combining files available for testing, so we opted for two smaller files. These files merged with ease, but we weren’t able to test how the merge feature matched up alongside PDF Expert’s merging feature.

All in all, Foxit is a fantastic option for managing and editing PDFs on the iPad. There are a few interesting user experience decisions — specifically around the Apple Pencil and the workflow hiccups between Commenting and Drawing toolsets — but nothing that can’t be overcome. We also like the strong price point for Foxit here — at $11/year, Foxit is significantly less expensive than many other competitors and offers an almost-equal feature set with PDF Expert. PDF Expert simply provides more tools for free and has better stability and performance across the app.

If Either PDF Expert or Foxit Don’t Work For You: PDFpen 6

PDFpen on the Mac was a staple app for PDF users on the desktop for a long time and the iPad version is no slouch either.

However, in our testing, PDFpen fell short of PDF Expert and Foxit in a variety of ways:

  1. User experience features such as denoted fillable fields in a fillable PDF do not seem to be present. You have to tap on a fillable field for PDFpen to have any idea of how to input text.
  2. PDFpen heavily relies on glyphs and icons for you to navigate, initiate tools, and make changes to your PDF. We spent 30 minutes tapping random glyphs and icons to discover the action performed before actually testing the app.
  3. PDFpen 6 appears particularly buggy at the time of writing. The tested fillable PDF opened with no actual text and a bunch of random blue boxes. PDFpen was also unable to search the OCRed PDF file for results — all other apps were able to perform this task.

But don’t get us wrong, not all is bad with PDFpen. It offers strong export options and import sources, and uses iPadOS’s default Files view for managing, organizing, finding, and sharing PDF files. This helps PDFpen feel much more native to the iPad than other options we tested.

Most PDF apps use “stamps” to add graphics and imagery to PDFs on the iPad (thus allowing you access to your device camera roll), and the media library in PDFpen is robust and full of clip-art-like vector imagery that you can drag-and-drop into your document. There is a standard set of items like those found in other apps: comments, text, arrows, boxes, lines, and camera roll. There is also a massive set of proofing markup icons for proofreading documents and there are a range of great stamps for processing documentation for office workflows.

PDFpen is a solid, well-designed offering that brings the best of the popular PDFpen for Mac app to the iPad. However, due to some bugs and some user experience hiccups, it simply isn’t the best choice for most PDF needs on the iPad. It’s available on the App Store for iPad and iPhone.

Other Apps We Tested

As noted above, the list of PDF apps we tested for this review was extensive. Here is a quick summary of our findings for each app.

iAnnotate 4

iAnnotate 4 provides great tools for marking up, annotating, and merging documents. The app offers a range of ways to add storage areas — such as Box, Dropbox, OneDrive, Google Drive, etc. — and makes quick work of importing, opening, and preparing for annotation.

However, where iAnnotate 4 falls short is in design and organization. Despite the ability to store documents from a range of services, iAnnotate’s document management view is a little hard to follow. The app has extra small touch targets scattered throughout, specifically in the right tool sidebar. It’s great you can quickly customize the sidebar, but the touch targets are too small for anyone with stubby fingers.

All this, and iAnnotate 4 is on the more expensive side, specifically when compared to PDF Expert. You can purchase iAnnotate 4 after a short trial for $10, but you can use all the same tools inside PDF Expert for free.

Adobe Acrobat Reader

It’s a shame Adobe’s Acrobat Reader for the iPad is so poorly done. At best, the app is a PDF reader right now, with an exorbitantly expensive subscription that hides the ability to merge PDFs. Acrobat doesn’t have any ability to highlight or underline text, either.

Acrobat does have Liquid Mode though, which is great for reading and jumping around a PDF when researching. On the left side, you can see an outline of the document and you can scroll through the document with your thumb.

Liquid Mode highlights exactly what Acrobat is good for: reading and previewing, but nothing more.

GoodReader

GoodReader has a great set of tools for annotating and marking up PDFs and many of the app’s onboarding popup windows provide a good overview on how to use the app’s unique design. GoodReader relies heavily on glyphs and icons (like PDFpen) for actionable buttons and it’s oftentimes difficult to decipher exactly what each button can do.

GoodReader has strong Apple Pencil support, with some of the best handwriting features of any app tested here. The Apple Pencil sensitivity is a little on the sensitive side and there are numerous extra taps to delete, undo, or change an Apple Pencil annotation.

GoodReader is one of the better options in this “Others” list.

Books

Apple’s own built-in Books app is a reasonably good PDF reader for those who need to preview a PDF in a pinch. All Books features are baked right into the share sheet, making importing into Books a breeze. OCRed PDFs can be searched quickly, and easily and fillable PDFs — though not with denoted fields — can be filled in easily enough.

Where Books falls short is, among other things, its markup tools. Highlighting and underlining text can’t be done on a line by line basis, resulting in messy highlights. There also isn’t any ability to merge or edit PDFs in Books.

PDF Pro 4

PDF Pro 4 has a lot going for it once you get past the measly one-day free trial. With only a single day to test PDF Pro 4 to see if it’s right for you, it’s not hard to imagine most people instantly giving up on the app and moving on.

If you do opt to pay for PDF Pro 4 though, the app has some solid features. The app can merge files nearly instantly — faster than nearly all other apps tested. There are good annotation tools for quick markup and you can fill PDFs right within the app (however, our testing yielded some heavy bugs in fillable PDFs, mainly in invisible text).

PDF Hero

Most PDF apps on the iPad use a top header bar to navigate and choose tools. However, PDF Hero opts for a left sidebar for housing tools, which is a great workflow for right-handed writers with the Apple Pencil. The app is also easy to navigate and understand thanks to its reliance on text-based buttons rather than glyphs.

Like most competitors in this roundup, most of PDF Hero’s best features are hidden behind an exorbitantly expensive paywall. For $10/month, you can merge documents, sign documents, and apply stamps. We’re not opposed to paying for a good app if it’s worth it, but PDF Hero even opts to keep the ability to reorder pages in a PDF behind the paywall.

All in all, PDF Hero has a lot going for it, but is very limited when compared to PDF Expert’s vast free toolset.

Other PDF Apps to Consider for Specific Uses

There are still other PDF apps for the iPad that have very specific use-cases. These apps are best used for one particular thing, and PDF Expert would be best for most general purpose PDF management on the iPad.

For Managing PDFs: DEVONThink To Go

One of our team members recently wrote an intense national accounting exam and used DEVONThink To Go to store, read, and annotate their study PDFs.

DEVONThink To Go’s magic lies in its ability to unearth connections between files and its ultra-fast capture tools for accepting all sorts of files across iPadOS. But DEVONThink’s reasonably powerful PDF annotation tools can meet simple needs and provide the powerful document management knowledge workers love.

For Consolidating Important Information: Highlights

Highlights does one thing very, very well: showcase your PDF highlights. As you highlight and underline items in the PDF, Highlights takes those highlights and creates a split-screen view showcasing all the most important bits of information in the PDF. The “Both” view is particularly powerful, as it allows you to hone in on your notes and highlights and focus your attention on the pats you need.

Highlights’ Pro features include:

  • The ability to export your notes/highlights as Markdown and HTML to apps like Obsidian, Ulysses, DEVONThink, or Bear
  • The ability to extract tables
  • The ability to copy annotations directly to a desired format
  • Citation Lookup, which fetch metadata for scientific articles and integrates with your reference manager.

Overall, Highlights is likely best used by researchers or students who find themselves scouring through PDFs as they build a thesis or dissertation.

For Power Researchers: LiquidText

LiquidText is another researcher-specific PDF app which provides you a very unique two-paned view for taking blurbs out of a PDF, taking notes on that specific blurb, and synthesizing your notes to other notes in other PDFs. For many researchers, LiquidText is the go-to PDF app for processing and synthesizing thoughts across many, many PDFs.

LiquidText is built on the premise of “active reading”, which is the process of reading and taking highlights, annotations, outlines, and notes. High level active reading often requires the need to jump from page to page or document to document to find connections. LiquidText is built on folks who need to jump between sections of information quickly and to ensure maximum effectiveness for connection-making.

Of course, LiquidText is very research-specific and best used in the hands of a knowledge worker. For specific research needs, LiquidText is one of the best options available on the App Store. For more general needs, most users should stick to PDF Expert.

For Combining Handwritten Notes and PDFs: Goodnotes 5

We here at The Sweet Setup love Goodnotes. We have an entire course on the app and one of our most popular products each year is designed for and best used inside Goodnotes. For handwritten notes on the iPad, Goodnotes is one of the best options available.

The best part about Goodnotes is the app’s flexibility to handle multiple media types. As you’re creating a notebook of handwritten notes using Goodnotes’ awesome templates, you can insert PDFs right into your notebook. Those PDFs can be annotated, highlighted, underlined, and more right within the app so your notes are all housed in one spot.

Again, for specific users who take many handwritten notes and want their PDFs alongside those notes, Goodnotes’ specific feature-set will be killer. But for those looking to manage, organize, annotate, and merge their PDFs, PDF Expert is still going to be a better choice.

Conclusion

PDF Expert is better in almost every way than every other iPad PDF app we tried. It has a modern iOS design, it’s fast, and it has the most robust and easy-to-use toolset available on the iPad. The editing features alone are killer, if you choose to unlock them. In many cases, working with PDFs in PDF Expert on the iPad is better than working with them on a Mac.

PDF Expert is free on the App Store and is, without a doubt, the best app for managing PDFs on the iPad.

Curated List of Must-Have Apps

We spend an inordinate amount of time sorting through hundreds of apps to find the very best. Our team here at The Sweet Setup put together a short list of our must-have, most-used apps in 2021.

You will get…

  • The current list of The Sweet Setup’s top 8, must-have apps.
  • A special, pro tip for each app to help you save time and become more of a power user.
  • A hidden feature of each app that you may not have known about.

The Sweet Setup Staff Picks for 2021

These apps work on iPad, iPhone, and Mac. And they range across several different categories but are mostly focused on productivity. They will help you get the most out of your devices and your day.

Get the List »

PDF Expert 6

PDF Expert 6

$0 - $49.99
PDF Expert is easy to use, works with many syncing services, offers the fastest document reading experience, and has the most robust toolset available.