Reading research papers on the iPad


One of the driving factors behind my decision to buy the new iPad was the experience of reading academic papers using the new retina display. It has not disappointed. As previously stated, beyond a few inches from my face, it basically looks laser print quality to me. Both single- and double-column journal articles are perfectly legible. To get a feel for the resolution of a typical pdf (single/double columns), check out the full size images below:


The de facto standard app for reading pdf documents is GoodReader1. While not the sexiest app, it handles my pdf workflows very well. I have it set to watch a few folders on Dropbox. Anytime I add a pdf to these folders, my iPad pdf library is updated with those papers the next time I launch GoodReader. Paging through pdf files is dead fast. You can intuitively navigate through the table of contents, annotate pdf’s, crop out the white margins, you name it. It especially plays nicely with LaTeX-generated pdfs which use the hyperref package.

I have sync folders set up for:

  • Research articles I constantly reference
  • Programming manuals (basically all my O’Reilly pdf’s)
  • The full manual set for my nonlinear finite element software
  • My thesis and other working papers

The mental shift of now having my full pdf library inches away and not fighting for screen real estate with other apps is a game changer. In this sense, the iPad is becoming a fine-tuned, personal reference machine which acts more as a peripheral to my desktop computer when actually doing research. It has also allowed me to essentially quit carrying a big bag around, since all my reading material is digital. Often when I get stuck and need to spend some time in deep concentration reading an article or technical manual, I will just grab the iPad and walk to a nearby coffee shop.

In summary, I couldn’t be happier with the pdf workflows I’ve set up on the new iPad. While the price to play is high, it’s been totally worth it.

  1. There are many apps that cover similar bases, such as iAnnotate PDF, Papers, Mendeley, etc. I’m sure these are all great, but GoodReader covers everything I need in a streamlined way. 

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