turn your iPad into a tablet using PDF Expert

At my last university, I used a Windows Journal PC tablet for teaching, and I absolutely loved it. To cut down on costs, I researched alternatives for my first class at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I decided to go with PDF Expert by Readdle based on a glowing endorsement from Marina Epelman.

PDF expert is a pdf annotation app available for iOS and Android that costs $10 (I bought it on sale for $5). It does a lot. Here is Readdle’s description:

PDF Expert 5 is an essential application to store, read, annotate and sign PDFs. Highlight, strike out, draw with your finger or make your notes! Filling out PDF forms is a breeze. Smart zoom and intelligent snapping makes it easier to edit PDFs the way you want it. Sepia mode, text to speech an other helpful features create a great reading experience.

The app is great. Here is an example of lecture notes annotated with pdf expert [pdf]


I use the Adonit Jot Classic stylus to annotate the slides. Others have recommended the BoxWave EverTouch Stylus and the Wacom Bamboo stylus, the latter is better for those who annotate with a light touch.

I didn’t want to write this blog post until I read my student evaluations in case my class hated the tablet experience. The students seemed to like the app almost as much as I do. I use PDF expert to:

  1. Annotate pdfs while teaching.
  2. Annotate and mark up student papers for teaching and research.
  3. Sign papers.

What I like about using PDF expert:

  1. I can link it with my Dropbox and Box files to wirelessly send files.
  2. I can email the files directly to anyone directly from the app.
  3. It’s indispensable outside of class. I use this app to sign documents, review student paper drafts, review proposals, read papers for a paper competition, and review slides
  4. I can organize files into folders. PDF expert is so useful that I started to use it for everything. Managing clutter is key. The app helps me keep track of my files in folders. If I am on a review panel or a best paper competition, I can store the files I need in a folder and then delete afterward.
  5. You can merge pdfs and delete pages.
  6. It has a display mode and doesn’t go to sleep during class.
  7. It is easy to insert a blank slide, an indispensable tool when teaching when I need to clarify a concept by drawing a picture or working through a short example. I specifically checked for this feature when comparing pdf annotation apps (this feature wasn’t available in all of the pdf annotation apps).

In summary, I really like PDF expert. The only downside is that it took an extra click to use the tools (the pen and inserting a slide). That is a bit unavoidable with a touch screen, but it can be a bit awkward with a live audience. I got used to chatting while inserting a slide to limit awkward silences during class. I preferred using Windows Journal on a tablet PC to PDF expert, but at $10, PDF expert delivers a much bigger bang for your buck.

If you don’t annotate, I recommend considering it. Annotating has improved by teaching:

  1. It helps me to better explain complex concepts. I can easily add something to the slide on the fly if helps comprehension. Students better remember my explanations when they look at what I annotated.
  2. I face the class when teaching with a tablet. Facing the students builds rapport.
  3. I talk too fast. Annotating helps me slow down. Students who aren’t native English speakers truly appreciate this.

This is another blog post in my teaching with technology series. Go here to read other blog posts.

6 responses to “turn your iPad into a tablet using PDF Expert

  • tnetland

    I use iAnnotate (also highly recommended), but can’t say I’ve done empirical research into which one’s better…

  • art2science

    I examined this class of software, for my new iPad, and ended up trying several: Documents, GoodReader, and the tried and true iAnnotate. I don’t have a conclusion, yet. Most of my use is for my own reading, not teaching.
    Using a stylus is a good idea, in any case.
    Thanks for the post.

  • Gary L. Gray

    Two questions: (1) How good is PDF Expert at palm rejection when you are writing on the iPad? (2) How responsive is it? I have found that all PDF apps I have tried on the iPad have substantial lag that has always been a deal breaker for me.

  • Laura McLay

    (1) PDF Expert is OK at palm rejection. They have a feature for this that worked reasonably well, but sometimes my palm accidentally caused us to jump to the next slide. It was not comparable to my tablet PC (I had a Lenovo). The students didn’t seem to mind. In general, iPads are very sensitive to touch, and that will probably be an issue for all programs.
    (2) Extremely responsive. No troubles there. I used it on an old iPad2 with iOS5 and iOS7.

  • art2science

    Laura, I’m late to the party, but can you explain how you use PDF expert (or any iPad app) IN CLASS? Do you have software that lets you give presentations (or show PDFs) direct from the iPad.
    You write “The only downside is that it took an extra click to use the tools (the pen and inserting a slide). That is a bit unavoidable with a touch screen, but it can be a bit awkward with a live audience. I got used to chatting while inserting a slide to limit awkward silences during class. ”
    so I infer that you are, somehow, using it during lectures.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: