How to view PDF and other files on your iPhone and iPod Touch

This article was originally written in April 2009. A few new apps have appeared since then, but one, GoodReader is now my daily go-to PDF reader right now. I touch on a few of the new apps here, including GoodReader, but you’ll be back on this page if you want to check out Stanza — a great eBook reader.


I have to read a lot of fiction in the next few months. A lot of Science Fiction to be precice, and it’s so I can cast an informed ballot to help select the best of the genre at this year’s World Science Fiction convention (WorldCon).

As a member of WorldCon, a packet containing this year’s nominees arrived in my inbox earlier this week. Lots of PDF, RTF, DOC and TXT files, for many diverse categories including best Novel, Novella, etc. Not small files by any stretch.

So, to avoid culling a small forest by printing it all out, I decided to try and read them on my iPod Touch. In the past I’ve enjoyed reading on my previous portable device, the Palm T|X, so figured that I should give it a try on the Touch. And that got me wondering, is there an iPhone or iPod Touch app to read pdfs? I’m happy to say the answer is yes, but.

The dilemma, how to get just under 200mb of data on to this little sucker. Well, I solved it, two ways. Here’s how:

Over-the-air file sharing (Air Share) for PC with Files Lite:
Files Lite is, as the name suggests, the free ‘lite’ version of OliveToast’s Files program.

The way it works is pretty simple.

Files allows you to store and view files on your iPhone or iPod touch. You can connect to Files from any Mac or PC and drag and drop files straight from the Finder or Windows Explorer, as you would with any other shared folder. In fact any client which understands the WebDAV protocol can connect to Files.

So, basically your setting your iPhone up as a server, then copying files to/from it using your desktop computer’s interface.

I’ve tried it, and it works quite well. But, where it really excels is in it’s ability to display those various file formats. I’m already part way through Little Brother
by Cory Doctorow and am very comfortable reading on the iPod Touch. For the most part, Files Lite works as you expect a well-designed iPhone app to work.

Files Lite is limited to storing 200mb of data in your device. If you need more, then you’ll need to buy the full version at the AppStore.

Or, take a look at the next application, Stanza.

Stanza, the workhorse of eReaders for your iPhone
:

This just in (Apr. 27.09) Stanza was acquired by Amazon.com. Not sure what this’ll mean for the free eBook reader, but it’ll be interesting, for sure. Maybe Amazon’s catalogue will now be available via Stanza as well as Kindle.

Stanza is a very interesting ebook reading application. For starters, it’s not only for reading content you already own, you can purchase and download new content into your online library.

Which means that Stanza’s aware of many different online publishers (and differing eBook formats) of both free and paid ebooks.

To make Stanza work with your own eBook library, you’ll need to download and install the appropriate Stanza desktop client (Mac, PC).

Depending on your configuration (iPhone or iPod Touch) you’ll need to make sure your desktop application and portable versions of Stanza can ‘see’ each other. Here’s an excellent writeup on exactly how to do that.

One drawback for me; to transfer your existing library, you have to move one book at a time. You can’t (at least as far as I could tell) move multiple eBooks in one pass.

Reading on Stanza is pretty comfortable, and intuitive; tap on the right side of the screen to turn the page, the centre to adjust your settings, the left to flip back a page. Drag up or down to adjust the screen brightness.

So, for me, Stanza is the eBook reader of choice. It is clunky to get the content into my iPod Touch, but once it’s there, the reading experience is just a bit nicer.

Your mileage may vary. I’d be interested in reading your experiences with eBook readers…or suggesting others for me to look at…I’m sure I haven’t seen them all for the iPhone yet.

Update Sept. 30, 2009: The native application for iPhone and iPod Touch was released yesterday, and you can view (online and off) many of the file types mentioned above. I ‘touch’ on it a bit more here, but if you’d rather jump right in, check it out over at Dropbox.

Top photo courtesy David Sifry