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 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
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26 Replies to “How to view PDF and other files on your iPhone and iPod Touch”

  1. Hi Damian, thanks for that.

    Do try out Stanza — I find that between the two of them you get the best options for reading PDFs. If one doesn`t display a PDF properly or nicely formatted, the other ususally will.

  2. Is there a way to do this “over the cable?” When travelling I usually have 3G access on my iPhone. I have docs to go so I can read and modify any file I receive but working on a large doc on the iPhone is cumbersome. I want to transfer the file to my lap top “over the cable” as there isn’t a wireless network available, then edit it, then transfer it back for emailing on to the next person. If there was a wireless network I’d just do everything on my PC. When tethering for the iPhone is available without jail breaking my problem wil be solved but who knows when if ever that will happen.

  3. tried files lite and dropbox. nice, although it would be perfect if i didn’t have to reach page 376 by flipping one page at a time. that’s pretty much a deal breaker for me.

    1. True, unfortunately PDF support for long documents on the iPhone is a bit lacking — it seems there’s some sort of political issue between Adobe and Apple re: iPhone Flash integration. Another app you can try is Stanza (, a free eBook reader. It will address your concern about jumping to a specific page, but therea are some formatting issues:

  4. Hi Antonios,

    You need to run Stanza on your desktop computer. Then load the ePub you just made. Then look under the Tools menu and ensure that Enable Sharing is checked.

    Now go run Stanza on you iPhone/iTouch.
    On the bottomline menu, select Get Books. Then, select Shared on the Top button bar — your shared book should appear in the Computers Sharing Books section.

  5. Hi, you have no idea how happy I’m to see I’m not the only one trying to do this, my situation is the following,I have a book (medical book to be exact) its in PDF, my question is how can I read it on my itouch? I have tried emailing it to myself but its too heavy and my simple yahoo account doesn’t upload it, I’m losing hope, my main purpose in buying the itouch was to be able to read docs, and pdfs on it….

  6. Hey Brad,

    Just thought I’d stop by to let you know how I appreciate people like you who respond to each and every comment and really try to help them out. 🙂 Really nice of you. 🙂

  7. GoodReader and Stanza are great. but i discovered a fast PDF reader in FAST PDF. Its fast but i still think good reader takes the cake.

    But seriously guys, how often do you read on your iPhone

    Fast PDF >>

    GoodReader >>

  8. Hi Kyith, thanks for the comments and links — it’s appreciated.

    And actually, I *used* to read quite a lot on my iPod touch. But recently I picked up a dedicated eReader (the Kobo).

    The larger form-factor does make a difference.

  9. Apple’s iBooks reader supports pdfs. If you drop a pdf into your itunes library you can have it sync to your iPhone/iPad/iPod. Unfortunately setting up sync did not seem very intuitive. I have not used dropbox, but it may be it is easier to setup.

  10. Thanks Steve! Sadly I’ve not updated this post yet, but your comment updates it nicely.

    Do try Dropbox, if not for the reader function just for the ability to have access to your docs on multiple platforms.

  11. To read pdf I installed the Amazon kindle app version 1.2 on my jailbroken iphone 3g. First, I connected with putty and searched for *mazon* to locate the kindle app directory. Then I connected with winscp (using windows xp) and put pdf files that I convert with this free software “auto kindle ebook converter” in this directory:

    Start the kindle app after you have copied the .mobi files (that are converted from the pdf’s) to the mentioned directory…

    Happy readings!!!

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