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Hands On: GoodReader 4 for iOS 6, 7

updated 12:12 pm EDT, Sat June 7, 2014

Is the new 'paid update' for the venerable iOS app worth the $7?

PDF powerhouse GoodReader was an early addition to Apple's app store, before the iOS had a good option for reading the ubiquitous file format. Even in the beginning, it had a wide array of tools available for media consumers to annotate, view, and manipulate PDFs, if only on a basic level. Controversially, the universal iPhone and iPad GoodReader 4 has now been released, and is a paid upgrade in the form of a completely separate app from the previous versions, which had discrete versions for large and small iOS devices. Is it worth paying for a new version? For that matter, should a new user shell out for the app, in view of Apple's own tools for PDF viewing?

GoodReader was launched in April of 2010, and does far more than just PDF reading. The previous version before GoodReader 4 read Microsoft Word .doc files, Microsoft Excel .xls files, the aforementioned PDF, and a bevy of audio and video formats. It has always given users a wide array of ways to import documents, such as email, Wi-Fi transfer, and USB transfer through iTunes. We've always found the wide array of network protocols it can access the most useful for "pulling" content to the device most useful, such as access through SMB and AFP shares.

Apple's iBooks support is nicely integrated into iTunes, for sure, but lacks a certain flexibility. We have a selection of 22 damaged PDF files we keep on hand for testing readers, and Apple's iBooks app fails to open any of them -- some of them only have a single corrupted bit. GoodReader 3.21.7 (the last version before the paid upgrade) opened up most of them (17 out of 22), and choked on badly-mangled files, which is what you'd expect from a damaged PDF, really. GoodReader 4.1 only fails to read two, and notifies us that the source file is damaged.

Refreshingly, there is not an in-app purchase to be found in GoodReader 4. PDF annotation -- including the ability to read the notes on a different device -- PDF export, file synchronization, network access, all features of other apps that one might normally expect to have to shell out for are all included in the base purchase of GoodReader. We had mentioned network shares before, but the app also includes DropBox, OneDrive, and SugarSync linking capabilities, which allows for a vast amount of documents to be available at any time to the user.

Adobe's PDF reader on the iOS is attractive, but lacking in features and laden with in-app purchases. A quick perusal of the iOS app store finds well over 100 apps with the ability to read and manipulate PDFs. While we haven't tested more than a small fraction of them, but even after weeding out dozens of clone apps and apps from questionable sources, we've still found GoodReader 4 (and the previous 3.21.7) to be some of the most flexible, powerful, and user-friendly readers ever.

As an aside, GoodReader 4 has a migration tool to shift PDFs and other files from the previous version of the app to the new one. This is not a move, it is a copy action -- so the PDFs you've got stored on your device, are now in two places. The app is good about telling you this prior to the migration, but if you're tight on storage, it might be time to clean out the cruft.

Other new features include PDF manipulation by page, allowing for individual page rotation, grouping of pages, and other similar non-destructive changes. PDFs can be split from inside the app as well, allowing you to select a page or two for emailing to a colleague, instead of an entire 400-page copy of the AP Style Guide, or similar document.

Now, the big question: If you own a previous version of GoodReader, should you shell out the $7 for the new version? I think it all boils down to what your plan is, and the age of your device.

GoodReader 4 requires iOS 6 and above, so that cuts out first-generation iPads. Admittedly, there aren't a lot of those left on active duty, but they survive much better than equivalently-aged Android devices. If you are one of the holdouts, you can't get the new version, so it's a non-issue.

Recent (and very late!) updates to the previous version of the app support iOS 7, but I think it's unlikely that iOS 8 will be supported by the older version very well. If you're planning on migrating to iOS 8 (and most users than can, historically upgrade quickly), then I think GoodReader 4 is a must-buy.

If you bought GoodReader "back in the day," meaning more than two years ago, $7 is a very small toll to pay for the re-written version of the app. The same PDF loads faster on the newer version, and the interface is a bit cleaner, with less clutter and mayhem, for lack of a better word.

The GoodReader 4 developers took some heat for the paid upgrade for GoodReader, which sparks a debate -- how long should a developer support a piece of software that you paid for? GoodReader as an app is over four years old, with the developer releasing frequent updates (with the exception of iOS 7 support) for a long time. At what point is it time to shell out for an update, like Adobe and others have been doing for years?

Society is going more paperless by the day. We've spoken to lawyers, architects, role playing gamers, doctors, and dentists, and all are growing their needs to read PDFs daily. While we're not quite at Star Trek levels yet -- where anything can be accomplished with a handy touchscreen device -- we're getting closer every minute. GoodReader 4 (and by association, the older version of GoodReader) is what Apple should have implemented for PDF consumption. If you've had it before, and can run the new version, buy the new version. If you need a PDF solution for your iOS device, look no further.

Who is GoodReader 4 for?: Anybody who needs robust PDF management and "can-opener" reading tools on a new-ish iOS device.

Who is GoodReader 4 not good for?: iPad 1 users. However, iPad 1 users should get the older version instead, without remorse.

by MacNN Staff





  1. Haywire

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 11-21-01

    You forgot to mention that GoodReader has a useful filing system that could have made an excellent Finder for the iPad. At least it's a good Finder for GoodReader.

  1. Mike Wuerthele

    Managing Editor

    Joined: 07-19-12

    Didn't quite forget as I thought the other points were more important for readers, but yes, the filing system is good!

  1. Spudboy2004

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 01-26-04

    I love the app and the cloud services and ftp really help me out.

  1. azrich

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 04-19-10

    The cloud service is what sold me on this app (with it's many happy reviews). I have an organic cert that requires me to keep Organic certs of the green coffee I buy on file. Everything at the roaster is done on my iPad and so I can have all the .pdfs available with this app. I jokingly said that the next version of iOS will do this for me but I needed that now so I bought this app. Sure enough, looks like the iOS8 would do what I want. Sadly I can't wait because I have an inspection in two weeks! For the price it's totally worth it and no doubt it's other features will come in handy.

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