Remarks for iPad
Remarks by Readdle is one more in a growing list of iOS PDF reader and annotation apps. This category interests me in particular because of my lifelong struggle with paper. (I occasionally win a few battles but, after taking a quick scan of my desk, it's apparent that I'm losing the war.)
You can bring PDFs into the $5 app a variety of ways: You can use the old standby methods of email and iTunes file sync, or you can use newfangled cloud services like Dropbox, Google Docs (or Google Drive), SkyDrive or any WebDAV server. I was surprised at the lack of iCloud support, but the app provides two-way folder synching with Dropbox and SkyDrive, which is probably a perfectly fine substitute for most people.
Like most other PDF reader apps, Remarks lets you mark up documents using highlighting, underlining, and strike-thru effects. This works just as you'd expect, however, I find it odd that there's no apparent way to erase a mistaken highlight other than to delete everything on the page.
You can insert images, draw geometric shapes, and create text boxes with a variety of fonts, sizes, and colors. (Fortunately, Comic Sans is not available, but fans of Marker Felt won't be disappointed.) Shapes and text boxes float above the page and can be freely moved and resized. If you want to duplicate a shape, you can do so by double-tapping on it. That's good, since the app doesn't seem to use standard copy/paste functions for some odd reason.
The pen tool lets you draw and write freehand, while the eraser tool lets you erase those shapes (but not highlights, as I've already mentioned). I've always found freehand drawing to be very limited in these types of apps, but Remarks provides the smoothest freehand drawing experience I've seen so far. Additionally, if you zoom into the document, you can draw fairly small, yet surprisingly detailed, freehand shapes. (Note: You can draw with your finger or a stylus, but you'll get much better results with the latter.)
Within each document, Remarks provides a thumbnail view of all the pages where you can add/remove/rearrange pages, export one or more pages to new documents, insert pages from other documents, and email documents to other recipients.
The app provides most of the tools I need to create basic notes and annotations, but I don't like that only a few of these tools are directly accessible on the screen at any one time—you first need to tap on a button to display the underlying tool options, then tap on the tool you want to use. This gets a little cumbersome since I tend to switch frequently among the various tools.
Despite my complaints, Remarks is still quite functional. It's a good tool for making quick annotations to PDF documents and taking short notes. Additionally, with the recent 1.4 update, the app lets you record audio notes, making Remarks more useful for note taking in classes or meetings. But I think support for standard copy-and-paste, a better way to edit annotations, and streamlined tool selection would make things much better.
[Brian Beam is a software designer and partner with web development firm BOLD Internet Solutions, living somewhere near Kansas City.]