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PDFs are the lingua franca of the business and academic worlds. Up until relatively recently, creating one required either pricey Adobe software or clunky workaround third-party solutions. And that's on the desktop. In the world of iOS, we have options from the clunky to the elegant. It's just a matter of figuring out which one is which.
Since Adobe's behind the ubiquitous format, we'll start with their CreatePDF app. This bare bones universal app is little more than a shell that works in the background. Upon opening the app, there's nothing but a message stating you lack files. It's only when you open a document in another app and are prompted by the "Open In..." menu that Adobe works its magic.
Not much to see here
At that point, you are returned to CreatePDF, wheels spin, and a document appears in your list with the familiar PDF logo. Tap the document to see the flawless execution. Once in the document, tap the center for controls either to return to the document list or to open your PDF in a more dedicated document manager or to print it.
Perfect PDFs every time
That's almost all there is. Back at the document management page, there is a trashcan icon to delete the file and an envelope to mail your PDF out. According to the app description, CreatePDF works with Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, OpenOffice, WordPerfect, TXT and RTF files and performs its magic by uploading your document to Adobe's cloud service. The conversion doesn't actually take place on your device, which is a bit of a drawback. But when the results are this good, it's hard to fault the software.
For starters, a lot more buttons. Sixteen on the opening screen to be exact. Not all are actionable from the start, though they add a decent amount of functionality. Across the bottom are five main buttons. Files is your document management screen; Web pages opens a browser where you can convert web pages to PDFs; Contacts lets you create lists of your contacts as PDFs; Images allows you to turn your photo albums into documents; and Settings gives you some under the hood tweaks.
A lot of buttons but a lot of functionality too
At the top left, we have an i for information button next to a Help button that launches a sizable document outlining features. In the other top corner, the PDF button does the magic while the printer icon allows you to make paper copies of your documents.
Tap a document in your Files and the bottom half of the screen allows you to view it. Unlike some other apps, Save2PDF will let you create text documents which you can convert to PDFs. Tapping the + lets you create a new document or folder or import from a variety of cloud services including Box.net, Dropbox, Google Docs, and more.
The usual suspects in online storage
The browser wasn't any great shakes, though we found Save2PDF did make rather nice PDFs of web pages for reading later or saving. Contacts also failed to wow us, churning out an alphabetical list of our contacts -- but as a PDF!
Fancy contact list, eh?
Images, on the other hand was our favorite feature. Go to that page, tap the + and begin adding images to your document. Save2PDF will let you add as many pictures to your document as you want, then it will let you adjust the photo size on the page and its orientation, and the order of which picture comes first.
Merge documents into one and sort them too
Even better, if you finish a document and decide you were too hasty, Save2PDF will let you merge it with another, essentially tacking one document on to the other. You can edit the location of the soon-to-be-PDF's contents, so we could easily add several pictures, then a short essay, then follow that up with even more pictures, then move them all around until we decide to commit.
Options, options, options, Save2PDF is definitely the most feature rich
Like Adobe's CreatePDF, Save2PDF also resides in your "Open In..." menu, allowing you to kick your documents to it when you need a hand. And the move works both ways as you can email or export your document (tossing it into one of your linked cloud services), open in another app, or even zip several documents into one exportable folder. Of all the apps we looked at, Save2PDF had by far the most numerous feature sets.
The makers of PDF PROvider, Dar-Soft, also opt for separate versions of their apps for iPhone and iPad. In the iPad version of the app, all our button controls save one run down the left hand side of the screen (these are on their own screen on the smaller iOS devices).
A column of buttons
Tap the page icon for a document list or the Dropbox icon for integration with everyone's favorite cloud storage. A soccer ball looking icon takes you to PDF PROvider's skimpy browser for converting web pages to documents while a camera icon allows you to turn exactly one photo into a PDF.
We can merge this later, but only one at a time?
The app also has a clipboard where you can paste blocks of text you may have picked up somewhere and make them into PDFs though you can't edit this text. In fact, PDF PROvider offered us essentially less than Save2PDF with one notable exception. Tap on the Rolodex-y looking contact card and you can turn your contact lists into PDFs but much nicer formated than in its competition.
Best looking address book of the lot
The contact list format isn't pretty and provides you with practically no information from your contacts -- such as phone number. Select business card format and your contacts are put into little discrete boxes with their names and phone numbers in an appealing looking document.
There is also an option to merge documents, though it's far too many taps and steps in the process when compared with its competition. Perhaps the weirdest thing about PDF PROvider (other than its annoying name) is that there are two document management places. A documents list where where documents go prior to conversion and a PDF icon that takes you to the actual documents you've made.
Dropbox access allows us even to delete
PDF PROvider also boasts the ability to convert iWork and MS Office documents, as well as pictures and web pages, though we found many documents failed to open and Word documents which did open had bizarrely large right margins once converted to PDF format. Once installed, this app too resides in your "Open In..." options, though it'd not be our first choice.
Noted document management developers, Readdle, don't even bother with the smaller iOS devices with their PDF Converter. Fire up the app and find a screen informing you that their app too now resides in your "Open In..." menu. So that's covered.
Thanks for the explanation, Readdle
Running down the left hand side are buttons like tabs. Documents holds what it says. When you have one there, tap the arrow out box in the upper right to push the document to another file manager to print or the send it as an email attachment. Clipboard opens with whatever you've most recently copied to it (including images); Contacts makes a list from your address book, though better than Save2PDF's; Mail is merely instructions on how to use the "Open In..." option from the email program.
Not that terribly difficult, though a bookmarket would work too
With Web Pages, Readdle tries two different tacks. The simplest by far is to copy the URL and paste then open up the app and tap on the clipboard. Far more difficult are their instructions to in Safari change the "http://" prefix to "pdfhttp://" instead. This second method worked with three different browsers (including Readdle's own Terra) with identical results. Pasting the web address in directly also worked well. Tablet optimized pages (like Yahoo!'s home page) did present some layout bugginess, however.
Most pages turn out all right, but sometimes tablet coding can go a little wonky
Below the Web Pages button are two more, one button for iDisk and one for Dropbox, but instead of offering any kind of hook up, these two buttons are merely instructions on how to use the "Open In..." option with either of those two services.
Conversion was smooth and the document great, we just expected more features
We have to admit to being somewhat surprised that Readdle didn't pack in a few more features here, though hopefully an update (or three) takes care of that issue. Still, it did render beautiful PDFs.
For the most part, our recommendation turns on what you want to do. Adobe's CreatePDF definitely creates the best product, provided you have Internet connectivity and a good looking document to begin with. If you just want great PDFs of things you've made elsewhere, then look no further. If you want cloud connectivity and enjoy making books of photographs and merging documents and creating PDFs fresh on the spot, then Save2PDF can't be beat. PDF PROvider felt clunky and didn't perform conversions especially well, though it provided the best contact list of the bunch (which isn't saying all that much). Finally, we expected more functionality from Readdle, though the conversion of documents to PDFs is as attractively done as by Adobe itself without the need for the Internet. PDF Converter is as good as Adobe's CreatePDF and at three dollars cheaper, it's a steal.