Reading papers on an Android tablet

* Update: Zotero Reader Web allows you to read papers on your Android tablet via your Zotero library.

I recently bought an Android tablet, specifically the Samsung Galaxy tab 10.1 2. 350$ (Canadian) for the 16GB version. I figured I would evaluate it, try and use it for reading papers, and keep it if I was satisfied.

Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 (10.1)
Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 (10.1) (Photo credit:

Now I’m no Apple fanboy so there’s no way I was going to buy an iPad instead, but for the sake of argument… The equivalent iPad, with similar specs (16GB, almost identical size) is 500$, so almost 50% more pricey. Furthermore, the iPad doesn’t come with an expansion slot for additional storage, while the Android tablet has a MicroSD slot. Android is more flexible and less annoying than iOS (it gives you access to a real filesystem, for instance).

So how is the tablet? It’s pretty swell! It’s bright enough that you can read in the sunshine. The Kindle app works like a charm; in fact I think I prefer the feeling on a tablet than on an actual Kindle because highlighting and flipping pages is faster and more natural.

Reading PDFs

You’ll want a PDF reader app that allows you to make annotations. My favorite thus far is the RepliGO reader. I’ve tried a bunch of different ones though:

Adobe Reader: Pretty decent choice. Annoyances: resets zoom when you change pages; only shows page previews when you push down on the scrollbar. Annotation interface is annoying; you need three clicks to highlight a passage.

Kindle: No annotations.

ezPDF: Rendering is way slower than all the other PDF readers, which makes navigation painful.

iAnnotate PDF: Promising as of version 1.1.3. Supports annotations, tabs, rendering is fast, etc. Still somewhat buggy though.

Mantano Reader: What a missed opportunity. Fast rendering and good note taking, but forces you to use its own shitty cloud mechanism to save annotations.

Documents to Go: Can’t try it out without paying 15$.

Polaris Office: No annotations

qPDF Notes: The highlighting annotation is stupid. It doesn’t actually highlight a chunk of text, just a square. That messes up any app that tries to read the annotations in your PDF and make plain text versions of it.

RepliGO reader: highly recommended. It used to be the case that it wouldn’t autosave the highlights so that if Android wanted to free up memory and auto-close the app you would lose your highlights, which was unbelievably annoying. That problem is solved as of version 4.1.1. It supports highlighting, bookmarks, etc. When you touch the tablet, a menu bar appears with a preview of other pages and all the annotation tools (see below). Annotations are compatible with Adobe Reader.

Given the size of the tablet, you can comfortably read half a page (divided horizontally) in horizontal mode or a full column in vertical mode. Changing pages to see different figures is painless since you see all the pages in thumbnail view. It’s not quite as natural as when printed on dead trees but I feel I definitely get a more tactile feeling than reading on a standard computer screen.

Getting PDFs on the tablet

Probably the easiest way of getting PDFs in and out of the tablet is Dropbox. Dropbox was preinstalled when I got the tablet. If you haven’t heard of Dropbox, it’s a cloud storage service that works across pretty much every platform known to man (Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS and Android); it syncs a folder across multiple computers by keeping a copy in the cloud (the internets, so to speak).

Then it’s just a matter of navigating to the correct folder through the Dropbox app (above).

Working with citation managers

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a big fan of Zotero. Originally, I thought I would access my Zotero library directly on the tablet. There’s an app called Zandy that supposedly shows your Zotero library on your tablet. Don’t buy it, it’s awful. Almost completely broken and useless. I also tried remote desktop applications. That works, but it’s annoying; it feels like working with a shittier version of your home computer.

In the end, I adopted Zotfile. Zotfile is an extension for Firefox that adds a couple of options to Zotero. For every attachment in your library (say, a PDF), it adds menu elements, including one which states “send to tablet”. What that button does is send a copy of the PDF to a Dropbox-synced folder. It renames the files with meaningful names so they’re easy to browse.

After reading and exiting RepliGO, the saved file will be synced by Dropbox automatically. Then on your PC, you choose “get from tablet” and Zotfile will fetch the commented, highlighted PDF from Dropbox. It will even extract the comments and highlights from the PDF and include them as a separate comment (below).

It’s not as streamlined as I would like it to be — a real Zotero app for Android would be best. Nevertheless, it’s less trouble than printing on paper and rewriting your comments on the computer.

If you’re about working with other citation managers (Mendeley, CiteULike, EndNote, etc.) on Android, share your experiences in the comments.

18 responses to “Reading papers on an Android tablet”

  1. Hello xcorr,

    some years have passed – is there any news on the topic? I am currently trying to decide whether I should go for an Apple or Android device as well as if it is worth choosing Mendeley over Zotero, as apparently there is a mobile app. Would love to hear from you.

    (Also I have yet to find a great PDF app like GoodReader for Android.)


  2. Phd student here looking also to buy tablet for PDF reading. I used both android nexus 7 and iPad 2 to test out PDF rendering.
    iPad is so smooth with rendering but I am so against buying one.
    Is androids problem just the fact that adobe reader sucks at rendering?
    It is so blocky and takes forever compared to iPad. Especially for academic papers that require scrolling back and forth.

    Any final solutions or thoughts with how you like your Samsung tab2? Consisting getting one since the price has dropped to 300

    • I still really like my tablet. The difference in rendering time might not matter once you’re out of the store; after all, you’re not going to have the two tablets side-by-side once you’re at home. RepliGO can be faster than Adobe, depending on the type of document; it’s especially good at prioritizing tile rendering so with papers with heavy graphs it’s much more usable since you see the text immediately rather than after the graphs have been drawn. I don’t know enough about the Nexus 7 to tell you if the Tab 2 will be noticeably faster or slower.

      The best I can say is: buy the Tab 2 from a store with an acceptable return policy (I got mine at Future Shop, where they had a 2-3 weeks no questions asked refund policy, pretty sure it’s the same for Best Buy in the US), try it with RepliGO for a bit, if you like it, keep it, if you don’t, return it. Your 5 minute experience in the store is very different from long term hands-on experience.

    • I recently bought Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1. So far, I really like it! It is on the pricier side (from $450 to $499), however it’s perfect for making notes, drawing diagrams and annotating PDF’s (I am saying this from the perspective of a physics PhD student). The coolest thing about this tablet is that it has a pressure-sensitive layer above the screen – so the sensitivity to stylus is extreme. Since it uses active stylus, it also has palm rejection function – so when you write with stylus, you can safely rest your palm on the screen. I can share examples of notes that I took with the tablet, if anyone is interested.

      • Ivan – I’m considering buying a Galaxy note 10.1 and really want good (or at least functional) pdf editing and citation software linking (mendeley, zotero, etc). Do you have any experience setting that up on your tablet?

      • Paul, I have tried Scholarley (it’s free), and it worked well but had some limitations. You can download your library to the tablet, view it, and annotate PDFs. However, all your annotations will remain local – there is currently no two-way sync of pdf files. However, all document metadata is two-way sync. I personally keep all my PDFs in a Dropbox folder, and sync that folder with my tablet using Dropsync. This way all my annotations are synced across all computers that I use, albeit I have to open PDF files outside of Mendeley. This works fine, as long as you don’t mind keeping a separate (outside of Mendeley) library of PDF files.

      • Ivan, regarding your usage of Scholarley: I do sync all of my PDFs with Dropsync too. However, as far as I know, there is no way to make Scholarley aware of where the PDFs are in the tablet. Thus, it is not possible to get to the (local copy of the) PDF file from Scholarley directly. (This is possible with Referey, though.) I’ve written about my experiences with these issues here

  3. please I need to show more A4 papers on galaxy tab 10.1 inch pr galaxy note 10.1 inch to examine the ability to read a4 sized two columns pdf research papers on it .

    • Look at the screenshot in the post to see what a two-column A4 or US-letter sized paper looks like in landscape mode. In portrait mode if you try to view two columns at once the text is too small to read, so you have to read it one column at a time.

  4. Another important point: if you’re on Mac then you’ll definitely want to go with the iPad. That’s because the Papers app for Mac syncs with the Papers app for the iPad and that’s a very streamlined method of reading papers. Of course you might have to resort to selling your body to buy the Mac and the iPad, but what are you gonna do?

  5. Hi Mikhail,

    I’ve been looking over the specs for the Lenovo tablet… I like the idea of having a stylus. Unfortunately the Lenovo tablet 2 will come with Windows 8 which I think is just stupid. So perhaps a good alternative will be the Samsung Note 10.1 which is supposed to come out in August. It’ll depend on the price. We’ll see soon enough.

    I’ll try ezPDF and compare to RepliGO. As far as writing goes I find the built-in keyboard is difficult to use in landscape mode but the SplitNFloat app fixes that.

    • >> I’ve been looking over the specs for the Lenovo tablet…
      >> I like the idea of having a stylus. Unfortunately the Lenovo tablet 2
      >> will come with Windows 8 which I think is just stupid.

      Errr… I don’t know where you found this, but the tablet I was referring to is here:

      There are no Win8 tablets from Lenovo as far as I know. And yes, Win8 is a trainwreck, no doubt.

      >> So perhaps a good alternative will be the Samsung Note 10.1

      Yes, and I far as I can see, the stylus is included. That’s a good thing.

      >> I’ll try ezPDF and compare to RepliGO.

      It would be interesting to read. Can you add this to the post?

  6. Hi, Patrick.

    Actually, I deliberately bough my tablet (Lenovo Thinkpad Tablet) to use it _specifically_ for reading articles and books. It is very, very useful in that sense.

    I use ezPDF reader – one of the few apps that I purchased. It is worth of every penny: can make highlights in PDF, make handwriting notes and bookmarks. Invaluable tool for reading books: I’ve just finished reading Nocedal and Wright “Numerical Optimisation” entirely on Tablet.

    One thing I should stress: if you can, buy a stylus. It is HUGELY useful for making highlights in PDF and handwritten remarks. In my tablet, stylus was included, but I’m sure that you can find something similar for your tablet.

    Apart from ezPDF, I use Dropbox, Astro file manager, Handwriting HD (very cool – can brainstorm on the Tablet!), MapplePaint, Pomodroido (25 minutes reading – 5 minutes break), and SpringpadIt.

    P.S.> Thanks for your useful blog!

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