iPhone and iPad

iAnnotate: The Best iPad App for Annotating PDFs and Word Documents

Bakari Chavanu 10-07-2013

iAnnotate: The Best iPad App for Annotating PDFs and Word Documents iannotateWhen it comes to annotating and reviewing PDF documents on the iPad, iAnnotate PDF ($9.99) is my go-to solution. The annotation tools and features in this iPad-only app are ten times more powerful than Apple’s iBooks Why Apple's iBooks Is The Best E-Reader For Making Annotations Read More  for highlighting, bookmarking, and reviewing annotations.


If there’s an option to download a .MOBI or .EPUB ebook or PDF version of a book, I always choose the latter because of what iAnnotate allows me to do. The app is great for students, writers, or anyone who needs to mark up text as they read.

Now that the app allows you to import and annotate Word, as well as PowerPoint documents, it’s almost like annotating content on paper thanks to the iPad’s big screen.

Importing Documents

You can sync and import documents in iAnnotate from iTunes, Dropbox, Google Drive, Microsoft SkyDive or WebDAV, and other iOS apps.

IAnnotate 8

iAnnotate can save and sync your annotations to the original document or it can save them to a copy of the document. The app uses Safari as a built-in browser that allows you to download PDFs and save webpages as PDFs. This is a rare iOS feature you won’t find in Apple’s stock version of Safari.


Annotation Features

When it comes to annotation tools, iAnnotate packs in the features with all the typical highlighting, bookmarking, and pencil tool you’d expect to see.


The app also includes tools for adding stamp markings, notes, and even photos and audio clips, useful for speaking your annotations. You can also create custom stamps for the type of markings you typically make. You do this by first creating the marking using the Typewriter tool, and then tap the Stamp tool in the pop-up menu. You can add a label to the marking and tap the tick icon to save it to the collection.

IAnnotate stamp


To add an annotation, you can select a tool in the sliding toolbar (see first screenshot above) and then drag your finger over the part of the text you want to highlight, or first select the text and then choose the tool you want from the context pop-up menu.

IAnnotate 3

The only thing I’ve always found frustrating about iAnnotate is that you have to tap the Done button to apply the annotation, which I think is totally redundant.

You can customize the toolbar to include your most-used tools, and also add additional sets of toolbars, say one for navigation tools, and another for review tools, which I will discuss later.


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What’s even more useful about the annotation tools is that you can append a comment to any marking you make. This is useful for when you are (for example) editing a document or want to remember why you highlighted the text in the first place. It’s also a useful tool to have access to when reviewing annotations.

Reviewing Annotations

One of the most important parts of taking the time to annotate a book is the ability to then review your annotations. One of the reasons I use iAnnotate is that it provides me a couple of great ways to review my annotations. It contains another sliding panel, on the left side of the app, which contains thumbnail pages of your document, as well as an outline of the document.

It also includes a handy Annotations section which lists all the annotations you make in the document. After you see how it works, you may rethink how you annotate documents to make the sidebar presentation more useful. Unlike with iBooks and the Kindle Reader app, you can add comments to your bookmarks in iAnnotate and easily locate them in the side panel.


iAnnotate: The Best iPad App for Annotating PDFs and Word Documents Screen Shot 2013 06 29 at 3

iAnnotate can also compile your annotations into an email so you and others can easily review them. This feature alone makes iAnnotate a powerful study tool. You can email or export the entire document with the annotations—flattened and un-modifiable, or send it un-flattened for viewing and editing in desktop PDF readers like Preview or Adobe Reader.

Note: Some PDFs are formatted in a way that do not allow iAnnotate to compile a summary of annotations.

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Other Features

You can have about 8-10 documents, depending on their size, open in iAnnotate at the same time. The Document library allows you to search, copy, rename, delete, and move documents to different folders and documents are viewable via a library in list or icon view.

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iAnnotate also allows you to add blank pages to documents, and you can set a temporary back marker to a page so that when you need to navigate to other pages, you simply tap on the marker to get back to where you left off.

Better Than iBooks and Kindle

Though Apple and Amazon are top ebook sellers, their e-reader apps iBooks Vs. Kindle - Which Is Better? [iPad] A while ago I wrote a post about places to find free books for the iPad. In that post, I compared the iPad to designated eReaders and expressed the opinion that it’s not a worthy... Read More simply don’t compare to iAnnotate. Sure, iBooks and Kindle may have pretty user interfaces, but when it comes to actually using and reviewing the annotations you make in documents, you will find iAnnotate that much more powerful.

Download: iAnnotate for iPad ($9.99)

Let us know what you think of this app or any others like it – have you used iAnnotate? Do you recommend any alternatives? Leave your thoughts in the comments, below.

Related topics: Digital Document, Microsoft Word, PDF, PDF Editor.

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  1. Anonymous
    January 5, 2014 at 5:14 pm

    I haven't been able to open a word doc with it. Keeps asking for my password. When I put it in, it just ask again.

    • Bakari Chavanu
      January 6, 2014 at 4:09 pm

      Does the document itself have a password attached to it? If not, trying writing the developers of iAnnotate to see what they say. Sorry I can't be of more help.

  2. Freek Sanders
    November 20, 2013 at 4:13 pm

    Hi Bakari, thanks for the article. Have you ever tried Easy Annotate? It's the app I use for annotating, and I really like the fact that I can look at two PDFs at the same time.

    • Bakari Chavanu
      November 20, 2013 at 5:09 pm

      Hi Freek, thanks for sharing about Easy Annotate. I'll look it up. The only other PDF app I use is Highlighter for smaller PDFs.

  3. Jeff
    November 16, 2013 at 8:20 pm

    Great Article. Are you familiar with Good Reader? It is the app I am currently using and it sounds very similar. I'm wondering what the differences would be and if there would be a compelling reasons for me to switch to iAnnotate.

    • Bakari Chavanu
      November 16, 2013 at 9:26 pm

      Hi Jeff, thanks for the feedback. Yes, I downloaded Good Reader a while back, but I din't find that different from iAnnotate, which I had already been with very familiar with by then. But I've read some good things about Good Reader. iAnnotate recently released an iOS 7 update, with some pretty significant updates.

      As I write this, it does to mind that Good Reader takes one or two less taps to add a highlight. In iAnnotate it still takes three taps to add a simply highlight. I don't know why they haven't improved that feature by now. In the Kindle app you can add an highlight by simply dragging your finger across some text. No additional tapping needed. That's the way it should be in iAnnotate.

  4. Rigoberto G
    July 11, 2013 at 1:53 am

    Great article Bakari. Thanks...

    • Bakari Chavanu
      July 19, 2013 at 2:55 am

      You're welcome, Rigoberto.