samedi 11 février 2017

PSPDFKit, the PDF Framework used in Dropbox and Evernote, is now Available in a Standalone App [XDA Spotlight]

The beauty of Android lies in its intents system. Unlike iOS, Android has the ability to replace most default applications with third-party software.

In Android, applications can define intent filters that allow them to react to certain events such as tapping a URL or opening a file. Applications that can handle opening PDF files are quite numerous, so if a user does not like the features offered by their default PDF viewer, they can scour the Play Store for an alternative.

But the abundance of choice can be overwhelming to the average user looking for a decent PDF viewer, so most users probably stick with the PDF viewer offered by Google or Adobe. For those of you looking for something more robust than Google’s offering and more well-designed than Adobe’s, we recently discovered PDF Viewer by PSPDFKit GmbH. This application offers many of the powerful PDF editing capabilities that anyone serious about making documents on mobile would care about, wrapped up in a beautiful, yet functional, Material Design layout.

Normally, we probably wouldn’t be interested in covering a PDF viewer given the plethora of amazing options on the Play Store. However, this application uses the PDF framework that powers enterprise software such as Dropbox, Scribd, Box, Evernote among a whole host of other businesses, so we thought it might be interesting to check out their standalone app offering.


PDF Viewer by PSPDFKit GmbH

Like most other PDF applications on the Play Store, PDF Viewer is free to use. Furthermore, the application is available on other platforms as well. The full list of available features is quite extensive, but not every feature has been implemented in the Android version. Given that this application was only just released a few days ago and is marked as Beta, this is not surprising. Still, I’ve been using this application for a few weeks before it was officially released, and I came away quite impressed with how functional it is. I’ve been able to throw any number of PDFs, including large textbook files with hundreds of detailed images, and PDF Viewer has not let me down. Here’s a run-down of some of the most basic features, followed by our review.

Features at a Glance:

  • Beautiful Material Design interface
  • Open PDFs stored locally, externally, or on the web
  • Create a PDF with a blank page and set background options, from an image, or from your camera
  • View bookmarks/annotations or search for a specific word/phrase in a document
  • Share to Print/Open in another app
  • Movable toolbar with a plethora of annotation options such as highlighting, underlining, inserting text boxes, signatures, notes, or images
  • Document Editor with the ability to insert, duplicate, rotate, re-arrange, delete, or export selected pages

Interface

When you open the application for the very first time, you are met with the interface shown below. Thumbnails of your files are large and beautiful, and by default are displayed in a grid format. The files that are shown are automatically populated by the application on first launch as it scans your device for any detected PDF files. If you know the name, or at least a part of the name, of the document you are looking for you can quickly search for the document as well. Note that until you grant the application the ability to view your external (SD card) files, you will be unable to select any files stored there.

Tapping on the overflow menu brings up the option to change the current view mode – you can switch between the default Grid mode and the more functional List mode. Typical sorting methods are available as well such as Name, Size, and Last Modification Date. Though, one feature which is less commonly found (but one we really appreciate) is the ability to display folders on the top of the grid/list. This is especially nifty if you have a small number of folders interspersed between a ton of documents.

Clicking on local files opens up the internal file browser of the application where you can find and select any locally stored documents. But you are not restricted to opening documents stored locally, in fact, any intent to handle opening a PDF document can handled by PDF Viewer as well. This means that online documents that are downloaded from Google Drive or while browsing the web in Google Chrome can immediately be opened in PDF Viewer. Pretty standard stuff to be fair, but it’s still crucial functionality that you would expect from an app like this.

PDF Creation

While you are in the main view of the application, tapping on the floating action button (FAB) will bring up the PDF creation menu. Here, you can create a PDF from an already existing image stored on your device, a picture taken directly from your camera, or create a blank page. The first two are fairly self-explanatory, but the last one has a few neat options to go over.

For starters, you can create a new blank page in A4, A5, US Letter, or US Legal sizes and specify the document orientation. If you want to change the background, you have the option to choose between 5 different color options and 4 different background patterns (5mm Dots, 5mm Grids, 5mm Lines, 7mm Lines).

PDF Viewing

Before you open a document, there are some standard settings options available for you to change how your scroll through documents. You can optionally change the layout settings to have it so that pages are shown left-to-right rather than the default vertical direction. In addition, you can change the scroll mode between Continuous or Paginated so you can better control when random flicks will move you to the next page. Finally, you have the option to select the default zoom level of the page – either fit to width or display the full size.

Once you actually open a document, you have access to several key features to enhance your reading experience.  On the bottom of the screen you will see mini cards showing what page you are currently on as well as previews for some of the previous and next pages. Tapping on any page will quickly flip to that page, and you can scroll through the list of mini cards to look further in the document. If you would prefer to see larger page previews or more quickly navigate to a desired page, you can tap on the top-right icon to bring up the Document Page Grid View.

If you tap on the second icon from the left (the book icon), you can view all bookmarks or annotations that PDF Viewer detects in the document. If there aren’t any bookmarks already, you can create one from this menu. For the annotations, PDF Viewer will list all annotations in each page found in the document by their type.

Looking for a particular key phrase or place in the text? The search button quickly allows you to find certain strings in the document (and it even searches through your annotations as well!) I’ve tested this on large textbook files and can confirm that the application is able to quickly identify where any term I search for is located in the PDF. Finally, clicking on the share button will bring up the Android share menu (also beautifully stylized, of course) where you can open the print dialog or share with another application.

PDF Editing Tools

If you noticed in the previous screenshot showing the Document Page Grid View, there was a FAB that we did not go over. If you go ahead and press this button, you will open up the Document Editor tools. Here, you will have access to several features in an expanded toolbar. These include the ability to add pages, delete pages, re-arrange pages, rotate pages, duplicate pages, or create a new PDF from selected pages. None of these features are revolutionary, but it is nice to know that PDF Viewer doesn’t skip implementing these crucial features.

PDF Annotations

Annotating a PDF is where most PDF applications fail to pass muster, at least when compared with Adobe’s offering. Fortunately, PDF Viewer has enough options to not leave you disappointed. To start off with, once you find the document you want to edit, simply tap the pencil-in-page icon (first from the left) to bring up the editing toolbar. This toolbar by default rests on the top of the page, but by dragging the 10-dot icon to the left or right edge of the page, you can reposition the toolbar for easier access. Finally, on smaller screen devices (such as smartphones), additional editing options that are grouped under one icon can be accessed by long-pressing on the icon (icons that can be expanded in this manner are designated by an arrow on the icon).

Briefly going over each of the main editing tools, we can see that there are 4 main categories of tools. The first deal with text selection options. In this menu, we can switch between highlighting, “squiggling”, strike outs, or underlining. Each option does exactly what it says on the tin. All you have to do is drag-select the words you want to edit. You can optionally change the color used in the operation as well, though we would prefer a more traditional color wheel with all available color options.

More substantive edits can be made with inserting text boxes, notes, or signatures. Long-pressing on the second icon group brings up this feature set. When placing a text box, you can specify the text size and color, as well as set the text box’s background color. Placing a note will bring up its own editing screen where you can add a description and specify what icon the note will use to be displayed on the page. Changing the color at the bottom will change both the background of the description as well as the color of the icon that shows up on the page. Finally, you can place your signature on the page by tapping on the pen icon under this group. You can create a signature using the built-in signature creator and save it for future use, or simply place it on the page for one-time use.

Finally, you have the ability to draw figures and images to the PDF. When you select the fourth icon group (the pencil icon), you can select to draw freely or create shapes. Each figure can have its color and thickness modified, too. As for images, you can select to insert an image from your gallery, one of the pre-made stamps, or insert a picture straight from your camera.


PSPDFKit for Developers

The PDF framework powering this free application is also available for use in your application, provided your company will pay for the licensing. The company behind PSPDFKit states that incorporating their framework should take only a few lines of code and about 15 minutes of your time. They also provide a catalog of examples so you can learn how to design your own UI or features around the framework.

Once implemented, it can be used in your Android or iOS application or on the web. One of the most powerful features it offers is collaborative annotations via PSPDF Instant. Depending on your needs, you can work with PSPDFKit to pick and choose which components you want to incorporate into your own product. Though note that currently, the ability to edit AcroForms and sign using Digital Signatures is only supported on iOS.

Besides PSPDFKit, the company also has a Github page where they document how to use some of their APIs as well as another page where they list their other open source projects. Check them out and see if there is anything that might be relevant to your own work.


Conclusion

After spending a few weeks with PDF Viewer, I can safely say this is my new favorite PDF reading, editing, and creation tool. Though Adobe’s reader is still the gold standard for PDF applications, PDF Viewer by PSPDFKit GmbH still gives it a good run for its money. While there’s nothing revolutionary about this application, it checks off all of the right boxes without sacrificing a feature or two in any of the major departments. And with a beautifully intuitive Material Design interface, I find PDF Viewer a joy to use even on smaller devices. If you plan on doing any kind of serious documentation on your Android device, however, I would hope you at least use a tablet with a keyboard peripheral.

Download PDF Viewer from the Play Store!



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