The Third Device

A blog about the iPad.

PDF faceoff: iBooks vs Fast PDF

The big news today is that iOS4 is available to download for iPhone and iPod Touch owners. For iPad users, we still have some waiting to do.

Along with the new OS comes an updated iBooks app which (finally) supports PDFs. I dumped a couple of PDF magazine files to my iPad and tried to gauge if it was any better than Fast PDF, which is my current favorite reader app.

Both Fast PDF and iBooks feature a bookshelf view, and they look strikingly similar to each other in this mode. It’s worth noting that iBooks keeps PDF content on a separate bookshelf from your regular ePUB books.

The iBooks PDF bookshelf

The Fast PDF bookshelf

Fast PDF List View

I opened the same magazine file in both iBooks and Fast PDF. I know it was naive of me to even hope for iBooks to bring its awesome page turn animation to PDFs, so I shouldn’t be disappointed at its absence. But that would have been so cool.

The page turning speed on both readers seemed to be reasonably fast, as long as you wait a few beats after opening the file to let the cache build up. However the big difference came during spread-and-pinch operations. When you zoom into text on iBooks, there’s a definite lag before the jaggy text shifts into full resolution. FastPDF earns its name by being rendering things … well, faster.

Another downside to iBooks: for now, you can’t view facing pages in landscape view. You’re limited to just the single page, whereas Fast PDF will let you view both pages simultaneously.

FastPDF landscape view

iBooks landscape view

A unique feature that Fast PDF offers which I use quite a lot: it has a built in web browser that allows you to surf without leaving the app. Even better you can use it to select and download PDF files off the web straight into the app’s bookshelf. During the download process, you can’t quit FastPDF but you can still open up a file to read while waiting for the transfer to complete in the background. Not quite multitasking, but I’ll take it. And should you still need to transfer via cable, you can drag and drop via iTunes App Sharing.

Lest you accuse me of being a FastPDF shill, I urge you to also consider another app, namely GoodReader. The latest build offers much improved pre-caching that puts it right up there with FastPDF, plus support for VGA out, the ability to crop margins to maximize your screen space (good for scanned files) and FINALLY, horizontal swipe page turning. GoodReader also offers the ability to connect to popular servers such as MobileME, DropBox, GoogleDocs, or any other WebDAV or FTP server. However, the current look and user interface makes it feel more like a file utility than a reader app, so I prefer to use FastPDF for now.

PDF support is a welcome and much anticipated addition to iBooks. But it still has some way to go before it will compete with third party offerings. If PDF reading is important to you, the $2.99 for Fast PDF or an even cheaper $0.99 for GoodReader should be worth it.


June 22, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized


  1. Hola! Finally am leaving a comment.

    I’d like to know if there’s an iPad application either existing or in the works that will allow me to read previously purchased books from FictionWise. I have Stanza for the iPhone, but there isn’t a counterpart for the iPad, and I made a pretty sizable investment in books before the iPad (and iBooks) was released. Have you heard anything?

    Comment by Lea | June 22, 2010 | Reply

    • Lea, I’m a longtime Fictionwise junkie too and I’m gonna make you very happy: there IS A STANZA for iPAD!

      Comment by Vic | June 22, 2010 | Reply

      • SA WAKAS!!! MARAMING MARAMING SALAMAT!!! Hi to your Pilates-powerful mom!

        Comment by Lea | June 22, 2010

      • @Lea just be aware that the current build of Stanza apparently screws up Mail’s ability to view PDFs and to open them in external applications. If you get errors when someone emails you a PDF – Stanza’s the culprit.

        Comment by Vic | June 23, 2010

  2. I thought I could leave FastPDF behind already and put everything on iBooks, but it seems I have to wait:

    1. iOS4 isn’t on the iPad yet; and
    2. Your experience with iBooks PDF isn’t too encouraging. Perhaps the slow page turns and text renders will improve on the A4-engined iPhone 4.

    Thanks for the review…

    Comment by Chito | June 22, 2010 | Reply

  3. iOS4 won’t be ready till fall, which is just as well because it’ll take time to fully test the updated apps to do the quasi-multitasking properly.

    Ditto on the Norton Commander like interface of GoodReader! It also unzips archives by the way. 🙂

    Comment by jerrytieng | June 22, 2010 | Reply

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