View Full Version : Reading PDF Documents on a PDA


Bob Russell
08-09-2005, 03:55 PM
I think it's time to summarize what we've learned about reading pdf files on a mobile device, and pool our resources to try to determine what are the best approaches on either Palm or Pocket PC.

Over the months and years, we've seen a lot of proposed methods for reading pdf (Acrobat Reader) documents. I'm not sure, though, if any of these are clean, reliable and relatively successful.

I think many of us would be very interested to hear if anyone has found a good solution at a reasonable price. Maybe there are even a few great solutions buried in our forums here that I've missed, and which deserve to be trumpeted again.

Some of the ideas I vaguely recall hearing about are:

Adobe Reader for Palm or PPC
This seems to be universally disliked, both due to the required document conversion step, and because the reader is slow and bulky. Here's (http://www.pdaed.com/vertical/reviews/PDF.xml) one description with some of the negatives.
Conversion to "better" formats
I haven't yet seen a good, reasonably priced solution that handles the pdf files I've tried on it. Maybe I'm not trying the right ones? We recently heard about a free online converter, but it has a size limit that makes tech manuals, for example, out of reach.
Documents To Go (Palm only)
I think Docs To Go has a premium version that reads pdf files, but I don't know how well, and that's a lot to buy and install if you don't need the rest of the package.
Picsel File Viewer
Wasn't there something called Picsel File Viewer that could read pdf after a conversion step?
Repligo
Or how good/expensive are Repligo (http://www.cerience.com/products/index.htm) products?
Other solutions?
I wonder what they are...
My idea of a basic set of requirements (wishlist) for such a program would be:
1) If necessary, the conversion process can be done on a PC, but should not require Palm Desktop or hotsync. You should be able to just transfer to a storage card.
2) Reads just about any (non-DRM'd) pdf file adequately
3) Can turn pages and search reasonably fast
4) Works on smaller screens like a Treo or 240x320 standard resolution PPC
5) Can handle large documents.
6) Can read documents from storage cards
7) Bonus points if it costs less than $30
8) More bonus points for reasonable RAM memory requirements

Or.... maybe this is beyond our capabilities in the mobile world right now? Surely not!

koz
08-09-2005, 05:38 PM
I came across this thread over at 1src.com. Hands down, if you want native support for PDF, with zoom and web browsing, PicselBrowser is IT!

It's a long read, but worth it.
http://www.1src.com/forums/showthread.php?t=88200&page=1&pp=15

Chaos
08-09-2005, 05:46 PM
Or.... maybe this is beyond our capabilities in the mobile world right now? Surely not!
Definitely not. The Zaurus has had one really wonderful PDF program for a long time now, called QPDF2 (http://sourceforge.net/projects/qpdf2/). It hasn't been updated in over a year, but it's quite a nice program. I believe Opie (http://opie.handhelds.org) has a still-being-developed variant of this program, but I can't find much mention of it, and I can't remember if it's in the source tarball I have or not. I think it is though...


As for Palms/PPCs, I think the best current option would be to convert to HTML and then run it through Plucker or iSilo or something... You may have some luck looking at Ghostscript (http://www.ghostscript.com), but I haven't really done much with it myself.

volwrath
08-09-2005, 07:02 PM
Adobe reader works pretty good with a vga pocketpc (using the VGA hack). I can see the entire screen and almost read it. at ~80% I can read it comfortably..no big deal for me.

I've read great things about repligo, but never have tried it.

surur
08-09-2005, 07:06 PM
Thats a rather old article (2001!) Adobe reader for pocketpc has grown rather a bit (its now 7.5Mb installed). Its still slow and clunky, but displays rather well, and is quite usable. Unless its an e-book you are reading the text would likely contain tables and figures which would be best viewed with the native adobe pdf client.

Here's a pdf of the lifedrive on my VGA pocketpc.

http://surur.sytes.net/acrobat.png

LifeDrive Datasheet PDF (http://www.palm.com/us/products/mobilemanagers/lifedrive/pdf/LifeDrive_datasheet.pdf)

Surur

macrotor
08-09-2005, 07:24 PM
In reference to Palm viewers"

Most PDF -> HTML converters are hit-n-miss as soon as you introduce columns and graphics. Adobe Acrobat Pro does the best job, of course, but at a nasty price tag.

Documents-to-go only converts the text. However, it does a good job of it.

I've heard of email/web services that convert PDF to TIFF, but that's a lot of bandwidth and waiting. No thanks.

The Palm Adobe reader does a good job, but you have to convert it first on the desktop. Also, the reader seems rather crash-prone.

Picsel Browser (if you can snag a shady copy of it) does an excellent job of reading native PDFs without conversion, but it does not reformat them for your screen. So, you'll be doing a lot of panning and zooming to read the article. However, it works nice and fast. A pity that Sony has them locked-down to exclusive licensing.

I am still perplexed as to why Picsel Browser is the ONLY PDF viewer. Jeez, we are buried by numerous graphical viewers that support a dizzying array of formats. Reading and WRITING Microsoft documents is now old-hat. I constantly see shouts for a native PDF viewer, yet the developers are silent. Is there some sort of licensing restriction I'm not aware of? You'd think that someone would have made use of the ghostscript or pdfx code by now. Odd.

- Jim

hacker
08-09-2005, 08:18 PM
I love when people (http://www.pdaed.com/vertical/reviews/PDF.xml) use XML on the web (note: XML has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the web), and then don't produce valid content from it for browsers.

If the document is sourced from XML, which MUST be well-formed, how can you possibly screw it up so badly that it ends up being completely invalid, incorrect, malformed non-HTML (http://validator.w3.org/check?verbose=1&uri=http%3A//www.pdaed.com/vertical/reviews/PDF.xml)? (There's only 121 errors on that first page)

hacker
08-09-2005, 08:23 PM
Another thought:

If content providers want you to be able to view their content on your mobile device, they should produce it in a format that is suitable for that device. Hint: PDF is not that format.

By voicing your opinion to these content providers (in an intelligent, lucid fashion), you can change their minds. For those that do not wish to adapt to suit their customer's needs, go elsewhere. There are plenty of other vendors who would be happy to help you (in exchange for your sale, of course).

If we keep coming up with workarounds, converters, and bass-ackward solutions to getting a PDF document on a Palm device, we don't give the content provider any reason to change their broken behavior.

If what I want to read is only available in PDF, I go elsewhere, and I let the content provider know I went elsewhere, and why.

We all have a voice, lets start using it. Without us, they would have no market.

Flipper
08-10-2005, 08:08 AM
I have used ClearVue PDF for PPC with mixed success. It doesn't require any conversion of files which is a plus point, but the fact that only seems to like 50% of the files I use it on rather cancels that out!

lwehrung
08-10-2005, 03:40 PM
Here is more about Repligo in a news article I published at 1SRC back in January of 2004. I looked over it, and it still is applicable today. I use Repligo for everything.

News Article on 1SRC (http://www.1src.com/forums/showthread.php?t=54590)

Personally, I think the Repligo product from Cerience is the best solution for the Palm platform. It allows different type views. It has flawlessly converted many large PDF files for me. It is much faster than any other viewer on the Palm, Pocket PC, and Windows platforms.

In my opinion, it is the best option for the Pocket PC, also. Adobe Reader is excellent for reading for native PDF files, but it is a pig (as is the desktop version). Repligo is small and fast!

Just my two cents. Check it out for yourself. :)

Thanks,
Lance

Alexander Turcic
08-11-2005, 11:12 AM
Repligo:

I used Repligo in the past, but now I prefer to convert PDF files to HTML and read them with one of my favorite e-book readers (for the better or worse). Repligo looks great, but it hasn't been updated or actively supported in a while (RepliGo 2.0 for PPC was released 1.5 years ago). On my Axim X50v, I noticed that sometimes fonts in Repligo look "washed out" (even in reflow mode). Images are not shown in reflow mode which is another drawback.

Converting:

Always a scary business. But if you have to convert PDF content, I recommend Iceni Gemini (http://www.iceni.com/content/Gemini/). It's not cheap ($159, gasp), but it does the best job converting difficult layouts.

There is an older thread (http://www.mobileread.com/forums/showthread.php?t=478) with good hints on how to survive the PDF nightmare.

Bob Russell
08-11-2005, 11:35 AM
Personally, I think the Repligo product from Cerience is the best solution for the Palm platform. It allows different type views. It has flawlessly converted many large PDF files for me. It is much faster than any other viewer on the Palm, Pocket PC, and Windows platforms. I've just started to give RepliGo a trial, and so far it looks like it's great on the 200pp tech manual I'm reading. But haven't hit the images yet so didn't notice no images in reflow mode. I'll let you know what I find out with more trial. But at least I can read the text, and the whole install, convert, read process has been absolutely fantastic so far with not a single snag (yet). Looks really promising to me.

Converting:

Always a scary business. But if you have to convert PDF content, I recommend Iceni Gemini (http://www.iceni.com/content/Gemini/). It's not cheap ($159, gasp), but it does the best job converting difficult layouts.A question... with something lke Gemini can you still reflow text. Do you get paragraphs that reflow around pics when you convert to HTML, or how does that work? For example, would I get a nice result with flowing screen-width text if I converted pdf to HTML and then to iSilo or eReader?

Alexander Turcic
08-11-2005, 11:49 AM
A question... with something lke Gemini can you still reflow text. Do you get paragraphs that reflow around pics when you convert to HTML, or how does that work? For example, would I get a nice result with flowing screen-width text if I converted pdf to HTML and then to iSilo or eReader?
Uhm I am not sure since I haven't used it in a while. It does support de-hyphenate of words, image captions, various text output formats, and support to preserve the layout (which didn't work well for me). If you have time give the demo (http://www.iceni.com/content/Demos/) a try!

Bob Russell
08-14-2005, 10:02 AM
You may have some luck looking at Ghostscript (http://www.ghostscript.com), but I haven't really done much with it myself.Wasn't sure what you meant, but when I looked at the previous thread (http://www.mobileread.com/forums/showthread.php?t=478) that Alex pointed to, I found this (http://www.mobileread.com/forums/showthread.php?&p=8311), which is actually an explanation of how I set up a GUI interface to Ghostscript and PDFtoHTML which converts from, as expected, PDF to HTML.

I didn't do a lot of testing with it, but I did discover that it didn't do well with the Pimlico DateBk5 manual when I converted it and then iSiloX'd it. Text was okay, but I needed the images to make sense of it. And if I remember right, I may have had some issues even with text only, but can't remember.

Repligo shows the document well, but you either have reflow with text only, and you can't see where images are missing (useless for the DateBk5 manual), or you have to drag the picture around the screen which is really annoying on a tiny screen.

I wonder if the full Adobe Acrobat 6 or Gemini could handle that document decently for Palm viewing?

Maybe Repligo is the best solution for non image-critical docs (it's inexpensive, simple out-of-the-box, supported, and it works on any document you can print also!)

I might try Acrobat for PalmOS again, but with only 22 total RAM on my Treo650, and only 12meg free right now even being stingy, I'm hesitant to lose another large chunk of memory. Oh my, scratch that last thought! I seem to have been wrong and it's not nearly as bloated as I thought... according to the Adobe faq for PalmOS Adobe Reader, it only needs 600K, and it can read files on a storage card. So I'll give the Adobe reader for Palm another try. It is upgraded from the last version I used (v2), but doesn't seem real recent. For example, it's based on Adobe Reader 6 not 7, but that might actually be a plus. We'll see what happens.

Alexander Turcic
08-14-2005, 12:15 PM
Bob the DateBk manual looks like a tough nut. Haven't even bothered to try Adobe Acrobat or Gemini; I think you can forget PDF->HTML conversion tools here, because of the complex document structure. Sometimes it uses three columns, then only one, and here and there occasionally two columns. A nightmare.

If I had to read this document on my PDA, I'd use Repligo. Adobe Acrobat Reader I tried long time ago and from what I remember it was terribly s-l-o-w and not really pretty either.

Bob Russell
08-14-2005, 09:07 PM
Yes, you're absolutely right Alex. I just tried Adobe Reader and now after less than a day I've chosen to restore from a backup before the install to make sure I get cleaned up properly. You know that feeling like you've polluted your pda?! Repligo "feels clean" but Adobe Reader "feels dirty." If you've used pdas for long enough, you probably know exactly what I mean, even though it's hard to explain.

BTW, even though I don't think I chose to install it, I got something called "Print Me" on my pda, with the Adobe for PalmOS install I assume. One more reason to restore from backup instead of just deleting the app. I really hate the way apps sneak extra files and apps onto your pda, and the cleanup is not always clean when you remove an app. It's my pda, and I don't want junk on there!

The DateBk5 document is also tough because of the screen shots in the middle of the page with text paragraphs tied to the screen shots by arrows. So even in RepliGo, it's hard to read. But that still worked better than Adobe Reader. Seems that the Adobe Reader has Copyright through 2003, so I don't know if the Palm version is even being actively developed anymore. It was not just s-l-o-w, but S-L-O-W!!!! Might still be okay as a free tool for someone that didn't want to pay $30 for RepliGo, but the whole experience is night and day. RepliGo was pleasant from the first time I touched it. Adobe made me uneasy from the first touch. RepliGo seems faster in the conversion step also.

For reading simple pdf files in which you don't need to see images, or deal with columns/tables, and which you are just reading front to back, maybe free Adobe Reader is okay. But I think RepliGo is definitely a better way to go, just as you say, plus you can use it with any document you can print. Haven't tried it with other docs, but as long as it still lets you reflow, I'm sure it will be fine.

One advantage of Adobe Reader for PalmOS... seems you can read documents that have DRM. Of course if you're allowed to print them, you can convert to RepliGo, but some are restricted. Then again, I'd try to avoid that type of restrictive DRM with PDF files in the first place. Like all DRM'd material, you don't really own it anymore, it's more like you just get to borrow it till the device or the technology changes.

And as for the perfect pdf reader, I suppose we're still looking. We're probably talking about something like the full desktop version running on a handheld or tablet rather than a Palm or PPC PDA. For now we just have to make do. But as mobile enthusiasts, we're used to doing that sort of thing, anyway, until the technology catches up and makes it easy for everyone! ;)

frquixote
03-14-2006, 03:18 AM
[QUOTE=BobR]
Picsel File Viewer
Wasn't there something called Picsel File Viewer that could read pdf after a conversion step?

Beware of Picsel Proviewer! The vendor does, in fact, claim to support PDF files and several other types. What they don't mention on their website or in their documentation is that the critical Reflow function (ala Repligo) that would make this product useful for ebook reading only supports MS Word! I only found out the truth after I purchased the product (because they don't offer a downloadable full function demo). I have asked them for a refund, but they are refusing on the grounds that their online demo shows a Word document being reflowed!

Chaos
03-14-2006, 03:50 AM
Just to tack onto this thread for if someone else comes across it...

PalmPDF (http://www.metaviewsoft.de/en/Software/PalmOS/Freeware/PalmPDF/index.html) is probably the best free solution for PDF viewing on a Palm.

Also look at this newer thread (http://www.mobileread.com/forums/showthread.php?t=6094) on Palm PDF viewers.