PDF Annotation Applications for iPad

screenshot of iAnnotate application


This document provides a comparison between three PDF annotation tools available on the iPad. The iPad has a large selection of similar apps and those included in this

document provide important key features and a range of price points.

The applications covered in this document are:

GoodReader – A full guide to the app is available to download.

iAnnotate PDF – A full guide is available, with separate versions for staff and students

Paperport Notes

Comparison Table

Features GoodReader iAnnotate Paperport Notes
Add Notes Y Y N
Add Text Y Y Y
Annotate Text Y Y N
Audio Annotation N Y Y
Cloud Service Integration Y Y Y
Customisable Toolbars N Y N
Draw Freehand Y Y Y
Merge PDF Files N N Y
In-Built Speech-to-Text N N Y
Zip File Support Y N N



GoodReader’s annotation tools feature all the most commonly used tools. The combination of navigation and viewing tools, along with an easy-to-use interface, forms a very solid annotation tool. A key feature is the file management system which includes zip archive functionality.One weak point is that GoodReader does not allow you to merge documents, which could limit those looking for a marking solution.


  • Fully featured annotation suite
  • Complex file manager
  • Zip file support
  • Simple interface


  • No document merging


iAnnotate is the most feature rich application and has a vast array of annotation tools available. The user interface (UI) is fully customisable and can toolbars can be altered and arranged into any number of ways to suit the user’s workflow. The default settings offer a sufficient level of functionality for most users, but there is a moderate learning curve to get the most out each tool.

The file manager is functional with a visual style layout using thumbnails and icons, but it is light on features. It is ideal for those who like a simple interface and don’t need to juggle a large number of files between folders. Documents cannot be merged with this app.

iAnnotate is suggested for intermediate or advanced users, or those that have the time to experiment with each tool and the UI structure to develop familiarity.


  • Large array of annotation tools
  • Customisable UI


  • Moderate learning curve
  • Basic file management

Paperport Notes

This application has very basic functionality in regard to visual annotation of documents with the tools being limited to freehand drawing and text boxes for typing notes. This limited functionality also makes it very simple to use for beginners wanting to experiment with annotation (combined with the fact that this app is currently free on the iTunes store).

This app’s strength lies in the functionality it provides that other apps do not. You can merge multiple PDF files into each other, so if you have marking sheets/rubrics you can insert them into the document you are marking. Speech-to-text is natively supported by the latest iPads, however Paperport Notes has this feature in-built so it can be used on older iPads.

Note that file management is very basic, although some cloud services such as Dropbox are



  • Simple UI
  • Merge documents
  • In-built speech-to-text


  • Very few features
  • Very basic file management


GoodReader – For users who want a fully featured annotation program with the entire

functionality at their fingertips; who wish to use the iPad for the entire batch download/upload process via EASTS; who require fine control over their files.

iAnnotate – For experienced users who want to fully customise the UI to create their own

unique workflow; who require a large number or variety of tools.

Paperport Notes – For users who want an entry-level app for ease of use; who have an iPad 1 or 2 and want to eliminate the bulk of the required amount of typing/drawing; who want to include document merging for marking rubrics.

I’m the Innovation Technology Officer here at CSU where I make, think, help, support, train and advise on technology in Education.

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