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Working with Zotero on the iPad with ZotPad

2012-08-26 09.46.20The $9.99 ZotPad app lets you access your Zotero library on an iPad. When I first wrote about ZotPad on ProfHacker, I noted that the app was read-only. You could download PDFs attached to items in your library and open them in something like iAnnotate, as long as you were syncing your attachments with Zotero’s server—but you couldn’t send a newly annotated PDF back up to Zotero. Furthermore, if you sync your Zotero attachments with a WebDAV server (as I do) instead of Zotero’s server, you couldn’t access your attachments at all on ZotPad.

I’m delighted that the newest version of ZotPad has solved these two limitations: you can now access your Zotero attachments if you use WebDAV (and also if you store your Zotero library on DropBox), and regardless of which method you use to sync your Zotero files, you can upload annotated PDFs back up to Zotero.

Here’s a sample use-case scenario:

(1) Working on a PC, you save a citation and PDF from JSTOR using Zotero Standalone and the Google Chrome connector.

(2) Later, while on your iPad, you open up ZotPad, where you can browse, sort, and search through your library:

Sample ZotPad Screen

(3) You find the source you want to work with, and tap on it to see the item view:

Item View in ZotPad

(4) In the item view, tap on the PDF icon, and the file opens up in ZotPad’s built-in PDF viewer. You can’t (yet) annotate a PDF from within ZotPad, but you can use iOS’s Open In… feature to open the file in iAnnotate or any other PDF tool:

Open In PDF View in ZotPad

(5) You can highlight, underline, add notes and comments to the the PDF, using whatever your preferred app is on the iPad. Then, when you’re ready, use that app’s Share… or Open In… feature to kick the document back to ZotPad. ZotPad will figure out which item that PDF belongs to, and swap out the old version for the newly annotated version.

(6) The next time you’re at a different computer and access your Zotero library, you’ll find the annotated PDF is there.

I’ve been very happy with this new version of ZotPad. Allowing users to upload PDFs back to Zotero makes ZotPad nearly as useful as Zotero itself. I do have two caveats though. First, you still can’t add items to your Zotero library from ZotPad, nor can you upload PDFs that didn’t come from Zotero. In other words, if you download a PDF directly from, say, JSTOR, while in iOS’s Safari, you cannot send that PDF into ZotPad. You still need a PC to do that.

My second caveat is that you will probably want to adjust ZotPad’s settings so that it doesn’t try to download every attachment in your library all at once. My ZotPad was configured to do exactly that, and it kept crashing (my Zotero library is well over 1GB). Go to the main Settings app and scroll down to find ZotPad listed among the apps. Under the section labeled “Preemptive Cache,” change the Attachment files option to “Active items.” This ensures that ZotPad will only download an attachment when you specifically request it.

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When ZotPad debuted, I was skeptical about its $5.99 price point (which has since risen to $9.99, in anticipation of offering both a free and premium version of the app. The free version will have all the features of the premium, except for in-app PDF annotations; you’ll still be able to annotate in iAnnotate as I describe here). But now that I can read and annotate any PDF attachment in my gigantic Zotero library using only my iPad, I’m much more convinced that ZotPad is a serious research tool, and one I cannot do without.

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