HyperPDF: Read PDFs Like a Book

Due to its cross-compatibility and wide range of uses, the PDF has been a wildly popular document type for years. Despite the ubiquity of the PDF, there has been relatively little innovation in way we view and interact with these documents. Most PDF viewers simply show you the file with no bells or whistles.

HyperPDF from NeoMobili aims to break the boring mold of PDF viewers by introducing some new ways to read, markup, edit, and share your documents. Are the features worth an upgrade from your current PDF client?

Getting Started

Out of the box, your Mac has the Preview app take care of any PDFs that you want to open. HyperPDF is designed to do everything that Preview can do, only better.

Like Preview, you don’t get a welcome screen when you first open HyperPDF. If you want HyperPDF to be your default PDF reader, you’ll need to find a PDF file somewhere on your computer, right click, select Get Info, change the “open with” field to HyperPDF, and click the “change all” button. Sadly, HyperPDF doesn’t let you make it the default reader anywhere in the preferences. I would have liked to see that be an option when you first open it.

Viewing Formats

Preview lets you view documents in four different layouts. Content view (which simply displays the page without any sidebar information), thumbnails (which adds a small preview of each page in the sidebar), table of contents, and contact sheet (which is only thumbnails).

HyperPDF has these viewing formats as well, but they are divided up slightly differently. When you open a document, you’ll find yourself in “Edition” mode. This is the basic, Preview-ish format. The main window of Edition uses two panes like Preview, but also has a narrow third pane all the way to the left, like we’ve started to see with apps like Sparrow and Twitter’s Mac client. This makes the top bar slightly less bulky, which I certainly wouldn’t complain about. PDF readers should help you see as much of the document as possible, and a slimmer top bar helps that. The search box is moved to the sidebar as well.

HyperPDF makes more efficient use of your screen space.

HyperPDF makes more efficient use of your screen space.

Your options on the far left include thumbnails, table of contents, notes, and snapshots. You can make annotations in Preview, but I like the way HyperPDF implements notes more. Making notes on the document is a cleaner, more organized process than with Preview. Keeping a listing of all your notes in that sidebar makes them easier to find, as well.

Adding notes to your documents is a very streamlined process.

Adding notes to your documents is a very streamlined process.

The final tab in Edition mode is snapshots. The snapshot feature lets you manually select an area of your document to save. While this can be very useful, the process for saving these snapshots is somewhat inefficient. You click and drag to create a box which grays out the surrounding area to help you focus on what you’re selecting.

What would have been nice is to see a small box popup after making the selection, but you have to right click and find “take snapshot.” From there, a new window pops up with your selection. Again, no button to save the snapshot is anywhere to be found. Clicking on the red window button (which has the familiar “not saved” dot in it) closes the window without even prompting you to save it. You have to go up to the File menu and manually select “Save.” This is a great feature conceptually, but there are a couple of extra steps that make it unappealing to actually use.

Making snapshots in HyperPDF is a great idea, but not implemented particularly well.

Making snapshots in HyperPDF is a great idea, but not implemented particularly well.

After Edition, the second viewing mode is Presentation. At first glance, Presentation may appear to just be fullscreen mode, (which HyperPDF also supports). Presentation puts your document into fullscreen, but gives you some options that might be appealing if you were using the app as a way to display the document for an audience via a projector. I am generally not a fan of Powerpoint, so I often put presentations together in PDF form. HyperPDF adds a few features that people like myself may miss about Powerpoint, such as transitions, (of which there are many styles).

HyperPDF has a ton of transition styles.

HyperPDF has a ton of transition styles.

The last mode is perhaps the most interesting, and what HyperPDF markets itself on: Reading mode. HyperPDF says it lets you read your PDFs like a book. The document you have open displays with two pages visible at a time, side to side. Using your multitouch trackpad, you can swipe through documents with page-turn animations.

I had mixed feelings about this mode. On the one hand, page-flipping animations have become trendy with tablets, and multitouch trackpads make the transition to the Mac seem like a natural next step. However, there was one problem that I ran into that made this mode impossible for me to use: Screen space. I own a 15″ MBP, and even in fullscreen mode, everything had to get shrunk down so that two full pages could fit side by side.

Reading mode is a great idea, unless you have a laptop.

Reading mode is a great idea, unless you have a laptop.

The text was way too small for me to be able to read anything comfortably. Of course, a 15″ screen isn’t ideal for this mode, but if you had, say, a 27″ iMac, I’m sure that this Reading mode would be much more feasible. I was also using HyperPDF to read a document that was heavy on text. If you were looking at Powerpoint slides with big bullet points or anything that had larger text, Reading mode would be usable on smaller machines.

Additional Features

HyperPDF offers a great level of customization. The preferences pane is packed with options, but my favorite is the ability to choose at what size a document opens. I export huge images from Photoshop that when I open with Preview, automatically get shrunk down to a size that will fit everything into a small window. Hitting the shortcut to view the image at actual size is minor inconvenience, but when you have to do it every time you open something it can become a real frustration. HyperPDF gives you the power to open at full size, which is something I can’t believe Apple doesn’t let you do.

The preferences pane is packed with options.

The preferences pane is packed with options.

HyperPDF offers PDF-TeX support as well, with presets for a ton of popular Mac word processors, such as TextMate, BBEdit, and TextWrangler. Honestly, I’ve had very little need for PDF-TeX, but power users will welcome this feature.

HyperPDF has PDF-TeX support with presets for many word processors.

HyperPDF has PDF-TeX support with presets for many word processors.

With the release of Lion, Apple introduced a new system for automatically saving your files. While many welcomed this as a wonderful evolution for the OS, I always missed the ability to “Save As.” Fortunately for people like me, some apps still have that feature, and HyperPDF is one of them.

When you choose to export a file in Preview, you get the option to run a filter, (black and white, sepia, etc.). HyperPDF doesn’t let you do that, but it does have a few more options for file formats to export to. Preview exports to different image types, such as JPEG or TIFF, but HyperPDF gives you control over, for example, whether you want to include the notes you made.

HyperPDF gives you many options when you choose to export a document.

HyperPDF gives you many options when you choose to export a document.

There are lots of other features that I haven’t mentioned, but that’s because if Preview can do it, so can HyperPDF. You can of course rotate PDFs, create bookmarks, and much more.

Conclusion

It’s not often that we see the words “innovative” and “PDF” in the same sentence, but I think that the developers of HyperPDF have really done a great job of thinking about PDF viewers in a new way. The Reading mode, which lets you swipe through pages like a book, doesn’t work well on small screens, but the animations are smooth and undoubtedly looks great on much larger screens. The note taking functions work much better than with Preview. Most appealing to me were all the options in the preference pane that I’ve been wishing Preview had for years.

All in all, this is a worthy upgrade from the Mac’s Preview app, and I’ve already made it my default reader. However, it is not perfect. At $10, it is tough to overlook certain problems, such as the snapshot saving process that I mentioned. For me, the good far outweighs the bad, and even though I won’t be using the Reading mode, I will be using this to open my PDFs for the foreseeable future.


Summary

A PDF viewer introduces new ways to view and annotate your documents.

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  • Whaaaa?

    There’s a free PDF reader for Mac called Skim, which is very nice — much better bookmarks than Preview, for example — but it has one big problem: it stores form data and annotations in a very non-standard way. So if (for example) you’re filling in a PDF tax form, you’d be crazy to do it in Skim — you might re-open the form later and find your data gone — but doing it in Preview is fine.

    I think a review of any PDF reader should include information about the specifics of how the program handles user-supplied form data, and where ancillary information and metadata are stored.

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