Go-To Academic Apps

I thought it was only fitting to have my inaugural post be a roundup of my favorite apps to work with. These are notes I prepared for a meeting of our Students of Early Modern Studies here at Wayne State, and as such were intentionally aimed at grad students seeking to make better use of digital resources. They are by far not the newest technology out there, but certainly a worthy starting point if you’re building your digital app library. Although these are extremely productive for academics (and a great excuse to say you need an iPad… for work!), their versatility and variety of uses is what makes them worth mentioning.

In no particular order:

1) Evernote (free): Most of you probably already heard about this wonderful little app. To the untrained eye, Evernote is simply a note-taking widget. But this little app can make even the most disorganized of scholars feel like she has a personal assistant at her fingertips. First, the app works across devices: update a note on your phone, and it will almost immediately appear on your tablet, your computer, and its website. Second: the option to create new notebooks means that you can take random notes on books, meetings, ideas for your next article, and class plans and simply save them in their appropriate folder. Best of all: all notes are fully searchable. Say you forgot where you read that perfect quote about that rare book you thought no one else had analyzed (as I PhD candidate, that happens to me more times than I can count). Just type the name of the author, or the word from the quote–if it’s on Evernote, it will find it. Another of my favorite features is the “Web Clipper.” Install this widget on your browser and you can save an entire webpage to your notebook. This is incredibly helpful for articles or blog posts you want to read later and–again–to keep your findings organized in one place. If you’re not convinced, here are two final points in favor of Evernote: 1) if you prefer handwritten notes, but always seem to be misplacing them, the Evernote Moleskin is for you. It was designed to be photographed and archived on the app. Specially-made stickers allow you to tag your writing and make it searchable. I must admit I haven’t tried this yet (the $25.00 price-tag seems a little wasteful for a free app), but it looks amazing. 2) The app syncs with other services, like LiveMinutes (which I’ll be reviewing this weekend). The only downsides of Evernote, as I find it, are the very basic text formatting (in other words: it’s not a Word Processor, nor does it want to be) and for some reason you still can’t create notebooks on the apps, only on the desktop program. Not a very big deal, unless you really need to reorganize your notes right away.

2) PDF Expert ($9.99): There are many, many annotation apps out there. I am proud to say only 3 out of 116 apps on my iPad are paid, so I don’t spend money on digital widgets easily. However, as a Renaissance scholar who studies a lot of digitized material, I find I can’t live without this app. It can host offline files as well as sync with Dropbox, so any changes I make can be found back on my computer (or any computer) should I need them. For such a high-capacity app (I have about 50 large files saved to it right now), it’s incredibly fast. I use it mostly to annotate and highlight digitized rare books–I’m a little ODC with color-coding, and here I can use a different color to mark each of my observations: recurring keywords, dates, paratextual material worth returning to, etc. It also allows for digital signatures and filling out PDF forms, which is great for the bureaucratic side of academia. Many people swear by Good Reader, and it’s indeed cheaper than this and seems to have a lot of the same functions. My personal experience was that the app lagged quite often with bigger files. If, like me, you find yourself studying texts that are 80+ pages long, that can be a deal breaker.

3) Prezi (free): Who needs PowerPoint anymore? Prezi is a fantastic, customizable, dynamic and portable presentation tool. The Prezi app used to function only with completed presentations, but it now allows not only editing but creating new prezis. I find that audiences at conferences are always interested to learn more about Prezi and it makes for a much more exciting paper session. Now I don’t even need a computer to make one! The downside, of course, is that it is much more difficult to add images and prepare your content on the tablet than it is on the computer (and for some Prezi is already idiosyncratic enough). New competitors include SlideKlowd, which I am eager to try and review (hopefully soon).

4) TripCase (free): Not exactly an academic app, but if you travel a lot this can be extremely useful. Input your flight number and the app keeps track of departure times, gate changes, and planned delays or early arrivals. More than once this app helped me make a tight connection without having to go in search of one of those arrival/departure boards. You can also use it to save important information like confirmation numbers, check-in times, and get weather details about your destination. Much better than the ads that get printed with your boarding pass.

5) QuickOffice ($14.99): I am still in the desperate search for an app that reads notes and track changes on the iPad, and sadly this one does not do either (apparently Office² HD can read and edit footnotes, but to varied and unpredictable results). What I enjoy about this app is that it’s stable (I’ve never had it crash on me) and it automatically saves your work every couple of minutes, so you never lose anything. Like PDF Expert, it can sync with Dropbox and also host documents offline. It helps me immensely when I am away from a Wifi network and has saved me from carrying my heavy laptop on conference trips. Unfortunately, it’s hard to use QuickOffice for grading, since it doesn’t allow comments or track-changes. I prefer it for editing documents on the go–not for creating or responding to documents from scratch.

That’s it for my go-to list. What is your favorite time-saving or productivity app? I’m on the lookout for a better Word Processor, and I would love to hear which ones others are using. I plan to review one app, CloudOn, in the next week or so, but I already have many reservations about it. Do you know of an app that works (well) with footnotes and changes? Any app you would recommend avoiding?

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