EndNote for the iPad: not ready for prime time

My search for an optimal flow of searching, sorting, storing, organizing, reading and annotating papers continue. The current process is still a bit convoluted (and I’m not alone!), but it kind of works.
First of all, I am glad to have moved completely to a digital configuration. This summer the entire floor where my office is located will be renovated. I’ll be “officeless” for about five months. I have nothing to worry about, there are no more books or printed articles in my shelves. All I need is a device to connect to the Internet.
But as I said, the flow is still a bit complex: after finding a paper and storing it with the proper reference on EndNote, I still need to do some manual steps in order to copy it to a special folder on Dropbox that will be synced with the GoodReader app on the iPad, where I can comfortably read and annotate it. Although it takes less time to do all those steps than actually writing about them, I was looking forward to cutting (or at least automating) this last step.
This is why I got excited a while ago when they announced that EndNote would be available for the iPad. If everything could be synced in a more consistent way, this complicated process would finally disappear in the background – where it belongs. This announcement came more or less at the same time when version X6 came out.
I am both a Mac and a PC user. I first installed X6 on a PC and was mostly happy with two simple, but yet powerful, new features: read/unread flag and star ratings. I had previously implemented both on custom fields , and now it actually looked great. But not everything was perfect…
Next I tried the new sync feature. I used an account that I already had on EndNoteWeb (and that I had already put some stuff there). What a disaster! References were duplicated, the whole library became a mess (never forget to backup!). I recovered my backup and tried cleaning up the web records, so I could start with a clean slate. This way, only my references from the “master library” would be copied to the web, and then synced from there. While cleaning the references from the web was rather painless, I got about a 100 (empty) groups – many duplicates – that need to be cleaned ONE BY ONE. Not only you have to click 100 times to delete them, you also need to confirm the deletion in a pop up window.
So I gave up using this sync feature. After all, having the library file on a Dropbox folder and sharing it across multiple PCs and Macs work just fine. And that would be the end of the story if not for the iPad app, since unfortunately it appears that the web sync is the only way to… er, sync with your main library (meaning you can’t do it directly from your PC or Mac to the iPad: you need to set up an account with EndNoteWeb otherwise your library on the iPad will be disconnected from the main one).
The frustrations went on when I installed X6 in the Mac. It appears that they don’t test their software before releasing it. Long story short, the software is unusable with the latest Mac OS X. So I had to revert back to X5 in the Mac (truth be said, the same library can be used without any reindexing across x5 and x6; this was not the case between x4 and x5).

Annotating: are they serious? No note taking? Just a pen and a marker?

And now finally comes EndNote for the iPad. After all the misadventures with EndNote so far I wasn’t really holding my breath, but priced initially at $1, I thought I could give it a try. To be completely honest, I downloaded the software last night and still haven’t finished learning all the possibilities, but what I have seen is quite disappointing so far. Here are my first impressions:

  • Syncing: apparently the “best way” of syncing the library with its PC/Mac counterpart is to use EndNoteWeb. Even after the problems I already described, I gave it a try. I created a new short library for the test, with less than 20 references. It took forever to sync (only 10 had PDFs) from the Mac to the web. While it was running, the application kept flashing on the task bar, but there was no action required. The application seems frozen while syncing (you can’t do anything else), but if you move to another application the icon will keep on bouncing and demanding your urgent attention!
  • Annotating offers VERY limited options (see box in the right).
  • Syncing from the web to the iPad was a little better. But because the annotation features are so poor, I didn’t really try to do something and sync back to the web (and then back to the Mac or PC) to see how it would look like.
  • I still couldn’t get rid of all those 100 groups. You can’t delete groups through the iPad interface…
  • The view options are very limited. The document always fits the screen width. Scrolling is done vertically and there is no way to change that (you can’t turn pages like in an ebook, for instance).
  • Dropbox: I linked to my Dropbox account, but my hope was to use the library file that is stored there (that would be too good to be true). It is actually intended to add attachments to a reference (fair enough).
  • Still on a positive note, it appears that you can use the built-in browser to download .enw and other reference files and include it directly to your library. If using McGill VPN on the iPad, you can also get the PDF (most of the times) and attach it to the reference without ever leaving the app.
So I would only recommend it if you’re a real EndNote fan and want to buy it for $1 before they increase the price to $10 or so… Otherwise, don’t waste your time and keep using GoodReader or another decent app. Another thing I don’t like is that they offer a 2-year use of their sync solution up to 5GB, but I couldn’t find anywhere how much it would cost after that or how much extra storage would cost.
In case you do decide to go ahead and download it, please comment on your experience. I would be more than happy to be proven wrong!

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