I am a math student. I'd like to find out if tablets (iPads, Galaxy Note 10.1) are worth the cost. How good are tablets for the purposes of reading textbooks as PDF and writing mathematics with a stylus?

For writing math in TeX, it looked like the Android app store was in need of a TeX editor, so I had all the fun writing one which renders the TeX as on math.stackexchange, and can also export to PDF.

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    $\begingroup$ Please do not close. Upvotes on the response and on the question clearly show it is of interest to the community. $\endgroup$
    – Sasha
    Commented Sep 9, 2012 at 12:33
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    $\begingroup$ I have a Samsung Galaxy tab 10.1 (about 1.5 years old) and echo everything @Qiaochu says: Great for reading, but not for writing. However, if you aren't set on getting an iPad, consider the new Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1, which is specifically designed for note taking. One of the major demographics Samsung is aiming at with this product is students, and the CNN and CNET reviews are positive, so it could be worth your time to pop into an electronics store and try it out for yourself. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 9, 2012 at 15:46
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    $\begingroup$ Also, about it being worth the cost: My tablet has paid for itself a few times over in the amount saved in purchasing textbooks and printing out my lecturers notes. I carry around a ridiculous library filled with heaps great books in almost every field of mathematics and I love browsing through them all. I should probably take Qiaochu's advice and force myself to work through the essential ones by deleting the others. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 9, 2012 at 15:48
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    $\begingroup$ I have found iAnnotate PDF ($10) very useful for reading math papers, and especially for annotating drafts of my own papers. But I don't know how useful it would be for reading textbooks. $\endgroup$
    – Tom Church
    Commented Sep 29, 2012 at 17:53
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    $\begingroup$ "As a math student"? No. Reading .pdf's is nice on an iPad. That's the extent of good things one can say. There are other nice things, some of which have been detailed below, but none are worth the price of admission. If you want an iPad, get one, but know that an iPad runs neither emacs nor vim, and is thus a toy. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 25, 2012 at 23:35

7 Answers 7


I can only speak from personal experience here, so don't take anything I say as a universal statement about doing math with iPads.

  1. Reading math on an iPad is great. I've been using my iPad to read during meals, at cafes, and in other places where it's more convenient because of its size than taking out my laptop, and it also has substantially better battery life (not too big an issue now but it will be very useful the next time I take a long flight / train ride / bus ride). My current setup is that I only transfer reading material that I actually plan on reading soon (rather than my entire library), so the somewhat limited selection forces me to actually read what I was planning to read. Earlier I had a long backlog of things I was planning on reading, but it was so large that it was intimidating to start. As far as specific apps, GoodReader is good for .pdfs but doesn't read .djvus; for the latter you can use Stanza.

  2. Writing math on an iPad is not great. I don't have a stylus myself, but a friend of mine who tried taking notes with a stylus found it both too slow and too imprecise, and based on my experiences I'm not surprised. This may change depending on the stylus but not, I think, substantially. If you want to TeX on an iPad, the best option I'm aware of is TeX Touch, which I haven't tried because I find typing on an iPad annoying compared to typing on a laptop.

  3. Non-obvious advantage: it is very easy to draw mathematical graphics in some iPad app (I use Paper) and not terribly difficult to include them in LaTeX'ed notes (such as these). As a general rule, iPad apps heavily prioritize ease of use, so I didn't have to learn how to use a sophisticated tool: I just downloaded an app and started drawing. I think in general most mathematics could benefit from an increased use of graphics and I'm happy to have a tool that allows me to use graphics more easily.

My standard answer to your last question, which is not specific to iPads, is that mathematics which is typed up rather than handwritten is 1) more legible and 2) much, much easier to copy and distribute. But this is an argument for doing mathematics electronically, not an argument for doing mathematics with an iPad.

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    $\begingroup$ Also on the advantage of typing over handwriting : you can easily search, modify, reorganize or repurpose content, you also have virtually unlimited memory to store it. But of course, handwriting also has its advantages such as immediacy and intuitiveness (which often leads to more graphs). $\endgroup$
    – Joel Cohen
    Commented Sep 9, 2012 at 9:14
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    $\begingroup$ @Zhen: Actually they are being resurrected now. There are Intel Atom based hybrids (tablets + keyboard dock) waiting for the release of Windows 8 to be sent to the stores... Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2/Asus Vivo Tab/etc. many come with a Wacom digitizer pen which I believe will be great for writing notes in real time. $\endgroup$
    – Asaf Karagila
    Commented Sep 9, 2012 at 15:22
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    $\begingroup$ As for the "taking with you". You can put the files in a dropbox folder and the iPad client synchronizes them when you need. $\endgroup$
    – JT_NL
    Commented Sep 9, 2012 at 19:19
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    $\begingroup$ Two disadvantages of Stanza worth noting: 1) it is no longer supported by Amazon and is liable to break in a future iOS update (it broke once in iOS 5 but was patched for presumably the last time). 2) It does not natively support DjVu but converts it to PDF through a very time-consuming and space-consuming process. $\endgroup$
    – Erick Wong
    Commented Oct 1, 2012 at 3:59
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    $\begingroup$ Have you tried Jot -stylus? I cannot fully understand your comment about slowness and inaccucrasy, could you clarify this? I know most styluses are poor bulky rubber products but Jot is more like a pen. It may work for you. More info here. $\endgroup$
    – hhh
    Commented Oct 22, 2012 at 3:31

You require two things: good stylus and good app. I also like to have stand but more about apps and accessories here. Before buying any Apple product, please, acknowledge the below limitations.


  • Linux users should check whether they can do everything they need with Chromebook and Android phone because Apple discriminates you in many things such as no iTunes support. This basically means that you cannot get backups and the use of iOS devices is very painful and slow. Some apps here such as iCab are meant to circumvent the Apple lock -- Apple makes it as hard as possible to use iPad without OS X so downloading lecture slides to iPad is a big brainy problem -- really you cannot download lecture-slides to iPad without special app (ridiculous)!

  • Low-income students should not buy the oldest OS X units because Apple stops the support after about 5 years, it is even poorer with iOS devices.

iPad for reading textbooks and writing math by hand?

In order to write like with a pen, you need either a screen-protector or a very sharp stylus. Perhaps, it is the reason why Jot and the small DX-118368 stylus here are my favorite styluses.

enter image description here

iPad is somewhat laggy in comparison to powerful computer with good GPU and Wacom board. Jot scratches the screen. Many imprecise bulky styluses but my favorite stylus here -- the stylus with the smallest width in the picture. If I had to choose two styluses, I would still go with a Jot stylus and DX-118368 stylus here.

enter image description here

The essential apps are Notes Mobile app, UPAD app, TeX Writer app, GoodReader and PDF Expert app. You can see how search over scholars and academic papers in the picture with Papers app. FrameArtist is for collegues like in this writing. Things work the best if you have iTunes and at least iPad, bottom pictures with iPhone -- yes the same apps work over iPad and iPhone. If you have to study in noisy environments, please, consider neutralizing the noise with things such as SimplyNoise white-brown-pink-noise-generator app and SHOUTcast app's CINEMIX radio, free relaxing sounds to hide noises and to help concentration -- more about silencing noises here, hope the tips and hints help your studying!

Further information

  1. How to compare documents in iPad here

  2. How to search over all content in iPad here

  3. Editing material on iPad here and here

  4. How to read the same book together on many iPads here

  5. App to add photos to LaTex document with iPad's camera here

  6. iPad's accessories and some apps for education purposes here.

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    $\begingroup$ I didn't know that the iPad can be used to procreate. Can't wait to try it! $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 18, 2012 at 21:49
  • $\begingroup$ This is a copy of Math on iPad for dummies. I'll sue you for copyright infringement! $\endgroup$
    – Red Banana
    Commented Dec 10, 2012 at 1:14
  • $\begingroup$ @hhh I'm only kidding. $\endgroup$
    – Red Banana
    Commented Dec 10, 2012 at 1:29
  • $\begingroup$ The [relevance to mathematics] to [words and pictures] ratio of this answer is very low... $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 10, 2012 at 2:13
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    $\begingroup$ Based on this question and answer, I went with GoodNotes, Adonit Jot Pro, an Apple wireless keyboard, and TeX Writer. I use the Jot Pro and GoodNotes for tutoring and certain types of studying, the keyboard and TeX Writer for more serious work. The combination and flexibility is impressive, and my students love it. I also recommend a Power Support Anti-glare film for protection and to cut down on glare and fingerprints: powersupportusa.com/accessories/ipad-2/hd-anti-glare-film.html Thanks hhh! $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 20, 2012 at 23:20

I've had my iPad for just over a year and it is now integral to my life as a mathematician. I read books and papers on it, I annotate work on it (making it far easier to comment on students' theses: scribble on it and send it straight back instead of printing-commenting-scanning), I also write my mathematics on it as well. I use it to present my lectures (when doing these as beamer presentations). And now I can even write TeX articles on it with no need for connectivity. I find it easier now to take my iPad around with me than a laptop: whilst there are things that are easier on a laptop, there are things possible on an iPad (or other tablet, I guess) that aren't possible on a laptop so I prefer to take my iPad than my laptop.

In more detail, here are the applications that I use. I can't say that others aren't good as I haven't downloaded every variant of, say, PDF reader (though I did do a bit of research into annotation but that was some time ago and applications change rapidly).

  1. GoodReader. This is the application I use for reading and annotating PDFs. Its annotation capabilities are getting better but aren't the best. However, it has various features that make it excellent for reading. One of the most useful is that you can crop a page to a particular view so the big margins typical of LaTeX documents don't use up valuable screen space.

  2. GoodNotes. This is the application I use for writing mathematics and for displaying PDF presentations. I use a stylus, and I find it quite easy to use. A stylus isn't quite as easy as a pen on paper (the resistance is a bit different), but being able to organise my notes more than compensates for that. It has a "zoom" mode which makes it easy to write with accuracy. The presentation mode is "clean" in that only the PDF and any annotations are shown.

  3. TeX Writer. There are now two applications that can TeX a document on the iPad itself (no cloud or internet connection needed). My opinion is that TeX Writer is the superior of the two.

  4. Codea. This is a programming application. I use it for doing simulations and demonstrations in my lectures.

I've written a little about this on the TeX-SX blog:

So I find that I disagree with the other answers (to date) in their caution. The more I use my iPad, the more I find that it just "fits" in with my workflow and have none of the hesitation that the others have. I don't think that it would work for everyone, but it is certainly possible that it will prove a benefit.

Added in Edit Here's some screenshots:


Notes taken with GoodNotes

Also, the annotations on my course notes this year have been done using GoodNotes. http://mathsnotes.math.ntnu.no/mathsnotes/show/lecture+notes+2011 (switched to iPad part-way through this course) and http://mathsnotes.math.ntnu.no/mathsnotes/show/TMA4115+lecture+notes+2012

Codea: You can see some of the things I've done on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/user/mapstacey It should be fairly obvious which things were designed for lectures.

One more thing 2012-11-16 Regarding transferring files, my iPad is not jailbroken and I can easily transfer files between it and either my Mac or my Linux computer. Most applications use Dropbox, or if I can connect via USB then I use a library called libimobiledevice which gives me access to applications' "Documents" directories.

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    $\begingroup$ There (TeX Writer) I have an advantage: I'm a beta-tester so I know what's coming. Two things: with the editor, the double row of extra keys is invaluable. With the compiler, I can add the entirety of TeXLive if I want to (and have done so). I have no idea which packages are bundled with TeXPad and have been unable to find out, making it practically useless to me. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 29, 2012 at 19:45
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    $\begingroup$ Oh, and I forgot one of the most important things. TeX Writer gives me the full log file. TeXPad gives me a summary. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 29, 2012 at 19:46
  • $\begingroup$ The double row of extra keys is in TeX Writer. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 29, 2012 at 20:05
  • $\begingroup$ No, not as yet, though I'm considering it now that I can run TeX on it. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 29, 2012 at 21:33
  • $\begingroup$ @hhh I don't understand your comment, it doesn't seem directed at me. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 2, 2012 at 9:57

I use a Kindle DX for reading PDFs, which it's absolutely great at. It's e-ink instead of LCD, so it's not hurting your eyes when you're reading off of it for long stretches. It's way less interactive than most things, though -- the screen can only update one a second or so, so no animation or anything.

  • $\begingroup$ I think this is a good point (even though not answering the question in iPad sense) +1 -- we should seriously narrow down this thread or make it more specific to mathematics. Where is iPad good and where it is not? iPad is not clearly good in reading if you cannot get a lecture-slide to it without external app. Is there any better substitute to it? Can you read for example homework and lecture-slide side-by-side with Kindle DX or some other product? Battery life? Someone should make some table about different products...for comparison. $\endgroup$
    – hhh
    Commented Dec 12, 2012 at 20:22
  • $\begingroup$ I tried to make some sense to this by this thread here. I tried to write it in electronics-agnostic way. It asks a specific feature in small electronics devices to do homeworks more efficiently without carrying a large laptop all around. $\endgroup$
    – hhh
    Commented Dec 12, 2012 at 20:44
  • $\begingroup$ OP's question has been edited to broaden it to all tablets. $\endgroup$
    – Mars
    Commented Mar 16, 2014 at 5:05

I'm a great fan of the iPad, which does certain things brilliantly. It can't replace a laptop but having one in addition certainly enhances your digital life hugely.

On the question of the additional cost -- to get that out of the way first -- think what one cup of coffee five days a week over two years costs (even that terrible cheap coffee from the student coffee place!). Compare the cost of an iPad (you won't need more than wifi connectivity). Ask yourself: will you get a coffee's worth of value from the iPad most days? The answer seems obvious to me :-)

OK, as to maths: Reading PDFs is a brilliant experience on an iPad (and DjVU isn't at all bad). I would very much rather read maths books and papers on the iPad than on a laptop screen. And this seems a common experience (on one bit of independent research I saw, people were approaching indifference between physical books and reading on an iPad, but rated either far above reading on a computer screen). Minor annotation on the PDFs (highlighting, very brief notes to self) works very well too e.g. in GoodReader. And of course all your other reading, whether is classical novels, or newspaper websites, or whatever, is also vastly nicer on an iPad than on a computer. And then there are all the non-reading things that you can do with it (sitting in a cafe doing your emails, facebook, etc.).

Writing maths is quite different though, and after experimenting early on, I found that good old pen and paper still works very much better for notes taken in the heat of the moment in lectures/talks etc. In fact your note taking really should be a two-phase project anyway. (1) You write rough notes "live" in the lecture, and then (2) you should write up the notes afterwards, consulting textbooks, classmates etc. until you are sure you have got things really clear. Stage (1) is for nearly everyone best done the old-fashioned way; stage (2) is best done on a laptop running a LaTeX installation. At neither stage is using an iPad a good choice.

So, yes, go for an iPad as a terrific addition to the laptop which you'll get a great deal of use from, even for work/study. But it isn't all purpose tool, and in particular isn't a serious writing platform, in the way your laptop is.

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    $\begingroup$ DjVU is bad, only Stanza simplest works -- other apps are broken: search sxcks and OCR is nowhere. Which DjVU -app you are referring to with "DjVU isn't at all bad"? More specific info in this thread here, save some money before buying the inferior DjVU apps, most just junk. iPad is not realy for reading books, I use Kindle for reading books (better for my eyes). iPad works far better during lectures...though I also have laptop/android/etc. iPad camera helps note-taking. $\endgroup$
    – hhh
    Commented Sep 29, 2012 at 15:32

DjVu Reader had annoying bugs but it works fine now, as far as I know. The last news I had was that Stanza produces PDF from DJVU in order to read it, it has to be done on a computer, before transferring to iPad, the process of production of the pdf is long and the pdf file produced is around 60 Mb or more ... Is it still true ?

  • $\begingroup$ Ebookdroid is great for android devices. It used to be pretty buggy, and you have to install an extra font pack, but once this is done it is great for reading texts. It can handle djvu and pdf just fine and will hold your place from when you were last reading. It also has a recent books section so you don't always have to dig through your whole library. $\endgroup$
    – Tristen
    Commented May 13, 2014 at 0:38

This answer is biased towards physical things. The answer continues from this answer here.

iPad is pretty stupid thing without a good stand to help reading -- it is easy to damage its covers for instance in the bag. It is annoying to read with a stand that is falling. I have tested all kind of iPad things such as SmarterStand (I don't like it) and iPad with aluminium cover-keyboard (I don't like it) -- I use iPad mostly for reading and carrying around so a good leather protector stand is very-very useful.

It may not matter but my apps: I have worked quite a bit to work with iPad a bit like an office but nowadays I use it mostly for reading books, newspapers, occasional server maintenance and dictionaries. Office products are still very young and hard-to-use, it takes some time to get ice-breakers.


I. Misc such as ProCreate for fast recretional notes and iCab Mobile if no OS X.

II. Documents or PDF Expert app: they have a search over all content so you can search for an arbitrary word let say in Homeworks

III. iBook for reading (I earlier used GoodReader and PDF Expert for this but not anymore because iBook/OS X far better option for me now)


enter image description here

  • Protective 45 degrees' Stand to see iPad upright like here

  • Neodymium magnets here, plastic tape and Origami keep the Jot Pro attached below the keyboard, not working with Jot Classic because of lacking magnets.

  • You can create a magnetized stylus with the DX light-laser-good-head stylus 81442 and the magnets by inserting magnets above the battery container, then you get the best laser-point led stylus so far on the market and it can be attached to iPad's cover similarly to Maglus. I don't like Maglus, I like the laser-pointer-stylus much more here. I get flashlight-laser-stylus in one thing, it is very useful during lectures and in group-working.

  • $\begingroup$ Livescribe turns note-taking into timewise notes with historical view, this would be pretty cool in iPad -- does it exist? $\endgroup$
    – hhh
    Commented Mar 5, 2013 at 21:05
  • $\begingroup$ OCR: meta.math.stackexchange.com/questions/3731/… $\endgroup$
    – hhh
    Commented Mar 5, 2013 at 21:06
  • $\begingroup$ There is currently no good comparison app, only Side-by-Side, so hard to read two papers such as homework and lecture-slide side-by-side....the way I do it now is to merge many PDFs so easier to read as one. $\endgroup$
    – hhh
    Commented Mar 5, 2013 at 21:08
  • $\begingroup$ CloudOn works for editing Windows files. iAnnotate displays math-formulae correctly without editing. $\endgroup$
    – hhh
    Commented Mar 5, 2013 at 21:39
  • $\begingroup$ [Update] If you have OSX, Calibre with iBook beats Readle's products in reading experience. If you have iPad and Kidnle, Kindle app is pretty cool because you can turn your iPad into "Kindle" -- now forgetting PDF Expert in the favour of Apple's iBook, Kindle and perhaps Documents. $\endgroup$
    – hhh
    Commented Mar 9, 2013 at 0:20

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