Zen Viewer is another application in a field of already established and useful viewer/organisational tools. So does Zen have any more to offer? Well yes, depending on what you want from a finder. It is certainly the most aesthetically pleasing of the finders and comes as standard in the “Enduring Earth” theme. You can purchase extra themes but it’s a nice rarity these days that it comes with several free ones built in and another bonus is that most are as visually pleasing as the next.
What about functionality? I added a bunch of different file formats that I had on my iMac, some of which I knew it could handle and some of which weren’t listed. An excellent feature is that if you have a file which isn’t compatible you have the option to open it in another application depending on what the file is and what you already have installed on your iPad. I have most standard apps on my iPad 2 so for example a video file Zen Viewer couldn’t play, it gave me the option to open it in VLC and GoodReader, so by swiping across a file you get the option to either delete the file, or “open in” and select the relevant installed application. For this PDF below, it gives the options I have installed capable of handing that particular PDF
The viewing widow is excellent whether you use it portrait or landscape. I predominantly use it in landscape. You don’t lose any functionality on screen in either view so I prefer having more files visible in landscape. The Zen Viewer title bar can either be hidden totally to give you more visibility of your files, or you can use some neat functions. You can “favourite” any file and select the title bar to always show your favourites, if there are many you can scroll across them. They appear as thumbnails as opposed to file icons which adds to the visual style and ease of finding what you want so you have both form and function. Alternatively to being a favourites pane, you can also select the title bar to be a preview pane thus when selecting any file it will show the details of that file including a thumbnail
Viewing images is quick and snappy. If you have the Zen Viewer title bar set to favourites, 1 touch on a file and it opens straight away. If you have the title bar set to preview then first touch will preview the image and details and the second will open it. Once the image is open operation is like most i devices when double clicking will zoom in, swiping left or right to move through the images etc. Whether it was Excel files of data or graphs, Word documents, pdf’s, png’s or jpeg’s everything opens quickly.
Music files are also quick to open displaying a neat control pane at the bottom of the screen.
Video files operate in a similar fashion and look good as you can see (blur created from screenshot, not in Zen Viewer) giving you the option to open in full screen.
As for navigation and file management, things couldn’t be simpler. You click the plus icon at the top of the files menu to add a folder and name it. You can rename any file by simply holding your finger on it for a second Something else which is permanently present is the “Manage” cog just underneath the Zen Viewer title bar. Pressing this will allow you to select many files, move into folders, sub folders or the main header folder. You can perform many actions as you can see below like compressing and locking folders with passwords (always handy when people always want to play on your iPad). When selecting multiple files you get the thumbnail and details preview of each file no matter how many you select which is a nice touch.
So what about getting files into Zen? Connecting it to iTunes it operates the same as GoodReader. It also has the same problem as GoodReader in that you can’t yet add folders from your computer, only files. So you then have to spend time in Zen organising things into folders as you see fit. This will hopefully will be rectified in future updates however I have currently found a way around this. One of the great features of zen is all the options at the bottom of the application where you can choose the Zen title bar functionality, record audio, add files from your photo library, search for files and add new files. If you choose to add files via wi fi by connecting to a server, i.e. your iMac you can then drag and drop whole folders into Zen then saving the hassle or re organising later. The sacrifice for this convenience is speed. Of course sending files to your iPad via wi fi/server is not going to be as quick as when connected to iTunes, but depending on volume and size of files you send then the time equates to roughly the same as you won’t have to create folders and re organise in Zen like you do when uploading thorough iTunes file by file.
You can also add new files via web servers like MobileMe, Google Docs, Box.net and Dropbox. You can add images directly from your ipad photo albums as well as from a web URL.
Overall I am highly impressed with Zen Viewer. When you first open the app you are given clear instructions on how everythig works so is very quick to get to grips with. Its a highly useful, neat and strangely fun app which for a finder is a rare and neat trick to pull off. Although functionality wise it doesn’t offer masses of difference from apps like GoodReader, I think you will find like me that its visual style, ease of use, functionality, customization and value for money means if you are someone who likes more on their iPad than games and pictures then I would say this is a definite must.