Reading Devices for Research Paper Workflows

Hi all,

I’ve been using Obsidian for my Zettelkasten for a few months now and am really enjoying it. Currently, my workflow for research papers involves saving->reading->annotating them in Zotero, and then syncing that to Obsidian as a Literature Note. It’s a decent workflow and helps me add a lot of knowledge to my PKM.

However, I generally tend to enjoy and comprehend reading a lot more when I am using an e-ink device like a Kindle instead of my PC. Kindles are great for books (and I sync my highlights and comments to Obsidian via Readwise), but they’re a bit insufficient for research paper PDFs.

So I find myself in search of a good e-ink device sufficiently large for research PDFs that has the following features:

  • Fairly easy to get PDFs onto the device
  • Can highlight text and make annotations
  • Can export highlights and annotations in a format that Readwise or some other service that syncs to Obsidian can ingest
  • Bonus if it is also responsive and has split-window capabilities.

Anyone know if there are devices on the market that satisfy these requirements?

I don’t know if it meets all of your requirements, but you might consider looking at the Boox Note Air 2 Plus (or the newer Boox Tab Ultra).

I’ve been using the Note Air 2 Plus for a few months, and I’ve been very pleased with it.

Things I like:

  • Large reading/writing surface, about 10".
  • Easy to download and sideload PDFs.
  • Can draw and write on PDFs.
  • Fully-functional Android tablet with Google Play Store, so can split windows, run apps, etc.
  • Runs Obsidian like a champ!

Sounds interesting! I didn’t know any such tablets could run Obsidian. What’s your workflow for getting notes from the PDF into Obsidian?

Also, can you highlight text or just draw/write on top of the document contents?

Yes, the PDF reader supports adding text annotations, highlighting text, and drawing on the page. All added content is saved inside the PDF file, so getting annotated PDFs back out of the device is as easy as copying the PDF to wherever you want it.

To add the PDFs to Obsidian I just copy them to my attachments folder and then link to them or embed them in other pages. I’m not sure what you mean by “getting notes from the PDF” – if you mean extracting the annotations from the PDF into a separate text note in Obsidian, then I’m afraid I don’t know how to do that.

I have used a Kindle for the last 3/4 years for my work as an academic researcher and, although I understand your desire to use the pdfs, I found it far easier to take any article/book as pdf and OCR it into a Word document (using gimagereader which I have always found exceptionally accurate). You can add an option to append page numbers so you know which page of the original pdf you are dealing with. Then you can just send it to the Kindle, highlight as normal, and use other functions like ctrl f etc.

I have experimented with using a separate note for annotations as well. The problem with it is that

  1. You don’t want your notes to be inside a PDF. It will make it harder to search them or make it necessary to export them and import them. Which is tedious.

  2. Writing your own notes is what you want to be doing, highlights is something that only gives the impression of understanding, it is at best a bookmark.

My solution:

  • Store the PDFs inside my Obisidian vault.
  • Make a note per PDF, write all my thoughts about this PDF therein, embed the PDF into the note using ![[somepdf.pdf]].
  • Have the vault in google drive, dropbox etc.

Now if I read and highlight this PDF from any other device like my phone. Highlights will directly show up in my vault - but won’t be exported into the note. Which is good, because I have to think about how to paraphrase, summarise it etc.

Also putting the contents of what you read into a note with the source is often counter productive - you could put the notes/knowledge into a separate knowledge silo on a topic and simply link back to your primary source, for backup or detailed revisiting.

Check out the system that i use here - there is a link to the vault where you can see directly what I mean above.