Seek Enlightened iPad File Management With Zen Viewer [Review]



In case there’s any doubt about whether the iPad has ushered in a post-PC era in mobile computing, Zen Viewer is one app to consider on your path to enlightenment.

Made by the Skins Factory, Zen Viewer is a feast for the eyes, drawing on iPad’s generous screen real estate and graphics capabilities to make document management on Apple’s flagship iOS device a nearly sublime experience.

Choose from a half dozen customizable themes to suit your prevailing technical chakras and let Zen Viewer organize and balance the files on your device with its fully searchable file system, document reader, image viewer, audio and video playback device and audio recorder.

The app is fast and responsive, a wonderful showcase for the iOS touch navigation platform, with its colors and graphic elements lending a rich gravitas to the otherwise mundane realm of file management. Audio and video playback are flawless and the recording feature should be a boon to anyone still having trouble with the touch keyboard.

Some bugs and glitchy performance with WiFi transfer look like they need some polishing, which Skins Factory support says is being addressed, but for $2.99 and such an early version release (1.6.6 is the latest, updated 3/29), Zen Viewer has great potential.

[xrr rating = 4/5]

  • prof_peabody

    You guys really need to hire some better reviewers. Every product “review” I read here in the last six months or so is just “(product x) is great!”

    Here we have an intro paragraph, and three paragraphs about how cool looking it is, followed by one paragraph that says it has some bugs. One could quite *literally* find out much more about the thing on the product page in iTunes than here.

    What does it even do? How does it work? Does it work well? Are there some tasks it doesn’t excel at? These are all the questions I learned to ask in a “review” in Grade 8.

  • Martin Topinka

    I miss the app description itself, does it allow me to view all the file system across the installed applications or is it just another app which grants some flash drive space on the iPad?

  • Gary McRoberts

    I was just thinking the same thing.. a very poor review that doesn’t tell us anything about the app other than it’s pretty. The title suggests this is an iPad file management app.. but we know that Apple doesn’t allow developers access to the file system on the iPad so what type of ‘files’ exactly does this app manage, how does it interact with other iPad apps, is it a ‘cloud’ system like drop box? please tell us about the App, not how nice it looks!

  • Jeff Schader

    Hi everyone, I’m one of the developers. If you want more information you can always check out our website at which has a ton of information.

    Taken from our iTunes description:

    Zen Viewer HD is the incredible iPad file reader & viewer that unifies your favorite content in one place – read documents, PDFs, books, user manuals, comic books, listen to pre-recorded audio & music files, record & save audio with the built-in recorder, watch video and view photos & images, while utilizing an intuitive folder system and a style unmatched by other file viewers & readers.

    Zen Viewer HD enables you to store, organize, rename, compress and password protect your files & folders. You can simply & easily drag and drop files from column to column.

    Zen Viewer HD supports a ton of features including AirPlay, the ability to “Open In” into external apps, connecting to web servers like Dropbox, MobileMe, & others and preset speed buttons for quick file searching of your folders and files.


    Document Formats: PDF • EPUB • RTF • TXT • CSV • DOC • DOCX • XLS • XLSX • PPT • PPTX • PAGES • NUMBERS • KEYNOTE • VCF • HTML • XML • CBR • CBZ

    Image Formats: JPEG • GIF • BMP • PNG • TIF • CR2 • NEF • ICO • CUR • XBM

    Audio Formats: M4A • MP3 • WAV • AIFF • AAC • CAF

    Video Formats: MOV • MP4 • M4V • M-JPG


    ? AirPlay. Stream your favorite audio & video files to all AirPlay-enabled devices.

    ? Open In. Export files out of Zen Viewer to other apps. Swipe a file and tap ‘Open In’. The ability to import files into Zen Viewer will be released shortly.

    ? Drag & Drop. Grab one or more files while in Manage Mode and drag them over to your folders.

    ? Audio Recorder. Record your classes, meetings or a million other things. .

    ? Password Protect. Deter access to individual files and folders. Zen Viewer does not encrypt files or folders. Securing a file or folder deters others from quickly accessing sensitive files, it does not ensure your files are safe.

    ? Compress/Decompress Your Content. Zip or unzip your files & folders to email or reduce file storage size. Use Zen Viewer as a portable hard drive solution when transporting files from here to there.

    ? Easy File Transfers. Transfer via Apple’s USB File Sharing in iTunes, select web servers like MobileMe iDisk, Dropbox, and more, Wi-Fi and URLs. You can even transfer photos from Apple’s Photo Albums.

    ? Enhanced File Searching. Search your library & files with numerous preset filters. Choose presets by genre (documents, favorites, etc.) or by specific file extensions (PDF, PNG, etc.).

    ? Gorgeous, professionally-designed free & premium themes to change the look and feel of Zen Viewer. More on the way.

    ? Special Favorites Section on top so you can access your most important content quickly.

    ? Flexible Columns. Resize the Library & File columns with a flexible divider to create more space where you need it the most.

    Someone asked “what does it not excel at?” Well, it doesn’t annotate PDFs yet. But it will. You can export files out of Zen Viewer via ‘Open In’ but not in yet. That fix is with Apple now and we’re waiting for it to go live. When it does, you’ll be able to import into Zen Viewer from other apps via ‘Open In’.

    We are constantly updating Zen Viewer with new features. We’ve released 3 updates in the last 34 days. We spent a year developing this app and we’re not taking a break. ;-)

  • Andrei

    yup, ipad’s just a big iTouch… /s

  • Lonnie Lazar

    Here’s an open letter to readers about what you can expect from a “review” on many iOS apps:

    You realize, of course, there are hundreds of thousands of apps out there and that this blog, among dozens of others in the field, is constantly bombarded by app developers and PR people crying, “please review my app!” Constantly. Bombarded. To the tune of dozens each week.

    The people who “work” here — almost all of whom have real jobs at other places, which we require in order to put roofs over our heads, clothes on our backs and food in our bellys (double and triple that for those of us with spouses and children) — have to figure a way to cull the wheat from the chaff as it were and then find time to actually use an app before we ever sit down to write about it.

    There literally isn’t enough time in the day, nor does blogging on a site like this pay nearly enough to justify going into the kind of detail some readers seem to expect in an app review.

    This is not some kind of academic journal or Popular Science or Consumer Reports – it’s a blog. And reviews include links to developer websites where a simple click of your mouse can lead you to all kinds of detailed information about the apps and other supporting information to help you decide whether you want to risk your 99 cents or your $2.99 to find out if the app is good enough for you.

    As to this particular review, the best thing about Zen Viewer is — surprise — it looks pretty! It’s a file management app, a document viewer, media viewer/player and audio recorder. It does all that quite well and aside from a few glitches in its WiFi transfer protocol it works without crashing every two minutes. And, IT LOOKS GREAT; did I mention that?

    I gave it four out of five stars. Trust me and my judgment or not. Or click on the links I provided and do some research of your own if you’re gun shy. But don’t bust my balls or call the other reviews you see here crap because authors don’t put in the three, four, five hours of work it would take to bring you an in-depth review — the economics of this game don’t support it.

  • Jeff Schader

    To answer your question, we built our own file system within iOS. Which is why it took us a year to develop. Not an easy task.

  • Jeff Schader

    So our update just went through and should be propagating the iTunes App Store over the next few hours. This update fixes the Wi-Fi issue as well as fixes the ‘Open In’ importing feature. So now you’ll be able to import and not just export to other apps from Zen Viewer.

    Let me offer a quick explanation about how Zen Viewer works. You bring in and store your files within the app. You can organize this content in folders – even folders within folders. It supports and views 19 document file types, a ton of image formats, audio and video files. All can be viewed within the app. It’s like iBooks, Photos, iPod and Videos all rolled into one app. Once you have your files in Zen Viewer, you can do a lot with them besides just viewing. You can compress/decompress, password protect, email, use it as a portable hard drive, download from Dropbox, Google Docs, MobileMe and, it has AirPlay functionality, Open In so you can not only import into Zen Viewer but export to other apps as well. It’s a very robust app. And we have a ton of new features in the works.

  • Maxx

    If it boils down to “There literally isn’t enough time in the day, nor does blogging on a site like this pay nearly enough to justify going into the kind of detail some readers seem to expect in an app review” I see no point in reading

    I’m removing from my feeds

  • Lonnie Lazar

    Maxx your “I’ll take my ball and go home” attitude must serve you well in all walks of life. If you want to deprive yourself of all the rich content offered by Cult of Mac, including up-to-the-minute news, exclusive interviews, how-tos, galleries and smart opinion pieces because I don’t have three or for hours to spend on a $3 app review, well, that kind of speaks for itself.

  • Lonnie Lazar

    It’s not a system file viewer Martin, in the way Finder works on the desktop. Zen Viewer allows you to organize, manage and view document files, image files, music and video and it allows you to record audio and store the recorded files. Documents, images music and video can be imported from and exported to other apps as well as emailed.

    See the Zen Viewer site for more details.

  • Ric

    Perhaps you shouldn’t title the blog as being a review! Maybe then you won’t get the constructive criticism you obviously don’t like judging by your tone in your response.
    I used to quite like CofM but it’s going engadget’s way. Being condescending to your readers will only drive them away.

  • Jeff Schader

    I think you mean “on a review of a $3 app” – because I think your review is worth more than $3. :-)

    And let’s be honest… it may cost only $3 but it feels like a $4 one easily. ;-)

  • Lonnie Lazar

    I was being purposely oblique, hoping someone might find the humor in all this. :-) And I agree, Zen Viewer is worth more than it costs. Thanks for participating in the thread and providing additional details.

  • Jeff Schader

    I was just messing with you. I knew what you meant :-)

  • Ric

    Writer-musician-web designer-attorney. hey let’s not forget reviewer.
    Jack of all trades, master .. ….

  • Rdw_junkmail

    Agree. Not a review at all. Ive never really used cult of Mac before, but don’t see the point of bookmarking it now.

  • Rdw_junkmail

    Agree. Not a review at all. Ive never really used cult of Mac before, but don’t see the point of bookmarking it now.