Papers vs Mendeley

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I wrote this before Papers2 and any Mendeley updates. In the meantime they've both come up a long way. I can't speak as well for Mendeley except that I saw it recently, briefly over someone's shoulder and it looked flashier---less like straight Java. Papers2 fixes all the relative weaknesses below, except that it is still Mac only. And since release, about two months ago, they've released eight updates. That said, I've used few of its newest features. And below, where I said I've only bought Papers once. Well, I've bought it twice now (heavily discounted).

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Papers and Mendeley are two competing PDF viewer/organizers intended for scientists. I've never really bought much software, but if you are on a Mac, I recommend that you give Papers a try over Mendeley. It must be purchased after 30 days, but is totally worth it. I use it to take all of my notes, build all of my reference lists, and of course organize all of my papers.

When I want ideas for a paper I'm writing, I look at what I've already written on the article. When I want to know what journals to submit to, I sort my paper collection by journal to see what I read the most in what category. When I want to know what Japanese researcher to work with this summer, I type in the word Japan to search PDFs, notes, journal titles, and whatever else to see what institutions I am reading work from. When I am writing a paper, I collect everything relevant to it in a folder. When I want the bibtex for that library of papers, I export it (though I've had to use Bibdesk as an intermediary to clean the .tex). When I want to share a paper, I drag it into Gmail.

At this point Mendeley does some things better than Papers. It is currently

  • better suited for people who write in tex (Paper's accommodation of metadata is a little weak),
  • it stores non-PDFs,
  • it is cross platform, and
  • free (but not necc. for long, see below)

Papers also does some things better than Mendeley. In my opinion

  • search is + better in Papers,
  • note taking is ++ better,
  • reading is ++,
  • interface is +++, and
  • speed is ++ or +++)

There are also ways that the two are just different:

  • the way they handle auto-filling of metadata and
  • Mendeley's social network thing (I'm not going to go ahead and call it an advantage just because it has the words social and network. I tried it this summer, and it is currently too crippled to be as useful as I'd like).

Until a week or so ago I was a little concerned that my preference for Papers over Mendeley was just the sunk costs speaking. It is hard to switch once you have invested so much time into your notes, which I don't think are easily transferable. I tried anyway and moved my entire paper collection over. I gave Mendeley a really fair try, and came out decisively in favor of Papers. No more regret.

Regarding the downsides, the developers are fairly transparent about their future plans in the forums and it looks like my biggest qualms with the software are on their todo list. Updates come out about once every six months. I know it costs money ($40 after a 30 day free trial), and Mendeley doesn't, but I also know that the Mendeley folks are crippling certain features so that they can start charging soon as well. Even worse, their plan is for a subscription service, which means that to get the most of Mendeley, you will have to keep buying it every month. They said so in an email to me. I'm not sure what the subscription will unlock, but I'd guess that every currently free feature will stay free. Regardless, I only bought Papers once.

So yeah, consider Papers by mekentosj.