Dapeng Li

Hungry, foolish and passionate – yet another software developer.

Syncing book notes in the cloud

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In this post I’ll share some tips on reading books on electronic devices, mostly on how to keep your book notes in sync.

Read books, take notes

Reading books is fun, but forgetting what you had read is not.

When reading paper books, I often use markers to highlight important sections, to make future reviews faster. However, this approach has some drawbacks:

  • You “ruin” the book with your doodles, some people prefer to keep the book clean and intact.
  • There’s no efficient way to skim or search your highlights/notes, they are scattered all around. Some people suggest keeping an index sheet of your highlights/notes separately, but that takes extra time and the clean index format can be easily broken – imagine updating the index after you add more notes later.

Electronic books to the rescue?

More people prefer electronic books (eBooks) these days to their paper counterparts, although I love holding a paper book in my hands, I also love eBooks:

  • they are more portable – almost no weight at all
  • you can read them everywhere – on your phone, tablet, computer…
  • they are generally cheaper – the cost of distributing another copy is trivial
  • they are environment friendly – imagine happy trees
  • last but not least, you can take notes and review them much more effectively

Reading and Syncing eBooks

Most eBooks I read are in three formats: Kindle, ePub and PDF.



Devices & Apps: Amazon Kindle Reader, Amazon Kindle App (available on various platforms)

How to setup sync: Automatic sync (called Whispersync by Amazon) is turned on by default, you’ll be able to view all your highlights/notes across all your Kindle apps, as long as they’re registered under the same Amazon Id. Here’s the manual on how to use the Kindle app on your iOS devices.


  • Platform support: you can find the Kindle app on almost any platform, there’s even a Cloud version which works in browser.
  • Popular highlights: You can see which part of the book had been highlighted the most by other readers. Amazon also integrates “popular highlights” into its social network site for books.
  • View highlights without a device: you can view all your books/highlights on the Kindle website.


  • A big one: the syncing features can only be used with books purchased from Amazon’s Kindle store. You can read eBooks imported to Kindle, but don’t expect the syncing goodies.



Devices & Apps (support syncing): iBooks on iOS devices (iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad)

How to setup sync:

  1. Import ePub files into iBooks, you got two options:
    • Import from iTunes, here’s a video walkthrough.
    • Open ePub files directly from iBooks, checkout this post to see how.
  2. Login to AppStore on your iOS device with your Apple Id.
  3. Turn on “Sync Bookmarks” and “Sync Collections” in iBooks setting page.


  • Automatic syncing of highlights/notes across all your iOS devices.
  • Sync works for imported ePub files.


  • Currently there’s no official ePub reading software by Apple on Macintosh or PC, so synchronization only works between your iOS devices now.



Devices & Apps: Adobe Reader (PC & Mac), Preview (Mac), GoodReader (iOS)

How to setup sync: warning – this approach is kind of manual, setting up in GoodReader is not hard but also not simple.

  1. Register a Dropbox account if you haven’t already (I mentioned Dropbox in a previous post, in case you want to check it out, click here).
  2. Add PDF files to a folder in Dropbox, this folder will contain all PDF files whose highlights/notes you would like to keep in Sync (e.g. name it “Books Annotated”).
  3. [On PC or Mac] Open your PDF files in Adobe Reader or Preview, add highlights/notes, after making your changes, save the file. Dropbox will upload your changes automatically.
  4. [On iOS devices]
    1. Open GoodReader, select “Connect to Servers”, add your Dropbox account.
    2. Select the folder you would like to sync (“Books Annotated” in our example), then click the “Sync” button (not the “Download” button).
    3. Select a local folder in GoodReader to contain the synced files (name it “Books Annotated” as well).
    4. After you see your folder under “Remote Sync” section, click the green “Sync” button.
    5. Every time you want to grab the latest version from Dropbox or send your local updates to the cloud, click the green “Sync” button.

    Complicated? Read GoodReader’s official instructions.


  • It works.


  • Requires manually saving files every time, setting up sync in GoodReader is not as simple as in Kindle or iBooks.

One thing to notice is that eBook format converters are out there: a very good one is Calibre, however, converting eBooks to your desired format can be a daunting task at times.

What about you?

That’s how I’m doing it now. I prefer ePub in iBooks whenever possible; if that’s not an option, I’ll fall back to Kindle or PDF. I’m sure syncing book notes will get easier in the future, and the reading experience will be better than ever.

How are you reading with your electronic devices? Sync with me, please. 🙂

Written by Dapeng

August 27th, 2011 at 2:00 pm

Posted in Using Software

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