Just in time for revision season: Synopsis for iPad review

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IMG_0837Back in the days of my GCSE and A-Level revision there always seemed to be an unofficial contest as to who had the most revision cards. Firstly, there was the annual race to Tescos to snap up their supply of index cards and then late evenings spent filling out a word, then an explanation of that word on the back. It was a sort of geeky version of the ‘business card’ scene in American Psycho the next day in school, with people standing around comparing revision cards. Me, I always lost out on the contest, mainly because I’d be too busy playing Sensible Soccer on my Amiga to do anything as thorough as revision. Times have changed now though, and the boot is on the other foot. I’m the person trying to get teenage kids to revise. As we all know, revision is a completely personal thing and there is no silver bullet to it, but there are quite a few apps which try to streamline the process. One of these is the newly released Synopsis. In a nutshell, Synopsis is a PDF e-reader with the ability to make revision, or flash cards from any text you highlight.

Highlighting text is very accurate.

First of all you load a PDF into Synopsis from either Google Drive, Dropbox, OneDrive, Box or directly from a web link. I had no problems importing any of the test documents into the app and each opened with no problems at all. From here, Synopsis allows you to highlight sections of text, or add your own manual notes. Much like in iBooks or iTunes U, your notes are automatically dumped into the ‘Notes’ section of the app. It is worth saying that you have to turn the highlighter off and on again every time you want to have a new note because if you leave it on then everything highlighted while the highlighter was on will drop into that one note. This can be an issue if you are highlighting short phrases or words in order to create flash cards. However, this is really the only drag in the e-reader element of the app. The highlighting feature worked really well, and most importantly was very accurate when I was highlighting words that appeared quite small on the screen. The ‘Notes’ section of the app is fairly self explanatory. All of the notes that you have made from your PDF will appear here. As said above, you need to have selected each note separately by turning the highlighter on and off each time to create a new note. Any manual notes you have made are also listed here. From the notes section, you can select specified notes, or all notes to turn into flash cards. This is a really useful feature and for me is the highlight of the app. You can get your notes quickly and efficiently into organised flash cards, which you can then edit to add explanations or questions to. The flash cards themselves are displayed in a cover flow style graphic and everything here works as it should do. You can view the flash cards in a variety of ways, with both question and answer, or question or answer separately.

You can also turn manual notes into flash cards.

One of the things that threw me initially in Synopsis is there doesn’t seem to be any local storage. In a time where we just expect our iPad to save our files within an app automatically (unless we specify otherwise), you have to locate a place in your cloud storage to save your PDFs, notes and flash cards to. Personally I don’t mind this as I’m an avid Google Drive user, but it took me a lost document and set of flash cards to figure this out. The only other issue I found with the cloud storage part of this is when loading a PDF from my Google Drive, Synopsis didn’t display all of my Google Drive folders, and the documents that were displayed were in a completely random order. I’m not sure if this is an issue with the app or with Google Drive as I have experienced this on some other apps too. You also need to be connected to the internet to be able to load your Synopsis files, which to be fair we are most of the time, but if a student takes their iPad away on holiday to revise, this could be problematic (or crafty work by the student). What would be useful also is the ability to do an ‘Open In’, as you can’t open a PDF from another app into Synopsis. I’m assuming though that this is due to the cloud based nature of the file system. The only other minor thing to add to the wish list is landscape view as I’m not a massive fan of my iPad in portrait mode.

Slight confusion when opening from/saving to Google Drive.

Looking at this all overall, once you get used to the small niggles and the way it handles saving and loading files, Synopsis seems an exceptionally useful app. The usefulness for me is that you can create notes and flash cards very quickly, rather than doing a lot of data input, or relying on a set of pre-made cards which might not match your revision style and content. Another nice touch is the ability to email notes and flash cards, enabling a class to share resources, freeing up more time to play Sensible Soccer revise. Synopsis is available now in the App Store here for $2.99

Disclosure: A promo code was provided for this review.

James Potter

My day job is Director of Technology at one of the UK's leading independent schools. I'm on a daily mission to use, and learn to use technology in the most creative, innovative and transformational ways. The iPad ticks all of these boxes. I'm also an Apple Distinguished Educator, so at least Apple think I know what I'm blathering on about. My geekery also extends to a passion for cricket, amateur astronomy, video gaming and bad guitar playing. You can contact me on Twitter with the link below.

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3 thoughts on “Just in time for revision season: Synopsis for iPad review”

  1. Thank you James for a very balanced review. Your comments are valid and we will be accommodating them in our next version. Just one point though, local file storage is available for PDF files, but as you said, not there for flash cards and notes files.

    – Synopsis Team.

    1. Thanks. It’s a good app. The flash card creation part is excellent and will save classroom time. I couldn’t get the local file storage going for PDFs (unless it was the one that was already open). The only ‘save to’ options seemed to be cloud, not that it’s a huge problem. I may be doing something wrong though…

      1. Hi James,

        Thanks a lot for your kind words. The local storage is there in the Notes Library section. Once you skip the help page of that section, you can see the red tab above which states “Local files : Download your PDF files here…..”. Hope you find this useful.

        Synopsis Team.

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