While I have been using Sente for a while to manage my PDFs, I’ve been curious about Bookends since I first heard about it, and recently I decided to check it out. In this post, you’ll find my first impressions of Sente versus Bookends, with a focus on
- the mac versions (I’ll address the iPad versions separately in a future post)
- importing, organising and annotating references and PDFs
For those interested in cite while you write functionality, I’ll state up front that I won’t be addressing that here. I am still sticking to EndNote for formatting my research papers; in spite of its clunkiness and old fashioned streak, in my experience it’s the only app I can really count on to a) function on all the library and journal web sites I regularly visit, and b) import and format reference information with the highest level of accuracy. However, EndNote is not very useful for organising PDFs and also doesn’t come with annotation capacities; hence I use alternative apps for those purposes.
If you haven’t already read my first post on Sente, I encourage you do to that before continuing this post, as I’ll be referring back to it here. Since that post contains quite a few Sente screen shots, I’ll also be using more space here on displaying Bookends (with a bit of empty space after a few of the screen shots which for some reason I can’t mange to format away…)
In several ways, the UIs of Bookends and Sente are quite similar. Both offer list and standard views, with a tool bar on the top, a library view to the left that provides an overview of folders, smart groups and other organisational features, a reference view to the right that offers different windows where you can view additional information about the selected reference or edit reference information, and a third pane below where you can view the attached PDF or related web sites. In Bookends, you can also use the lower pane to see the tag cloud, which I’ll talk more about below.
Here are some screen shots for comparison, with Sente first and Bookends second.
In Sente, you can easily rearrange your library according to title, name of authors, dates added or modified, and a range of other criteria. Bookends offer similar options, but it’s more cumbersome if you’re not in list view, because you need to select all references, right click, navigate to ‘sort by…’, and then select your option. If you are in list view, however, you just set up the columns according to your preferences, and then you can easily rearrange your library based on e.g. author, title or date added.
In the left library pane, Sente also offers the option of filtering your references based on different time frames of recent modifications, as well as by rating or status. The library pane of Bookends, on the other hand, offers quick navigation to terms lists of authors, journals or keywords, plus default smart groups of authors, recent searches, and attachments. In Sente, the term lists are accessed via an icon in the upper tool bar.
Importing references and attaching PDF files
Both apps have a variety of options for importing references and adding PDFs, including
- a built in browser
- drag and drop PDFs
- if you have a PDF file open in Safari, use the ‘print to Bookends/Sente…’ function in the print menu
I find the built in browser of Sente more user friendly than Bookends’. Its targeted browsing (see previous post) makes importing references very smooth, and when I click on ‘open pdf’ on a journal web site, the related pdf file will immediately attach itself to your latest added reference (you can also choose to attach it to an already existing reference or a new reference). In Bookends, attaching the pdf acquires an additional step – a minor difference, though, to be fair.
I find importing references through Bookends’ browser a bit more cumbersome. First, when you import references into Sente, you can edit the reference information and add tags. In Bookends, this has to be done after you have completed the import, so adding tags/keywords is more time consuming in Bookends than in Sente and becomes a separate operation. Also, when you search google scholar in Bookends, the app has added an additional ‘layer’ between you and the web site for importing reference information, whereas Sente allows you to more directly navigate the actual web page. In sum, it’s not that Bookends is bad, it’s just that Sente is smoother. Below you will see a screen shot of Bookends’ in built browser. The green dot in the top right hand corner mediates import of your reference information, while the quadrangle is the tool for importing PDFs.
With regard to drag and drop, however, Bookends offers an advantage in that you can just drag and drop a pdf file from the finder window down to the Bookends icon in the dock. This is a very useful feature that Sente doesn’t provide – you can, however, drag and drop a file on to the library section of its UI, but if this isn’t visible at the moment you’re dealing with the Finder, it adds a few more steps to the process. When using drag and drop, Sente will automatically open a new reference pane and will first conduct an automatic search for the reference information. If the search is unsuccessful, you can edit the information manually. If it finds a reference already containing that PDF, it will offer you the option of updating the existing reference. When you drag and drop to Bookends, it will offer you the choice of attaching the PDF to the currently selected reference, or creating a new one.
In both apps, you can drag a PDF file directly on top of a selected reference, and the PDF will then be attached. While I haven’t tested it extensively, the ‘print to…’ feature in Safari also seems to be working fine in both apps.
Between the two, Bookends excels in dealing with duplicates. One downside to Sente is that it doesn’t have a manual way of searching for duplicates. Although it claims to identity duplicates upon import, my experience is that it has missed quite a lot of doubles. Bookends comes with a manual search for duplicates, and you can chose whether you want Bookends to just delete the duplicates, or inspect them first and then delete manually.
Overall, I find Sente smoother for importing references from the web, while Bookends is more convenient in that you can drop PDFs directly on its icon in the dock, and also makes it easier to deal with duplicates.
Options for organising your PDFs
In both Sente and Bookends, you will be offered static groups and smart groups (called ‘groups’ in Bookends and ‘collections’ in Sente), and Bookends also adds another level of organisation with folders. A smart little feature in Bookends is that when you hold down shift and option keys when a reference is selected, the groups that the reference belongs to will be highlighted in yellow.
In addition, Sente offers brilliant options for hierarchical tagging (see my previous post), which is probably my favourite way of organising literature. Working with tags in Sente is very intuitive and flexible.
Bookends, on the other hand, has a nice tag cloud. The tag cloud aggregates all kind of information – I primarily use it for keywords, which is what you see in the screen shot below. Instead of keywords, you can adjust the tag cloud to display names of authors and editors, or words from titles, abstracts or notes. In the preferences, you can ask Bookends to ignore particular words to refine your tag cloud views, and you can also specify how many tags you want Bookends to display in a tag cloud view (top 50, top 100, 200, 500, 1000 or all of them).
Personally, I prefer tagging as a main organising principle in Sente, and smart groups in Bookends which are in turn grouped in folders. The tag cloud in Bookends provides an additional way of navigating and exploring my reference collection, but although I find it a really cool feature, I don’t rely on it as a main tool for organisation. More generally, both apps offer rich options for organising your literature – your choice might come down to personal preferences, such as wanting the hierarchical tagging offered by Sente, or the tag cloud offered by Bookends.
In terms of annotation capacities, Sente has the comparative advantage in the mac version, offering three main options for annotation: highlighting in different colours, adding notes, and a quote function. Bookends has notes, but otherwise doesn’t have annotation features in the mac app (it does, however, in its iPad version). From the Bookends user forum it seems that a lot of people are marking up their PDFs using Skim, and then sending the PDF back to Bookends.
Sente’s quote feature, which I wrote about in my previous post, is very useful – basically, it copies the text you highlight in the pdf and then allows you to attach your own notes directly to the exported text. A somewhat similar feature in Bookends is to highlight text in the PDF and drag it to the notecard of the reference, but the app won’t automatically distinguish the quote text from ‘regular’ text, and it also won’t reformat the text so you can end up with some odd line breaks.
If you download an Apple script from the Sente web site, you will be able to export your notes from Sente, a feature I use to transfer notes from Sente to Circus Ponies Notebooks, which I use as my hub for literature review notes. This is a very useful feature, although some of the formatting gets lots in the process. I haven’t found a script for doing anything similar with Bookends. It does have a ‘copy notes’ feature, but when I’ve used it the text in the notes haven’t been separated when I’ve pasted them, which means spending time on clearing them up.
Having said all that, I do 99% of my reading and pdf annotation on my iPad, so I’ll be addressing annotation capacities more in detail when I review the iPad versions of both apps in a future post.
Searching your PDFs
This is one of the biggest let downs of Sente; currently it doesn’t offer full text search within a single attachment, or of your full pdf collection. I was pretty amazed to find this out, given that this is a really basic task when you conduct research. The developers have promised full text search of single documents in their next update, but say that full text searches of entire libraries are not part of their future plans.
Bookends, on the other hand, offers spotlight searches of your entire library. I find this feature extremely useful – for example, I might want to review all my PDFs containing the words ‘knowledge mediation’ or ‘Vygotsky’, and Bookends allows me to create smart groups for such literature searches. This feature was one of my main motivations for considering Bookends as an alternative to Sente.
In terms of conducting other kinds of searches within your collections, both apps let you search by a range of criteria such as author, title, year, keyword or ‘anywhere’ in the reference. Sente has a smart filtering feature where you can narrow your search step by step. For example, you can start by identifying an author, then filter her publications by year, then by tag and publisher, and so on – see screen shot below for illustration:
While I think Bookends actually facilitates something similar through the option of ‘pinning’ entries in the term list, I haven’t managed to figure out how to do it yet. Bookends, on the other hand, has more search criteria than Sente when doing a one level search. It also has the very helpful feature of allowing different term list entries to be merged. This is extremely useful when you have three or four entries for the same author that only differ in punctuation or in whether the first name is spelled out. In Bookends, these four entries can be merged into one, in Sente they cannot.
Syncing to your iPad
In this area, nothing beats Sente, with its automatic sync between mac and iPad. Basically, you don’t need to think about it – it just happens. While I’ve had incidents where the sync is delayed and they occasionally have issues with their sync server, this feature is generally extremely useful. Personally, I rate stuff that ‘just syncs by itself’ very highly – if you need to manually sync ten different apps between your mac and your iPad, it starts taking up significant time and effort, and you typically forget to do it exactly when it’s needed.
Bookends requires a manual sync where your mac and your iPad are on the same network (or alternatively, you create your own network between your mac and your iPad, see a how to guide towards the end of this page). Once you’ve set it up it’s relatively straight forward, although I’ve experienced issues when on large institutional networks and I’ve then had to set up a separate network between my mac and my iPad. Even then, I’ve had some difficulties and although I don’t think my experience with this is particularly representative, it’s generally difficult to beat Sente’s set up where the sync just takes care of itself.
One area where Bookends beats Sente is that of support – developers are extremely responsive and follow up multi step queries; my personal experience is that support at Sente is a bit more sketchy. On the other hand, the user guide of Sente is generally better written and a bit more pedagogical – however, both apps come with extensive and detailed user manuals.
So, which one should you chose? Both options are high quality reference managers that offer a multitude of features for organising your research library. I have only scratched the surface in this post, so make sure to consult the respective user forums and manuals before you decide what to buy. Here are some criteria to consider:
- if you like organising your literature by tags, Sente is the way to go, while Bookends will push you towards smart or static groups, complemented by their tag cloud
- if you want to be able to do full text searches of multiple attachments, the obvious choice is Bookends
- if you don’t want to have to think about syncing to your iPad, go with Sente
My top three features in Sente: the mac/iPad sync, the tagging system, and the built in browser
My top three features in Bookends: full text searches that can be converted into smart groups, iAnnotate integration on iPad, and outstanding support
If you have an iPad, you should look into the details of the iOS apps before deciding which reference manager to go for – I’ll be covering them in a future post on this blog.
You might also want to consider Papers, another high quality app for reference management that also comes with a Windows version, which makes it very interesting if you work in a Windows environment but have a mac at home – have a look at this comprehensive review of Papers versus Sente on AcademiPad here and here.
Related posts: Reference Management: Exploring Sente