Documents 5 – Fabulously Free File Management

Documents 5 – Fabulously Free File Management

Download Documents 5 (FREE!)

Today’s app is Documents 5 from Readdle, a FREE universal app available for both the iPhone and iPad.

I’m sure you’ve noticed by now that there’s no “My Documents” folder on the iPad or iPhone, or what we typically refer to as “Centralized File Management” such as we’ve been using on computers for several decades.

Apple claims it designed the iOS this way for security reasons, but it means that each app must have its own copy of a document or file.

If someone e-mails you a PDF file, you can VIEW the file in the iOS universal document viewer, but if you want to do MORE with the file (like add annotations, or pages, or search the content, etc.) then you need to use another app. You’ll have to use the Share Menu, or “Open In” option, to copy that file to an app like PDF Expert. This is a cumbersome workflow, but it’s the only option we’ve had for years.

Documents 5 is the closest thing to having a centralized file manager on the iPad or iPhone.

When lawyers ask me how they can use the iPad in their practice, I recommend they think of it as a digital bankers box. Because today, the only reason you carry PAPER, is because you’ve PRINTED it from a digital document.

You can still carry your paper, but if all those files in a bankers box are DIGITAL, then why not carry a DIGITAL copy of them on your iPad?

And one of the best apps for sorting, managing, searching, and accessing those files on the iPad or iPhone is with Documents 5.

The name of the app is a bit unfortunate – Documents 5 accepts more than just “documents.” It’ll take videos, images, spreadsheets, and just about anything else. It should have been called “File Manager 5” because that’s exactly what it is … with a built in file viewer.

In the left sidebar of, you have three sections:

1) “On my iPad” – any files that you’ve downloaded and stored locally on the iPad, or any folders that you’ve synced from cloud services.
2) “In the cloud” – access to cloud services including Dropbox, OneDrive, Box, Google Drive, and a host of other locations.
3) Recents & Starred – quick shortcuts to files that you’ve either recently accessed or ones that you’ve “favorited” or “starred.”

Let’s talk about the “In the Cloud” options first since this is the easiest method for getting files on to your iPad.

If you use Dropbox for example, you can copy files on your computer into the Dropbox folder, which copies those files up to the cloud.

Then you could use the FREE Dropbox app on your iPad to access and copy files.

The process would work exactly the same for Google Drive, OneDrive, Box and others, but you would have to go into each separate app.

Documents 5 allows you to connect to ALL these services from one single app.

You can actually name the accounts whatever you want. And you can connect to MULTIPLE instances of Dropbox or Google Drive, so you can access your personal/family accounts, as well as your business accounts. Even the native service apps won’t let you do that … or they make it really difficult.

When you access a cloud service and tap on a file, it automatically downloads to the local Documents folder on your iPad.

If you would like to move or copy the file to another folder you can tap the Edit button and select an existing folder, or create a new folder.

You can even easily move a file to another cloud service by simply tapping and dragging the file over to the service in the left sidebar.

When you want to SYNC a folder from a cloud service locally to your iPad (instead of a manual download) you just find the folder in the cloud service and tap the Sync button. That folder is then accessible from the “Synced folders” on the left sidebar.

This will keep files in those folders synchronized whether you add a file to that folder from your iPad, or your computer.

For Microsoft Office files, the Documents 5 app will let you VIEW those files with the built-in iOS viewer, but you can’t EDIT those files. For that, you’d have to manually use the “Open In” menu to send a copy of the file over to the Microsoft Word at which point you might as well use the native Dropbox app, or open the document from Dropbox from within the Microsoft Word app. That way all of your edits will be synced back to Dropbox.

Although if you DO view a Microsoft Word document in Documents 5, the app will allow you to easily convert the document to PDF which is handy.

For PDF files, the Documents 5 app offers some additional functionality for annotating & modifying PDF files … especially if you choose to view the PDFs in Readdle’s PDF Expert app (available for $9.99).

If you have PDF Expert installed, the Documents 5 app can open the PDF in that app without having to go through the “Open In” menu – the apps are integrated wonderfully.

Documents 5 also has a built-in browser which is no where near as functional as the iOS Safari browser, but there is one MAJOR advantage – you can download files from the Documents 5 browser directly into the Documents 5 app as an HTML document or PDF.

[POWER TIP] Or if you’re surfing in Safari, you can simply add an “r” to the http:// URL in Safari which will automatically open the Documents 5 app and allow you to download the file. [/POWER TIP]

By default, you can search the NAMES of files in Documents 5, but many of you want to search the CONTENT of those files as well. You can do this, but you have to turn on “indexing” … and you’ll receive a warning that it will “decrease performance.”

I elect to keep this turned off since I don’t find I need to search the contents very often, and I don’t want to slow down my iPad, but the option is there.

Documents 5 will also ZIP and UN-ZIP files that you may have received via e-mail or downloaded from the web.

And lastly for the security conscious (which should be EVERYONE), you can add an extra Passkey Lock in Documents 5. This is in ADDITION to the passcode that you should ALREADY have on your iPad or iPhone.

So if you unlock your iPad to let someone else play Angry Birds, they can’t access your documents and files without the additional passcode or TouchID. You can also turn on iOS Data Protection.

Download Documents 5 (FREE!)


  1. Robin Meadow - February 24, 2017 11:16 am

    Brett, this sounds to good to be true. Is there a catch? What data or other information, if any, does the program have to send to Readdle in order to do its thing, or does everything happen locally?Does this open a window into our iDevices – and therefore confidential client info?

    I do like Readdle’s apps — PDF Expert is one of my workhorses.

    • Brett Burney - February 24, 2017 3:14 pm

      Thanks for the comment Robin! And thrilled to hear that you are using PDF Expert – such a great, functional app for iPad-using lawyers.

      To my knowledge, Readdle has no connection to your iPad once you install the app. If you store a document in the Documents 5 app in the “On my iPad” section then that file is local on your iPad.

      If you connect to a cloud service (Dropbox, Box, Google Drive, iCloud, etc.) then that raises the question of what access the cloud service has to your files … not on your iPad, but on their servers. I personally believe your files are reasonably secure and protected in most cloud services, but that is ultimately a question you must answer for your own practice and clients.

      The only time that Readdle may have access to something about your iPad is if you have the “Detailed Logging” option turned on under Settings > Support. But this would be an e-mail sent to Readdle with technical information you encounter during an error while using Documents 5 (see

      Since you’re already using PDF Expert, this is a perfect fit as the two apps work hand-in-hand.

      Let me know if you have any other questions! Thanks again for your comment.

      • Robin Meadow - February 28, 2017 12:04 am

        Thanks, Brett. Your description is reassuring and makes sense. (As for Dropbox et al., well, I understand the risks, but it’s almost impossible to do without one or more Cloud services — “reasonably secure” is what I also believe, and it’s got to do. It’s why I don’t use Google consumer services, since the last time I checked, their terms of service give them a license to everything you post . . . )

        • Brett Burney - March 1, 2017 11:02 am

          Excellent, I believe you are on the right track Robin. You are correct that it’s almost impossible to NOT use some form of cloud-based storage services today as they are becoming the standard for many activities including trading digital files, etc. But as legal professionals, we have a duty to be “reasonably secure” (NOT perfect!) in how we interact with cloud services which means ensuring we have good passwords, use multi-factor authentication, etc.

          And I wholeheartedly agree that as legal professionals, we should be using MORE than the basic, consumer-level, FREE services offered by Dropbox, Microsoft, Google, etc. You can use those services for your PERSONAL use but if you intend to use them for PROFESSIONAL tasks then you need to pay for the service so that a) you have a little more assurance your information isn’t being shared or sold, and b) you have a little higher level of support.

          Thanks for the comments Robin!

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  5. Phillip - December 4, 2017 1:01 pm

    I’m new on this application I hope it will be able to download my documents

    • Brett Burney - December 6, 2017 2:28 pm

      Hello Phillip, as long as your documents are stored on Dropbox or OneDrive or a similar cloud-based storage service they should download just fine to the Documents app.