One of the tools that every clinician should be comfortable with is a reference manager.

These tools make the art of searching and formatting a bibliography easier. There are many options available; however, the most well used free option is probably Mendeley. Mendeley is a web based reference manager system with desktop tools for both Windows and Mac.

Perhaps Mendeley’s best feature for the desktop is that you can drop in a PDF from a journal and it will automatically recognize the journal, title, authors and fill out the reference for you. It will then wait for you to ‘validate’ it.

As a desktop piece of software, it is incredibly useful and powerful – particularly when you consider the social sharing functionality. Knowing that, I was very excited when the Mendeley iPhone/iPad app was released as I couldn’t wait to test it to see how it fared against other mobile reference managers.

The free app opens with a login screen which will take you to the Home screen from which you can access all the papers in your library.



There is an inbuilt search function to search for papers in your library (note it doesn’t search within PDFs). However, there is no option to search for papers on the internet. The only way to import papers to the app is by opening the PDF in another app (e.g. Safari) and then using the Open In functionality to open the PDF in Mendeley.


Unfortunately, the mobile app doesn’t contain the same powerful PDF integration software to work out the various components of the reference from the PDF itself. This means you must put all the references in manually. The only workaround  is to store the PDF in Mendeley and then open it in the desktop version when you get a chance. You will then have to wait for the automatic search functionality to work out what the paper is.


The user interface is relatively simple to use but decidedly basic. The left hand side of the screen contains a list of options as can be seen in the screenshot. Folders which are created in the desktop version sync across to the mobile app (more on that below). Browsing through and reading papers is simple enough using the menu system.

The main issues that I noticed were predominantly related to the user interface. One frustration was that nested folders on the desktop app were not carried across in the same nesting which could cause lots of problems if you have multiple nested folders. The lack of ability to annotate or even highlight PDFs is a frustrating omission and means that Mendeley is missing many basic features when compared to the competition like Papers/Sente/Endnote. One of the only useful features is the ability to export and share articles and PDFs via email.


Overall, Mendeley is a basic reference manager app whose sole use is limited to reading papers on the go. Its limited import features and inability to annotate means that is only recommended on the basis of its free price and the fact that it works well with the considerably more powerful desktop version.


  • Free


  • Syncs with desktop version to ensure references and PDFs are up to date


  • No ability to easily search or import papers within the app
  • No ability to annotate or highlight PDFs


  • Mendeley comes  recommended for any healthcare professional looking for a free yet basic mobile reference manager. The desktop version is considerably more powerful and worth looking at. In terms of mobile reference managers, there are other options which are more powerful and feature rich.

iMedicalApps Recommended?

  • Yes

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