Note: There are a few ways you could define a PDF viewer/editor, as features can range from simple form-filling to complete PDF manipulation. For this post we’re concentrating on the features the average person would use, meaning viewing, form completion, annotation, and so on, especially in the free version of an app, where applicable.
- View PDF pages and files
- Very fast to open files, no splash pages or long loading times
- Annotate and markup PDF files in many ways
- Multiple encryption and security options
- Convert PDF to image
- Manipulate and modify existing PDF files (limited in free version, unlimited in pro version)
- Extract content from PDF to text, image, and other formats (pro only)
- Convert images/text directly to PDF (pro only)
- Digital signature support (pro only)
- Add clickable links to a PDF (pro only)
- Add/edit/modify bookmarks (pro only)
- Merge PDF files, insert, delete, rotate, & crop pages (pro only)
PDF-XChange viewer is not only very, very fast, but has a lot of annotation and editing features in its free version. Its big strength over other viewers is that it doesn’t add watermarks to your edited files; instead, it just limits what you can edit. If you need to heavily edit a lot of PDFs, you may have to pay for the pro version, but for the occasional annotation or markup, PDF-XChange gets the job done better than anyone else.
PDF-XChange isn’t quite as lightweight as some other PDF readers, like Foxit or Sumatra, but it’s more than lightweight enough for most people’s needs, especially if you have to edit PDFs at all (it blows the pants off Acrobat). Also, the pro version is a little expensive, but you’ll be hard-pressed to heavily edit PDFs without paying $US40 or so, so it’s still the best there is at what it does. It also has an Ask bar in its toolbar, which makes you wonder how much of the junk up there is just a waste of space.
At Lifehacker’s Australian HQ, we’re huge fans of Nitro PDF Reader, which also lets you easily edit, annotate and work with PDF files, and doesn’t have the bloatware nuisance factor of PDF-XChange. The ability to store a signature for easy signing is particularly handy, and there are also useful options for extracting images. There’s also a paid Pro version available, but for virtually anything other than really heavy-duty work, the standard release is more than adequate, and we’d definitely recommend it alongside (or indeed instead of) PDF-Xchange.
Foxit Reader is PDF-XChange’s other main competition. It’s a bit faster and more feature-filled, but any annotations you make will add a watermark to the file in the free version, which is very annoying for some. It also comes with some bloatware in the installer, but it’s hard to knock this when PDF-XChange is even worse, cluttering up its own toolbar when it doesn’t even give you the option to turn it down.
If you never need to edit PDFs, Sumatra PDF is the reader for you. Unlike the other two, it’s extremely minimalist, providing just a simple, super-fast window from which you can read PDFs. No more, no less.
Lastly, we have to mention Adobe Reader. While it isn’t the fastest or most pleasurable to use, it is still the standard reader and editor in the PDF world, meaning that sometimes, when your PDF just won’t open correctly in other programs, Acrobat will have the best compatibility. It isn’t something we’d recommend installing now, but if you ever have PDF troubles, keep Adobe in mind, as it might be the solution.
There are tons of different PDF solutions out there, but these are the best ones around, in our opinion. If you’ve got a favourite we didn’t mention, let us know what it is and why you love it in the comments.
Lifehacker’s App Directory is a new and growing directory of recommendations for the best applications and tools in a number of given categories.