PDF readers provide a simple and convenient way to consume documents. The early days of such readers were led by none other than Adobe, the file format’s initial creator. Now, Adobe has quite a bit of competition in this area.
There are a multitude of PDF readers available for virtually every operating system out there, most of which are free for the taking. But which one should you grab? That’s where we come in: to help you decide!
Here are our picks of the best free PDF readers you can snag right now. Also, feel free check out our guides on how to convert a PDF file into a Word file, and how to convert a PDF to a JPG (and vice versa).
Adobe Acrobat Reader (Windows/Mac OS X/Linux/iOS/Android)
Adobe’s reader has been around roughly since the creation of the PDF itself. Though we find it to be a bit bloated, Adobe Reader still offers enough notable features and enhanced security precautions to make the software worth using.
Adobe Acrobat’s features include document zooming, snapshot captures, annotation, text selecting, and a host of other options used for electronically signing and filling out forms. Plus, Acrobat Reader now includes the ability to attach sticky notes to specific pages, and options for sharing and storing PDFs via email, or through Acrobat.com. Read Out Loud, which automatically dictates text, also makes a return in the latest version.
Acrobat Reader is popular for a reason. It’s more than capable of handling all the basic hurdles you may encounter while working with a PDF. However, it also carries a heavy system footprint, and it can be sluggish too. Still, it’s a solid choice for the PDF user looking for a more feature-filled reader.
Foxit Reader (Windows/Linux/iOS/Android/Windows Mobile)
It may not be the most robust reader in this list, but Foxit is hands-down the most attractive one among this group. The sleek interface and tool-bar make navigating the software a breeze. Foxit helps the user along with appropriately-labeled icons, and a minimalist, tabbed interface that’s both intuitive and eye-catching.
The software is light, weighing in at roughly 6MB, but the initial setup process does attempt to saddle your system with a bunch of ad-ware, so keep your eyes open and opt out. Foxit Reader is also incredibly quick, and accurately renders text and graphics without weighing your rig down.
Though Foxit is small, its features are plentiful. For instance, users can insert graphics and links, annotate and search for text, and more. Foxit also offers options for saving and revisiting incomplete forms. We can’t say that we’re big fans of the watermark that the reader places on annotated pages, but you can always opt for one of the premium packages ($89) if you can’t deal with it.
Foxit is a standout PDF reader. The software is comprehensive, easy to understand, and offers a few advanced options for those seeking more than just the bare minimum.
Skim (Mac OS X)
Skim’s official slogan is “stop printing and start skimming,” and that’s precisely what the software aims for. Skim wears a simplistic, gray interface, and a barebones toolbar to match. Don’t let its appearance fool you though. Skim is one of the most robust note-taking readers out there. Like Foxit, it’s fairly lightweight, offers an advanced studying utility, and a professional tool for poring over lengthy documents as well.
Although Skim boasts all the usual tools for zooming and navigating through pages, the software truly shines when it comes to jotting down annotations, notes, and more. Making color-coded highlights and labeling annotations can be done on the fly. The same goes for snapshot references, notes, page cropping, and link previews. Plus, notes can be saved as a separate file (i.e. a text, RTF, RTFD or RFD), or embedded within the PDF for use with other readers. Other features include bookmarks, text searching, and support for external apps like LaTeX, SyncTeX, PDFSync, and BibDesk, among others.
The other readers in this roundup may boast more robust feature sets, but Skim is arguably the best PDF reader when it comes to taking and saving notes.
Though it looks like Adobe Acrobat Reader, PDF-XChange is a different animal, equipped with a few features that go above and beyond Adobe’s offering. PDFs open lightning-quick, and the software is lightweight. However, PDF-XChange isn’t compatible with Adobe Reader and other programs. That’s not necessarily a deal-breaker, but could pose problems when it comes to accessing PDFs on other machines, or when sending documents to someone else.
Like Skim, the best parts of PDF-XChange are the tools that permit you to annotate and amend documents. Adding timestamped sticky notes, custom text, and highlights are a breeze.
PDF-XChange isn’t the most heavy-duty reader you can get your hands on, but it packs enough of a punch to make it a worthy alternative to Adobe Reader.
Preview (Mac OS X)
One of the nice things about Preview is that it’s baked into Mac OS X, so it requires no installation, allowing Mac users to view PDFs from the get-go. Preview is speedy, and boasts a slew of features often reserved for premium PDF readers. They include the ability to add text notations, and you can encrypt files as well. You can also rearrange a document’s pages simply by dragging them around and dropping them wherever you see fit. Want to remove a page? Preview has that in its holster too, along with a bunch of other features.
Preview sports a basic set of tools for editing and annotating PDF files. You can add text, strike-throughs, thought bubbles, and more. There’s also a built-in utility for capturing and saving an electronic signature using your Mac’s webcam.
Simply put, Preview is a terrific PDF viewer, with its strengths based in both its basic and advanced capabilities. If you’re using Mac OS X, this should be your go-to PDF reader.