Adobe & Foxit PDF Readers vs. The Underdogs in the PDF World

Adobe Reader is the de-facto standard for viewing PDF (Portable Document Format) documents on the PC. The format was developed and backed by Adobe, and it managed to gain market and mind share on the readers, with an absence of any worthy alternatives for many years. And then came Foxit Reader.

Alternatives to Adobe & Foxit PDF Readers

Foxit Reader has been the most popular alternative to Adobe Reader, almost like a Firefox to Internet Explorer a few years ago. It had everything going for it in terms of user-base and positive reviews, but Foxit Software chose to mess it up. From version 2 to version 3, it added a lot of bloat to the touted-as-light freeware, and coming to the latest version 4, it builds on the unpleasantness.

Alternatives to Adobe & Foxit PDF Readers

The cumbersome setup compulsory installs the Foxit Search Bar, with opt-in to changing your default search provider to Ask, making Ask.com your home page, installing the Foxit add-on for Firefox, and into creating desktop, quick launch, and Start menu icons that link to eBay. Phew! The interface of Foxit has stayed the same through the versions, and it’s workable and customizable as well, although it’s pretty old-school, and dare I say, Windows XP–like.

Of course, the valuable features the Foxit Reader offers keeps its users loyal. Foxit Reader allows for tabbed PDF reading, measuring tools, and auto-scrolling along with the editing features. In version 4, Foxit has offered few more features that were earlier limited to their Pro version before. But unfortunately, now it too has become bloated.

Here’s a list of few of the PDF Reader alternatives which give Foxit Reader a big run for its money.

Sumatra PDF

Sumatra PDF is a slim, free, open-source PDF viewer with minimalistic design. The speed and performance of Sumatra PDF is what Foxit Reader initially became popular for.

It’s very lightweight, obviously compromising on features and capabilities; including usual important ones like browsing through pages/bookmarks, etc. If you need a quick application for reading PDFs occasionally, opt for Sumatra PDF. Give it a skip, if you are looking for any advanced functionality or power features.

Sorax Reader

Sorax Reader is another small and fast PDF reader with a reach feature set. The latest version brings a new user interface with advance feature tools like a marquee, dynamic zoom, and snapshot.

Nitro PDF Reader

Nitro is the latest application-on-the-block, although it’s an established name in popular professional PDF applications. In beta as yet, the Nitro PDF Reader brings the ribbon interface to PDF reading for very smooth and functional usability. Of course, you can hide the ribbon as well as customize the same choosing your commonly accessed tools.

The feature-set is exhaustive with advanced capabilities like watermark-free editing, drag-and-drop PDF creation, and tabbed PDF reading, and all the stock features. The performance is better than Adobe Reader, and I expect it to get better as it progresses through the beta refreshes.

So, Nitro PDF Reader does more by default than the other two options and has an unobtrusive setup and user experience.

Nuance PDF Reader

Nuance is also a new entrant in the market of PDF reader applications. Nuance has a reasonable feature set, although the free version has limited editing capabilities and it lacks tabbed reading interface. The application has two toolbars – the top one has big icons while the bottom one has details of the open PDF. The presentation of the toolbars is unique and looks great with a high-resolution display.

Nuance PDF Reader also includes a unique offering of free document conversion (including PDF to Microsoft Word’s DOCX format) via the Nuance Web site.

PDF-XChange Viewer

PDF-XChange Viewer has a very Adobe Reader-ish interface, but simpler although old-school. The presentation of the document is neat, and the control panel at the top displays the available editing options. The Web search toolbar could’ve done away with.

PDF-Xchange Viewer offers better commentating and annotating capabilities than most PDF reader alternatives we’ve considered and matched up to Adobe Reader. The option of installing Ask toolbar and modifying default search options at the time of setup is annoying.

Go here if you need to check out more PDF Readers for Windows.

Do share your opinions on these options, or other readers/viewers that you use.

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Abhishek Baxi writes on the Windows ecosystem and hosts an online show - Microsoft Talk (MSTalk.in) and owns the Windows Phone portal - I Love Windows Phone (ilovewindowsphone.in). He lives at www.baxiabhishek.info and talks incessantly on Twitter.

13 Comments

  1. Sparx

    Do all the contenders render documents identically? Assuming Adobe Acrobat Reader to be the frame of reference – how do they stack up in terms of quality of rendering?

  2. AbhishekBaxi@TWC

    @Sparx
    Almost the same. The rendering of PDFs has vastly improved through the versions of these alternate PDF readers.

  3. Paul Gorski

    What you say about say about Foxit is true…to a point. However, if you download the “ZIP” version, there is NO, I REPEAT, NO toolbar. How hard is that??? Foxit reigns supreme.

  4. M. Fawzi

    I am using PDF-XChange Viewer for about a year and I find it a very good alternative to Adobe reader.

  5. Harerton Dourado

    Foxit 4 has an excellent PDF to text converter built in. Just chose *.txt as the file format in a “save as…” dialog. Contrary to Adobe reader, foxit conversion maintains the text layout.

  6. OldElmerFudd

    I like PDF-XChange Viewer. I find it useful enough to buy the Pro version.

  7. AbhishekBaxi@TWC

    @OldElmerFudd
    That, I’ve always believed, is the true metric of how good a product is 🙂

  8. FoxIt Reader does *not* compulsorily install the toolbar. If you read the installation dialog boxes carefully, you will see that if you hit ‘Decline’ when they present the toolbar, the Reader will continue installing without the toolbar.

  9. AbhishekBaxi@TWC

    @Paul Gorski
    The zip version is a portable edition, which works without install, and so misses the setup et al. There are portable versions of few other readers available as well.

    @Koshy John
    Thanks for pointing that out. Indeed you are correct, but too bad it misses the eyes and the computing logic. A ‘Decline’ shouldn’t proceed a process.

    Here’s the install screen for the benefit of others:
    http://img412.imageshack.us/img412/4666/foxitreadersetup.png

  10. Nguyen Hoang Long

    SlimPDF Reader is a lightest program, just 1.43 MB but it has all features like Adobe Reader and also runs much faster.

  11. Lambert

    In fact, Adobe has #@?!z/èd all of us off and there’s much need for an alternative.
    IMHO though the comparison should be done on relatively demanding and easily comparable document, such as a nice Diagram or a Flow-Chart. And there you will realize that the new NitroPDF is NOT even comparable to Foxit in terms of reliability both on the creation side and the viewer one.
    Just have a look at those lines of your diagram that were so thin in Word and turned out as thick as chop-sticks when you create/view your brand new pdf output with Nitro.
    Nitro has indeed a gorgeous UI which does not unfortunately add anything to the quality of this software. We have to say that this is a Beta version and I think that we’ll have to give the guys some time to refine it somehow.
    On the side of PDF-XChange Viewer I would say that it does not add anything valuable to Foxit performance and in fact what you see is not exactly what you get with fonts and lines tending to be more blurry.
    All in all I would say that today the PERFECT PAIR is:
    – FOXIT READER, by far the lightest and fastest free reader with a few interesting editing features (select “DECLINE” when installing)
    – PDF CREATOR (http://www.pdfforge.org/pdfcreator – definitely DECLINE the Second License offer during the installation as it refers to a useless and intrusive Bar you don’t want at all; moreover beware of the much advertised “PDF Creator” which which is everywhere including the top of this page and is a 512 kb installer by the name of FoxTab PDF Converter that you definetely want to avoid) which seamlessly integrates among your printers with really worth results.
    Get these two winners and just forget the absurdly and uselessly cumbersome, slow and intrusive Adobe stuff!

  12. 786 Hi, I’m from the Future (2015, to be exact) and I must report that Foxit is still bloated. It was just sucking 680MB for three, count them, three pdfs which, when combined, don’t add up to more than 15MB. You read that correctly: 680MB.

    Foxit continues to suck, and the developers continue to do nothing about it.
    Thank you for this information; I came here looking for an alternative and you have delivered.

  13. Foxit is neither light nor fast.

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