Best Free Non-Adobe PDF Reader

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Introduction

This category includes desktop programs that can be used for reading and annotating PDF documents, other than the slow and bloated Adobe Reader. While I will admit that the Adobe product has improved in both speed and features in recent years, it still lags behind some of the products reviewed here.

My personal criteria for rating the PDF reader include the following factors:

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Rated Products

PDF-XChange Editor  

It serves as a PDF viewer plus basic editing requirements


Our Rating: 
5
License: Free (Limited features)
Loads reasonably fast; can print PDFs; extensive annotation; allows filling and saving of Adobe PDF forms; can extract text and images, magnify text, manage document properties and security; Can OCR image based PDF documents.
Some advanced features are included but not free. When such features are used, resulting PDFs will be watermarked.
Read full review...

Foxit Reader  

A worthy contender to open and accurately render pdf files


Our Rating: 
4
License: Free
Fast, modern user interface, can fill and save both forms and form data, provides extensive annotation and review features. Social media interface. Can insert and validate electronic signatures.
No OCR capability. Users need to take great care during the install process to avoid a variety of unwanted components and system changes, the make-up of which is changed regularly. User manual must be downloaded separately.
Read full review...

Sumatra PDF  

A simple and light pdf reader


Our Rating: 
3
License: Free (Open source)
Small, fast, source code available.
Few features - it's basically just a viewer, image quality is not the best.
Read full review...

Related Products and Links

You might want to check out these articles too:

 

Editor

This software review is copy-edited by Jojo Yee. Please help edit and improve this article by clicking here.

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Comments

I've found that Adobe's standard reader crashes too often on Windows 10, hence my search for an alternative free viewer. Thanks for the info.

The new version of Foxit 8.0 is now available. 

If what you want is highest quality viewing and printing of PDF files, be it documents, books, or images, then I would suggest going with Adobe Reader DC. It has a clean modern interface, and I've seen no lag with it. Please contradict me if you've found differently. If an alternative pdf reader gives you specific tools that you must have, then of course, go with that instead; but if you really don't need those tools, then they are just useless bells and whistles.

Great article Jojo!

I would like to simply add an observation; I find it surprising that--even now--March of 2016--there are only 3 choices for free PDF readers. This feels like the kind of category that would have literally hundreds. I wonder why? Maybe the hundreds of developers who would create these free versions are satisfied enough with Adobe?

One question: which test files did Sumatra not open? It's very popular, but I'd like to know what I (and all those other people) are missing.

Good comments johnvk.
 
This article was previously prepared by another editor. I copy-edited it with an update on PDF-XChange Editor.
 
As mentioned in the Introduction section of this article, none of the programs reviewed here were able to render an Adobe 3D image.
 
There're 3D PDF documents readily available from other sites such as this. You may want to give the documents a try and see if they are any different when opened with Non-Adobe and Adobe PDF readers.

johnvk, regarding your comment on the limited number of three recommended products, there is a companion article with more options:

Best Free PDF Writer Software.

My experience of free PDF readers, even Adobe Acrobat, is that they tend to have significant pitfalls. I'm not surprised Jojo only recommends three products. Many of the free viewers do not have enough free features or have other specific limitations. That's why I shifted to using PDF-XChange Editor after using Nitro PDF Reader for several years.

@Remah, Just to be clear, I have no doubt that the article suggests the 3 that are really good. I just think the world would have more good ones. I do agree there seem to be a lot that have significant pitfalls. (Which, of course, distinctly highlights the value of Gizmo's--selecting the 3 best out of numerous sub-optimal choices :D

It has been a while since I have done the comparison between the PDF-Xchange Reader and the free version of Editor. My recollection is that the only features offered in the Editor that were not found in the Reader resulted in watermarks being applied to the resulting PDFs. If that is still the case, there would seem to be no long term benefit that comes from the free version of the Editor other than as a trial for the paid version.

If anyone has some recent experience with the Editor that differs from mine, I would be pleased to give it another shot.

PDF-XChange Editor appears to be for purchase only. The link takes you to a download that says BUY NOW, cost is $43.50. Might be time to remove this product from the free non Adobe PDF listings.

That is because PDF-XChange Editor is a Shareware software. A shareware software doesn't mean that it is Commercial (one which you have to pay after the trial period), it means that:

1. Will revert to the free version with certain limitations once after the trial period is over (eg. Sandboxie). This typically can be considered as free. (note that there are other class of products called Free software, which is different from Freeware software)

2. Will be having significant limitations (also called Demo software) after the trial period is over and you might have to pay for it to continue using the product for it's basic features. (eg. Kaspersky Antivirus)

Freeware products with a commercial version have generally separate names, hence it can earn the license of being Freeware (eg. Avast Antivirus Free/Pro, MalwareBytes Free/Pro)

There are a lot of Licensing terms that might be different across various softwares, which is what creates this confusion. But this is the general rule. The ultimate licensing of a product (and hence usage) will be described in the EULA of a software, which is generally shown in a dialog box during installation, or will be described on their website. 

On the PDF-Xchange Editor page (Go to tracker-software.com, click on Products, then on PDF-Xchange Editor) it clearly says: "The FREE [emphasis in the original] download of the PDF-XChange Editor may be used without limitation for Private, Commercial, Government and all uses, provided it is not: incorporated or distributed for profit/commercial gain with other software or media distribution of any type - without first gaining permission."

From my experience, "free download" is not the same as "free version". Many commercial software offer "free download" of their software, which simply means that it is free to download, but might just be a trial version. So they should specifically mention a "free version".

You're right that it would be clearer if they specifically stated "free version," but to give them their due, they do say that ""The FREE [emphasis in the original] download of the PDF-XChange Editor ***may be used without limitation*** for Private, Commercial, Government and all uses," etc. "May be used without limitation" says to me that the software is free to download and use, but I agree wholeheartedly that it would probably be clearer and better for them to state outright that they have a "free version" available. I would even go further and add that it would be better still for their statement about the "free version" to be more prominent than the "free download" statement I originally quoted, which was rather tucked away on their site.

Good observation.

They actually do not mention on their site (which has changed by the way), but the PdfXchange Editor does have a free version, which you can select during installation. In the About section too, they mention about the free version, which has most functionalities available.

But yes, they should mention about the free version on their site somewhere atleast. There is no mention of it currently.

Thanks! It worked just fine. Not sure why they don't mention this on the site, guess they want you to buy it and then find out it can be had for free?

I used the previous product for years and liked it, I hope this one is just as good.

Welcome :). I have also used their product for years now, and that's why I just downloaded the software, and did not pay attention to other details on their new revamped site. I don't know why they don't mention about the free version anymore. Guess one of our editors should email them and ask about it.

In PDF X-change free, if you do simple annotations like squares, ovals, lines, arrows, text, does it 'watermark' or stamp the file when saved?

I need a good OCR in Norwegian. Does anyone know if XChange editor has one?

Yes it has (Editor and Viewer).
It seems you need install 'European Languages Pack'.

Glad you didn't change your selection of PDF X-Change, as it's been my PDF reader/renderer since it was originally recommended here at TechSupportAlert. Good stuff.

It has been replaced with PDF-XChange Editor. Now updated in the review.

Here I like to read news about features, and I want to add some about PDF-XChange Editor as my favourite and the most useful software. Now It has great Bookmark and GoogleDrive plug-ins. Also, it can convert PDF to MS PowerPoint format, open and work with Portfolio, and it can work with documents in SharePoint.

Now PDF-XChange Editor can convert each existing PDF to PDF/A-1, PDF/A-2, or PDF/A-3 format. It's great feature if you need to preserve your digital documents for the future.

PDF Xchange Viewer has a native 64 bit version. so the line "32 bit but 64 bit compatible" is not correct.

I am personally using the 64 bit version on my laptop since the last few years.

Thanks mehman for pointing out. This has now been corrected.

I also like PDF X-change mostly but I need pdf signing with digital certificate (and that's pro only).

According to their website, Foxit Reader appears to allow only verifying, and not adding a digital signature based on public key certificate.
For one of their commercial products, the description includes:
Add/verify digital signatures: Allows the PDF document receiver to validate the status of a digital signature to determine if the document has been modified since the signature was applied.
But for Foxit Reader it's only: Verify digital signatures: Allows the PDF document receiver to validate the status of a digital signature to determine if the document has been modified since the signature was applied.
So does Foxit Reader really allow digital signing? Does this require a Docusign account? If yes, how does this work and why is this required?

If Foxit Reader can't sign PDF - would there be an alternative free software able to do this?
I'd like to skip the hassle of installing foxit reader only to see it doesn't offer pdf signing.

What about Sumatra? Does it allow pdf sigining using an existing digital certificate?
Thank you.

I ditched Foxit Reader off all my computers here. Their darn software update shoves their Foxit Cloud service on the computers here. I uninstalled it and it shows up after each update to their PDF reader. There is no way of bypassing the installation of FoxIt Cloud either.

Snowbound, if you still like Foxit, I suggest you try the portable version from portable apps. I haven't seen anything about a cloud service in it. I just googled Foxit cloud service and saw a link that saids that you sign up for it. Anyway, the Foxit portable version works great. Nothing gets bundled.

Bo

I opened the same PDF art book in Foxit, PDF-XChange Viewer, and Sumatra PDF. All are the portable editions and the latest version. Stats were as follows:

Memory
Foxit Reader 32,860 KB
PDF-XChange 19,436 KB
Sumatra 6,276 KB

Hard Drive Space
Foxit Reader 133.0 MB
PDF-XChange 20.0 MB
Sumatra 6.17 MB

I plan on deleting Foxit shortly. Its interface is more appealing, but it has become bloated in recent years and doesn't do anything out of the ordinary to justify the much larger footprint. PDF-XChange is my default reader and I use Sumatra for epub, mobi, and the occasional comic book download.

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