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The PDF format has become the de-facto ebook format around the world as many corporations, publishing companies, institutions, universities and such publish their work as PDFs.
Until not long ago, if you wanted to read a PDF file on your Android device you had no choice but installing Adobe's official PDF Reader app. Although not bad at all, Adobe Reader was was the only app with good text and image rendering capabilities; it was also the fastest one and was relatively light too.
Things have changed, however, as some talented developers and some software companies have published their very own PDF reading apps. While some of them are of a relatively lightweight nature (providing you only with viewing options and the simplest interface), some others are really powerful PDF reading suites which include extra features and tools like image/text filtering, text search and selection, bookmarking, comments and annotation tools along with the standard viewing options which are on par with the ones Adobe provides.
Because of that, we have split this review into two categories: Best Free PDF Reading Suite (includes the most powerful apps for PDF reading, with signature, annotation and even cloud-based storage options) and Best Free PDF Viewer (it includes the best basic PDF viewers for Android, no extras attached). In both cases, we tried to cover only the best and 100% PDF reading apps, that's why you will not see any app's "lite" version unless it has something really special that makes it noteworthy.
That said, it is time for some reading!
Best Free PDF Reading Suite
While its desktop version might be criticized for being bloated or heavy for your system, the mobile version of Adobe Reader is pretty much lighter for your Android device without losing its standard features.
You can use this app to easily and reliably view PDF documents in a variety of PDF file types, including PDF portfolios containing multiple assembled files, password protected PDFs and fillable forms.
A touch on the screen allows you to access menus to highlight, strikeout or underline text; set view modes such as single page, text reflow, continuous or automatic; enter text to search, and share documents. It also includes a very good "night mode" if you want to read in the dark.
Zooming in and out on text and images are pretty efficient by double tapping on the screen, while scrolling up and down pages is smooth with the on-screen number indicated, and thumbnails with a slider are available to preview the pages you want to jump to.
Other supported features include adding a note, signature or freehand drawing to your documents and you can change its thickness, color and opacity. Functional bookmarks and hyperlinks will provide a smooth and fast reading experience and the PDF form filling option is a real lifesaver for those users on-the-go. There is a "share" option to send your file via Bluetooth, email and send your file for signature.
Even though Reader adds all the PDFs you have opened recently in the "recent" list, it can be cleaned with no major problem. The major issue with the latest versions, though, is that they include menu entries that won't work with this app, but with an advanced paid version. It is Adobe's way to cheat, we know, but you can ignore those entries and use Reader as normal.
The somewhat unknown SmartQ Reader is a very capable PDF reader, compatible with both tablets and phones and it packs a complete set of notation tools that work great.
Reading PDF files is really easy to the eye as it seems the app has been greatly optimized for modern phones and tablets. The downside of that optimization is that you won't be able to use this app is you have a phone with a screen resolution lower than 320 x 480 pixels.
SmartQ Reader can organize your PDF files in a shelf or list view, but you can use the built-in file explorer to look for that PDF you know is in your device, but does not show on the list (or you simply forgot where it was). The file explorer is not limited to local files, though, as it can be used to search other files and documents on the internet.
Once your PDF collection is complete, you can categorize your files according to your preferences using the included Drag 'n Drop method. If you have some files you do not want other people to see, there is the option of creating a special "locked" category that can only be accessed with a password.
The PDF rendering engine is fast and accurate, you can zoom in and out without problems and actions such as Keyword searching, opening links or adding and removing bookmarks is smooth. Going to the next page or, previous page is a very easy task; just swipe the pages or use the four-way control that can be configured within the app. As for the text, you can copy, highlight, search, share or send it to translation and embed comments using the included notation tools. Even though SmartQ reader lacks a high contrast mode to further improve reading, it offers black and white, classical and inverted display modes, which are definitely a plus, especially for the visually impaired people.
SmartQ reader is a powerful yet convenient PDF reading app and it is very straightforward. If you have a device with a good screen resolution you will see how good and efficient is the text rendering even on some old single-core processors. The only thing that prevents us from placing it in the first place, is that there are some compatibility issues with the comments and notations you do using SmartQ. Sometimes, some comments or notations show crippled and very few didn't show at all, however, this didnt' happen quite often and cannot be considered a deal-braker, as SmartQ Reader is one the best and 100% free PDF reading apps out there.
It does not matter if you have a smartphone or a tablet, Foxit Mobile PDF works with any Android device while you're on the go. It relies on the same technology of the desktop version and provides a good PDF reading experience thanks to its complete suite of tools.
Foxit Mobile PDF allows you to read and search PDF files from local sources and cloud services (Box, Dropbox and KuaiPan). It can also keep a history of the PDFs you have read if you need it. Using Foxit's file management tool, you can select any file as favorite, rename it, copy or edit it and finally, share it through Bluetooth or email.
Once you open a PDF file, you can select any of of the viewing tools Foxit has included such as Text Reflow, Annnotation Tools, Bookmarks and Text Search; there is an option to add your signature, too. When it comes to reading, you change the view mode to single page, continuous page or thumbnail mode; also, you can use a double-tap or the good old "pinch" gesture to zoom in or zoom out the view. As a way to improve your reading, there is a screen lock to change the display mode (portrait/landscape) and a useful brightness setting (tap your device's "menu" button to bring it) which works independently from your system's settings.
While the bookmark tool works great, the annotation tools take the cake since they are as complete as these kind of tools can be. They include: Undo and Redo options; Text Hightlight, Underline and Strikeout; Sticky Notes for comments or ideas and lastly, a Pencil and an Eraser tool. If you tap and hold on each notation icon, you will bring up the settings panel where you can choose the color you want to use along with the opacity / thickness options.
Foxit Mobile PDF is a really good 100% free PDF reading app albeit with some flaws: the text and image rendering is fast, but it requires a good device to work as intended and it could be a real RAM hog with documents that combine text and images on every page. Even though the zoom option is limited, it should not pose a problem on a tablet, although it could be an important issue for phone users with small screens.
Best Free PDF Viewer
MuPDF is a very fast and reliable PDF viewer that supports not only PDFs, but XPS, Open XPS and CBZ files as well.
The interface is as simple as you could expect, but it gets the job done and because of that simplicity you won't get your screen clogged with things you do not need to see while reading.
MuPDF has no problem handling encrypted PDF files; it also can show embedded notations and comments effortlessly. The text rendering is great and fas; if you have a screen with a high ppi, you will notice how good and detailed the text is.
Even though the app proved to be stable, there were some occasional hiccups while reading PDF files with many pages that contained big images or extense comments, nonetheless, those issues were not a common thing and did not play a major role in the app's performance especially because most of the PDF readers had the same issues when loading big PDF files.
Because it is just a viewer, MuPDF does not have notation tools and such, but it has a keyword search along with a very solid text-reflow option. If you need to print a file, you will be happy to know that MuPDF is compatible with Google Print and it can fill interactive PDF forms, too.
Despite being really simple, MuPDF is a great viewer and the support for XPS and OXPS makes it better. We only wish the app had more constant updates because, although solid, it could use some improvements in the zoom and the text reflow functions.
Our fromer favorite PDF viewer, AnDoc - PDF & DJVU Reader is a very good app that provides a good PDF reading experience even on low-spec devices. It is also one of the fastest PDF viewing apps when it comes to text rendering. Sadly, it can be flagged as adware by some anti-malware apps, which is not good at all.
The interface is really simple. After launching it, you can browse your SD Card searching for PDF files (it reads DJVU files too) or simply look for a file you have read previously within the "recent" list.
AnDoc works in a different way from most PDF viewing apps. Once you have opened the file you want to read, double-tapping won't zoom in and out the view but will open the main menu instead. There, you can add bookmarks, go to a specific page, find text, change the viewing scheme (Full screen, show title, force portrait / landscape, switch between day / night modes, split pages and page-crop options). There is a zoom option too, although selecting it will activate a small tuner-like bar that can be used to zoom in or out. Just like Adobe's app, the zooming option goes very far (up to 32x). However, if you do not like that kind of approach for the zoom, you can simply use the "pinch" method.
This app includes several options to improve your reading experience. By using the Settings menu, you can change the user interface, the navigation settings, the app's performance (a great option if you have a slow phone) and even the rendering options (night mode, contrast, gamma, exposure and auto-levels). All these settings can be saved as a general rule, but can be customized for every individual book if you want to.
AnDoc is a great PDF viewer which happens to read DJVU files too, and it does a great job rendering both of them. Furthermore, its numerous options to tune the way it works can help to reduce the RAM usage as well as you battery. Of course, not everything is perfect, as AnDoc lacks a text reflow option and there is no way to delete or clear your "recent files" option either, and there is the adware thing, too.
Products and Links
You might want to check out these articles too:
Foxit Mobile PDF
AnDoc PDF & DJVU Reader
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