I have been thinking about how to choose an impeccable PDF application. This may just be my obsessive-compulsive nature but I always want to complete my homework with a beautiful, concise, and versatile application. If you feel that CAJ Viewer etc. can meet those needs, there’s nothing wrong with that. But then, this article may not be for you.
After some thinking, I chose Adobe Acrobat, PDF Expert, and PDFelement for a horizontal analysis. Adobe Acrobat is the originator, and the PDF leader can’t be ignored; PDF Expert is the most popular PDF application on macOS. It is the editor’s pick of the Mac App Store, the best application in 2015, and the paid application champion. The applications selected in this article are considered representative works of these companies and the purpose is to completely solve all PDF-related problems – and to leave you with one less thing to worry about.
There are far too few free excellent applications. The vast majority of free PDF applications are practically useless. Better free applications such as Foxit also have deal-breaking shortcomings, such as the macOS version not being able to edit PDF. As a result, even though I tend to use free apps, I now prefer to use relatively cheap paid apps, such as apps that are difficult to replace, like Parallel Desktop. Adobe Acrobat, PDF Expert, and PDFelement are great replacements for free apps but the original pricing of these three is not cheap; fortunately, there are special prices, anniversary sales, education discounts, and city-based dealer discounts, and you can also get special codes to apply when you check out.
Pro: $14.99/mo; STD: $12.99/mo.
Official website also has education discount.
Official website also has education discount.
Pro: $25/quarterly Std: $20/quarterly
Pro: $129/lifetime Std: $79/lifetime
50% off educational discount for faculty
PDF Expert also has educational discounts, but it is not as cheap as the official website. PDFelement users can also apply for a batch education discount license. For most of the apps I use, the developers provide education discounts (independent developers generally do not), usually a 50% discount, or even free. Moreover, although the apps I purchased are all at my own expense, if I had another chance, I would consider finding a tutor to reimburse me… I am quite dissatisfied with the current reimbursement system, such as small things that cannot be invoiced. It adds up to a lot of money. If I work as a tutor, I will find a way to solve all the academic expenses accrued by students, including genuine software, items that cannot be invoiced, and some phone bills.
On the interface front, the left panel of the three is somewhat different. For Adobe Acrobat and PDFelement, bookmarks are essentially PDF outlines; in PDF Expert, bookmarks are custom bookmarks, and outlines are contents outlines, which is quite useful for reading PDF books.
Adobe Acrobat interface:
PDF Expert Interface:
Adobe Acrobat, PDF Expert, and PDFelement are about 990 MB, 37 MB, and 31 MB after installation (optional OCR plugin is about 550 MB). Although Acrobat is huge, it does have its power. Adobe Acrobat can be said to be a super PDF application, PDF Expert is a general-purpose PDF application, and PDFelement is a versatile PDF application.
The core functions: ① Reading and Annotation; ② Search Function; ③ Editing; ④ OCR; and ⑤ Cloud Service. The “Unique Features” section below will also explain the refreshing features, but you can also consider the PDF template library provided by PDFelement. There are a large number of free and paid templates and they are divided into dozens of categories, the most popular of which is the resume template, which is really attractive.
Reading and Annotation
In this regard, Acrobat’s performance is the worst, PDF Expert’s performance is the most satisfying, and PDFelement’s performance is quite satisfactory:
① Only Acrobat does not support multi-tab pages;
② Only Acrobat cannot easily use different color annotations even if the “Comment” tool is opened; it is very inconvenient;
③ When the magnification is high, the fluency of PDFelement’s page scrolling function decreases.
There’s not much to say about the commenting function; the difference between the three is quite small and, besides, the reading experience is more important to me. I can use the shortcut keys to quickly adjust the view, which is an indispensably important function in reading, and the shortcut keys of the three views are slightly different:
Of course, there are also some unique shortcut functions that better serve the purpose of reading. This improves the reading experience, but PDFelement only has basic functions in this regard.
① Rearrange (⌘4): Rearrange the PDF content according to the size of the application interface, similar to the rearrangement effect of multi-page reading;
② Compare documents: Displays the differences between the two versions of PDF, and has customized options (such as page number and content type) to display the comparison results.
PDF Expert :
① Split view (horizontal ⌘5; vertical ⌘6): View two PDF documents on the same page in a layout of left and right or up and down (horizontal or vertical);
② Zoom to 100% (⌘0): Personally, I think this is a neat little function;
③ Theme: There are three modes: day (⌥⌘W), paper (⌥⌘S), and night (⌥⌘N).
The search function is also for reading, but considering that this is a key function, it is mentioned separately.
Unfortunately, PDFelement only supports “single document” search, PDF Expert supports searching all open PDF files, and Acrobat even supports searching all PDF files in the specified directory. But when searching, Acrobat’s page-scrolling function becomes slow; PDFelement can only be scrolled after searching, which is an urgent problem to be solved; and PDF Expert can be used normally.
There is not much to say in this regard. The editing experience in the three PDF editors is quite similar but the experience in PDFelement is relatively best. Both Adobe Acrobat and PDF Expert encountered problems: for example, Acrobat indicated that the current font was not available and switched to the system font, and the font changed after editing in PDF Expert.
Adobe Acrobat’s OCR supports 42 languages, PDFelement supports 29 languages, and PDF Expert does not support OCR. Like its search function, Acrobat can recognize multiple documents, as can PDFelement. Acrobat has a function that satisfies me: if the document is a scanned copy, Acrobat will only prompt me to turn the page into editable text when I’m trying to edit content. PDFelement’s approach is to open the scan and directly prompt me to perform the OCR operation. I think Acrobat’s logic is more user-friendly.
When recognizing text, Acrobat users can only choose one language. PDFelement users can choose multiple languages, but if a small amount of English is mixed in a Chinese PDF, there is no difference between choosing Chinese and English, or Chinese only. With the help of PDFelement’s conversion function, the transformed pages before and after OCR are displayed as images for comparison. Acrobat’s recognition is really amazing: not only is the recognition completely accurate, but there is almost no difference compared with the original document; PDFelement still needs to improve in terms of recognizing text with rare font types.
I don’t think cloud services are needed on a desktop. The file management system on the computer reduces the demand for cloud services. But it is undeniable that it is more convenient for applications to directly support cloud services without installing a cloud desktop client. Acrobat supports Adobe Document Cloud, Adobe Creative Cloud, Box, Dropbox, OneDrive, SharePoint sites; PDFelement supports Dropbox, Drive, and Evernote; PDF Expert Desktop does not support any cloud services. However, cloud service support on the mobile side is the most important part.
Adobe Acrobat excels in batch processing, PDF Expert excels in reading experience, and PDFelement excels in format conversion and partial batch processing.
The functions of PDF Expert are too few but its experience in reading and commenting is unmatched. It can be said that it is what the best PDF reader should look like. It is the first in the industry in terms of device collaboration: Readdle Transfer can seamlessly connect iOS and macOS devices; the work of iOS end cloud service support is also unique, giving me a perfect reading experience.
Format conversion: You can convert entire PDFs or selected pages to Word, Excel, PowerPoint, images, ePub, plain text, Pages, HTML, and RTF files. If you convert to images, you can easily use them in an article. Although Adobe Acrobat can also do format conversions, the process is not easy, and some format conversions may require user-side inputs.
Batch processing functions: They include batch format conversion, batch watermark removal, batch data extraction, etc.. While the “batch data extraction” function is more troublesome in Adobe Acrobat, the advantage of PDFelement lies in this process being optimized for the user. For example, when encountering a large number of registration forms, invoices, etc., if they are not already in PDF format, I can use the “batch format conversion” function to first convert them to PDF files. That way, the structure of all PDF documents is the same and the areas selected for data extraction are all in the same location. You can view the end result in this screenshot:
Adobe Acrobat is unmatched in functionality, but the reading experience is poor and the price is too expensive; PDF Expert is the leader in reading experience and is the most Apple-style application, but it lacks some professional functions; PDFelement is quite satisfactory in all aspects and is slightly better at batch processing, but it has no distinct strengths and weaknesses. If there is a coordinate axis, Acrobat is on the far left, PDF Expert is on the far right, and PDFelement is in the middle but slightly to the right.
If you just want to choose a PDF reader, then having an “Editor Directory” is indispensable because it will exclude many applications. It seems that you can only choose Foxit Reader for free. But if you don’t mind paying, then this Editor Directory is all you need:
① If you are more in pursuit of a perfect reading experience: you can choose PDF Expert;
② If you are more concerned about some professional functions, you also need a better reading experience: you can choose PDFelement;
③ If you are very concerned about the completeness of the functions, you can choose Adobe Acrobat .
The question is, with so many products out there, when will a full five-star PDF application appear?