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The Best PDF Readers for Android

Posted by William Sattelberg on January 29, 2018

Our entire culture has changed and evolved since the introduction of the modern smartphone, but one of our favorite aspects about the transition to smart-devices was the ability to stop relying on so much paper in our life. Suddenly, documents no longer needed to be shared in print copies, which could cost thousands of dollars a month for large companies dealing with huge amounts of paper, printers, and ink cartridges. Instead of being forced to carry hard copies of important files, notes, and documents around your workplace or home—risking both misplacing and damaging your paperwork—you can keep every possible document you could ever need inside one single device, be it a phone, a tablet, or a laptop. You can even upload those documents to the cloud, allowing them to be accessed, edited, and shared in real-time from anywhere around the globe.

And while most have decided on a single file type for our documents—the universally accessible PDF, or Portable Document Format—the apps we use to read these documents are a bit less universal. Once search on the Google Play Store for a PDF reader will reveal the ultimate truth about PDF reader apps: there are hundreds of them available for sale today, and a lot of them aren’t worth your time. It’s truly difficult to tell which ones are worth downloading and which ones aren’t, and that’s where we come in. We’ve tried and tested more than a dozen different PDF applications to find out which app on the Play Store you should download to keep on your phone or tablet, and less than half of the apps we tested made the cut. Whether you’re looking for a way to keep your documents organized on the go for school, work, or home, these are the PDF apps that will keep you and your phone happy throughout the work week. These are the best PDF readers for Android.

Everyone else

Google's PDF Viewer is the pinnacle of the "just make it work" style of app development that we don't see too often on the Play Store. Google's designed their PDF reader for those of us who aren't reading multiple PDFs every day. For those users, they aren't in need of flashy gimmicks, designs, or abilities—they just need something to be able to read a PDF they downloaded from the internet or were sent over email. Google's efforts here get the job done—it's a fast, quick, and efficient PDF reader that opens large files quickly, zooms and scrolls smoothly, and can print documents directly from the menu display. There's a sliding tab on the right-side of the display to be able to scroll up and down long documents quickly, and a share button that allows for the PDF to be emailed or shared over Google Drive. Finally, there's a fairly-robust search feature that allows for your PDF to be searched by key words and sentences. But all in all, that's about it—not much is ultimately offered by PDF Viewer that isn't offered elsewhere. If you're bouncing back and forth between twenty different documents a day, this isn't the app for you. It's an application for the readers who need a reliable, ad-free PDF experience that won't bog down their phone or tablet with unnecessary features and functions, and for that alone, it earns a spot on our list among the more fully-featured apps.

PocketBook is one of the older PDF readers on our list, and the interface shows. It's not necessarily ugly, but it's not quite as clean-looking as both of our top picks. PocketBook's gimmick, for lack of a better phrase, is the ability to view your PDFs as if they were eBooks, an idea we've seen both Adobe Acrobat and Xodo flirt with but never commit to using. Part of the benefit to this is, if you're primarily using PDF readers to view documents that have covers or titles, you can view them in a grid format that makes it easy to choose and select which PDF you're looking for. PocketBook also contains support for a ton of non-PDF formats, including EPub and MOBI, two common file types for eBooks. Clearly, PocketBook is intended for those readers looking not to edit and annotate PDFs, but to view them as books or novels. And it works well: the reader, though not necessarily formatted well for tablets, allows for an enjoyable reading experience, complete with page-flip animations enabled by default and a quick-access wheel of functions and options you'd want from an eReader application. The app isn't quite as fast at loading large PDFs as something like Xodo, but for those readers looking for something to read publications through PDF form and don't want or need annotating features, PocketBook is a solid, free choice.

Foxit Reader is another solid PDF offering, even if it doesn't quite meet the highs offered by both Acrobat and Xodo. The app works similarly to our top two offerings, automatically loading in every PDF located on your device, as well as a "Getting Started" PDF to read explaining how the app works. The app's design is nice and inoffensive, but not quite as well-organized as some of the better apps listed on this device. Foxit uses its own cloud services to load in your documents, and while it's reliable, we prefer to use Google Drive (which does have support here, but it's a bit more hidden that Foxit's own service). The app opens large documents rather quickly, though it doesn't reach the speed offered by Xodo, and often has to load new pages after displaying every two or three selections when flipping quickly through the app. You can do much of the same annotation and edits that are available through Xodo, including signing documents. But the app isn't free, offering in-app purchases to unlock the fully-fledged version of the app, whereas Xodo offers just as much compatibility for absolutely no cash. It's not a bad service by any means, and no doubt Foxit has its fair share of fans. But overall, Foxit leaves a bit to be desired throughout day-to-day use.

Moon+ Reader is one of the few selections on our list that isn't entirely free; the app contains both advertisements and in-app purchases for upgrade to pro versions of the application. Much like PocketBook, the app is designed to treat your PDFs like eBooks, with support for additional file types like MOBI, ePub, CBR, and CBZ, all common eBook formats. The app even comes with a free eBook of Alice in Wonderland, used to demo how exactly the app works, with page up formatted on the left, and page down formatted on the right. If you're looking for your options, a simple tap in the very middle of the display will bring a full list of settings. Overall, it's a solid eBook app, with similar design and function to PocketBook but in a slightly-more modern take on how an eBook app should work and look. You can even view your files on a virtual bookshelf, similar to the design popularized by iBooks on the iPad back in the early 2010s. Most notably, you can view reading stats on how many books you've read, how much time you've spent reading, and you can even bring in books from assorted free publications over the internet. One big downside to Moon+ Reader: it doesn't seem to automatically find PDF files on your device, meaning one additional step (adding them manually) exists before you can eventually get to reading your PDFs. Moon+ isn't a bad eBook reader app, but if you're looking for something to use for PDFs, it's best to look elsewhere on this list.

Our final suggestion comes to us from Google once more, this time through their Play Books application. Though certainly designed around being able to use the platform for eBooks, Google Play Books is also an included PDF reader on your device, and can make for a great utility if you're more interested in reading PDF documents for your college classes than for tracking documents at work. Out of the box, however, Google Play Book is unable to display your PDFs without heading into the settings menu. You'll first need to enable the "PDF uploading" option on your app before you can officially begin reading your documents from Downloads, Gmail, and other apps, and you'll need to restart the app once you've clicked the box. Once that's done, you'll need to redownload your PDFs to your device. Each time you go to open a new PDF, select "Upload to Play Books," and your PDF will be saved in the cloud and on your mobile device. It's not the smoothest option on the market, but Play Books has a lot going for it. A solid interface, eBook options, and automatic cloud backups make Play Books ideal for long PDFs that need to be read in an eBook-like style. It's just not ideal for everyone. Like Moon+ Reader, Play Books is best thought of as an eBook application first, PDF application second, but that doesn't mean it should be left off this list.

One thought on “The Best PDF Readers for Android”

David says:
You might want to look at (and maybe write about) the many, many bad reviews in play store and on the adobe help forum about the latest version of this app. Adobe has pretty much killed much of the functionality and user experience with their update. They really accessed screwed the pooch this time.
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