The 6 Best PDF Readers For Windows

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pdf readersMost people don’t stop to think about the PDF reader they install – they just install Adobe Reader. Adobe’s PDF Reader isn’t the only option, though – there are quite a few high-quality, free PDF viewers available for Windows.

The alternative PDF readers run the gamut from minimal, lightweight applications built for nothing more than viewing PDFs to more full-featured applications that include annotations and highlighting. Some applications even include features you won’t find in Adobe Reader, such as easy creation of PDF documents and basic PDF-editing tools.

Built-In PDF Readers

If you’re using Google Chrome, you already have a PDF reader. It’s not feature-packed, but it’s a quick, minimal way to read PDF documents in your browser without installing and launching a separate application. It makes PDFs look like any other web page, aside from a toolbar that appears when you hover your cursor over the document.

Mozilla is working on integrating a built-in PDF reader, known as PDF.js, into Firefox 14, the next version of Firefox that will be released. Firefox should have a built-in PDF reader by Firefox 14 – or, hopefully, Firefox 15 at the latest. Windows 8 also comes with its own PDF reader – PDF readers are becoming more integrated into the browsers and operating systems we use every day, gradually eliminating the need for dedicated PDF readers.

pdf readers

Foxit Reader

Foxit may be one of the first names that comes to mind when people think about alternative PDF readers, as it was one of the first alternative PDF readers to gain steam – and it’s still a great option today. Unfortunately, it does try to install a toolbar and change your web browser’s home page during installation. Unlike some of the more lightweight option, Foxit has built-in support for annotations, highlights and other PDF-editing features – it’s a more full-featured alternative to Adobe Reader.

free pdf readers

Sumatra PDF

Sumatra PDF stands out as the most lightweight PDF reader available. It’s very lightweight, has a simple interface, and is also available as a portable app that you can take with you anywhere. It doesn’t have any editing options or other advanced features – it’s just a window that loads extremely quickly and displays PDFs. It’s also packed with keyboard shortcuts, making it even more ideal for quickly reading PDFs. Sumatra also supports other types of files, including eBooks in ePub and Mobi format and comic books in CBZ and CBR formats.

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free pdf readers

Nitro PDF Reader

Nitro stands out among free PDF readers with some unique features, as well as a slick interface – although people that dislike Microsoft’s ribbon interface may prefer another application’s interface. It’s got some features you won’t find elsewhere – for example, its QuickSign feature allows you to capture a digital image of your signature and apply it to PDF documents. Nitro PDF can also convert files from Microsoft Word and other formats to PDF, convert PDF files to text, and extract images from PDF files. For a more in-depth look at Nitro PDF Reader, check out our full review.

free pdf readers

PDF-XChange Viewer

PDF-XChange Viewer is a fast application, although it isn’t as lightweight as some of the other available PDF readers. It’s got good support for editing and annotations, although more complex edits will require a more full-featured, paid application like Adobe Acrobat. For more information about PDF-XChange Viewer, check out our full review.

best pdf readers

Adobe Reader

Adobe Reader is still the standard PDF reader, although it’s definitely not the fastest. While most PDF documents work perfectly fine in other PDF readers, every now and then a document will only work in Adobe Reader. If you prefer another PDF reader, don’t be surprised if you have to occasionally fire up Adobe Reader to view a more complex PDF that just isn’t working properly in other PDF readers. There’s a reason Chrome’s in-browser PDF reader prompts users to open (or download) Adobe Reader in some cases.

pdf readers

For more great Windows software, check out our list of the 168 best free Windows applications.

How do you read PDFs on Windows? Leave a comment and tell us which PDF reader you prefer.

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Comments (87)
  • Aalaap Ghag

    You should add Cool PDF Reader to this list. The smallest version is only 800kb in size and opens most PDF files just fine. It’s better than the nearest options like Sumatra and Nitro.

    http://www.pdf2exe.com/reader.html

  • Rick

    Is there a PDF reader on windows that can reformat and present the text on a page/whole PDF and present it in a much more readable format(think readablity). There is a magazine reader on smartphones that does this and it’s real nice.

  • Erez Zukerman

    Recommending Chrome here was brilliant! I just realized I don’t need to set up a PDF reader for my new computer. :) One less app for me to worry about!

  • Ciel Carter

    On Windows 8, when you open a PDF document, your Desktop switches to a Metro style app called Windows Reader created by Microsoft. It’s frustrating to read the contents of PDF files by switching Desktop to Metro and reverse. Therefore, I search the web and use a freeware namely PDF Reader for Windows 8. It’s a Desktop application rather than a Metro app, and it offers the daily-used features by most PDF users. The free application can be found on http://www.pdfeight.com/reader.html

  • Shirley

    no writepdf :(

    • Chris Hoffman

      Does that even work on Windows? Never heard of it, but Google seems to think it’s an iPad/iPhone app

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This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.
Affiliate Disclamer

This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.