The 6 Best PDF Readers For Windows

adobe pdf logo   The 6 Best PDF Readers For WindowsMost 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.

google chrome pdf viewer   The 6 Best PDF Readers For Windows

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.

foxit reader1   The 6 Best PDF Readers For Windows

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.

sumatra pdf   The 6 Best PDF Readers For Windows

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.

nitro pdf reader   The 6 Best PDF Readers For Windows

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.

pdf xchange viewer annotation   The 6 Best PDF Readers For Windows

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.

adobe reader on windows   The 6 Best PDF Readers For Windows

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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If you have any questions related to what's mentioned in the article or need help with any computer issue, ask it on MakeUseOf Answers—We and our community will be more than happy to help.



Where is PDF-XChange Viewer??? Anyway for a more complete list of the best and free PDF software you should try an independent, non-profit, online resource of information and advice for anyone who is considering using PDF software.

Denis Paley

I seem to see PDF-XChange Viewer reviewed fight before the Adobe Reader review. Good article Chris. Good choice of some of the large array of readers out there.

Chris Hoffman

Thanks, Denis! I wanted to do a quick survey so people could make a choice without having to install all six and compare them themselves.

Chris Hoffman

PDF-XChange Viewer is right there on the list, above Adobe Reader near the end!


I use PDF-XChange Viewer for years now and I’m happy with it. Great article!

Chris Hoffman

Yup, it seems popular. Nitro seems to have a big following too, although I hadn’t heard of it until I wrote this post.

Sameer N

Good article Chris.
I never knew of all these pdf readers. Will use some of these as it is faster and got more options.

Chris Hoffman

The Windows PDF reader field has a lot of great options!


I came here to see if PDF-XChange Viewer was on the list. It’s been my favorite for years. I always found it to be very fast and I say this as I netbook user for 3 years (before I sold it a year ago) who multi-tasked like crazy. It’s also portable.

I like what I read about Sumatra, however. Looks promising. I know I tried it years ago and it was dog-slow rendering PDF files. Although I already have a preferred cbr/cbz reader, I like the fact that this app supports DjVu – not too many quality DjVu readers out there. Epub supports looks interesting too. It seems pretty versatile.

Thanks for a great list.

Chris Hoffman

Yup, Sumatra is a reader — not an editing/annotating application. It’s interesting how it’s so rare among the PDF readers, when most people just need PDF reading and no other features.


I have used all the readers listed in the original post and have settled with Sumatra. It is amazingly lightweight, renders pages very fast and has a non-cluttered yet very functional UI. And it can replace multiple other reader applications.

Chris Hoffman

It’s quite nice. Its minimalism is really only matched by the new in-browser PDF readers, which should also work just fine for most people.

Sumatra’s probably faster, though.


I’ve also settled on PDF-Xchange viewer. Lately, however, I’ve noticed when it loads a document, it will occasionally show a white page for a while until it renders the pdf. Have you found this as well?

Chris Hoffman

Never noticed this, but PDF-Xchange isn’t my viewer of choice so I don’t use it much. Feel free to try another!

Abhinav Prateek

my vote goes to foxit reader,althrough it is little slow on handling large n image rich files on few system unlike sumatra pdf

Chris Hoffman

Yup, there’s definitely a trade-off for the additional features!


I switched to Sumatra PDF Reader a few months back. At first, I was unsure if it is the right PDF reader for me as it lacked even the basic editing options and was just a bare and mimimal PDF reader. However, after these few months, I realized that I rarely need such features.
Most people ignore Sumatra due to its lack of basic features, but most people rarely need them, if at all.

Chris Hoffman

Yup, I think Sumatra is great (I also think the built-in Chrome/Firefox readers are great). Most people don’t really need the features — at least I don’t.

Honestly, the first time I’ve ever annotated a PDF is while writing this article. I think many other people are like me.


I use Foxit.

Chris Hoffman

Why’d you pick Foxit over the otehrs?


I was having performance issues with Adobe Reader (slow loading) and decided to look for an alternative PDF reader. Foxit was the first one to cross my path.

Chris Hoffman

Fair enough! Others are good too.

The 24

I like Evince. It’s generally associated with GNU/Linux since it has come with GNOME desktops for the past 7 years, but it has a perfectly good Windows version.

Chris Hoffman

Evince is great stuff on Linux. Interesting that it has a Windows version now, too! I had no idea.

Gerwell Taroma

well i’ve encountered adobe reader years ago, but only last year did i really delve into using pdf since most of our references and textbooks at school ain’t available in the library so i have to download them from the internet…now, my problem with adobe is that when there is a need to convert my pdf’s to word, i need to have an account first which is something that i just don’t want to do..that is why i’m surprised to read that nitro offers that functionality..but correct me ‘coz i don’t know, is nitro free and is it’s conversion function comes with the program readily unlike that of adobe that i have still have to make an account?…

Chris Hoffman

Yup, I didn’t actually try that feature myself, but it’s included in the free application and should work properly.

Nitro Reader is completely free. Nitro also sells a commercial application for creating and editing PDFs known as Nitro Pro.

Krzysztof Buzko

Great article, i used Foxit reader until now, but, while i’m only reading PDF’s, i’m going to try out the Sumatra PDF. Thanks once again :)

Chris Hoffman

You’re welcome! Let us know how you like Sumatra!


I have tried all of them. The worst thing is Adobe which take a long time to load and install both.

Sumatra is best for me. it’s lightweight and give me everything I want. I move from Foxit when I see a color theme puzzle in it.

Chris Hoffman

Foxit is a bit cluttered with ads and I believe a toolbar installer. Never a good sign.

Muhammad Ahmad

I am still using Adobe PDF Reader. Little bit slow but working good.

Chris Hoffman

If you want PDFs to look as intended, and for advanced stuff like signatures and fillable forms to show up properly, it really is a decent choice.


My PDF saga: Adobe, Foxit, PDF XChange Viewer, Sumatra.
Adobe – quite good, but bloatware
Foxit – very good, but the lack of an Opera plugin made me to chose…
PDF XChange – I’m happy!
Sumatra – just as portable on my usb drive.

Chris Hoffman

Thanks for sharing your experience!


I wonder if there’s some way to convert a PDF into a Word/LibreOffice/AbiWord file–please, anyone?

Just curious.

Hadhrian Aloyce

Why other mobilephones have got no PDF reader? For example, BB 9300 Curve 3G and Chines Phones.
Thanks to LG’s phones.

Hadhrian Aloyce

Which type of PDF reader works properly with all types of Phones Operating Systems(Windows,Androids etc)

Chris Hoffman

I’m not sure what works on every phone OS — although I know that Adobe Reader has apps for Android and iOS.


I work with PDF-XChange viewer for over a year now and I am very satisfied with it. Two of the application mention above have problems, at the time I checked them, with printing Greek files.

Chris Hoffman

Ah, that doesn’t surprise me — many of the applications here do well for reading basic files, but they don’t do as well when doing less-common things like that.

ferdinan Sitohang

I have used so many pdf reader, many of them are on the list, right now i am using foxit pdf reader. nice one..

Chris Hoffman

Why’d you pick Foxit?

ferdinan Sitohang

For me it’s simple and easy to use. I feel comfort with the menu


I have used all except sumatra and Nitro. Though i know nitro is amazing too. Currently i use foxit on my dad’s laptop and xchange viewer on mine. They both work fine. Havnt missed adobe acrobat, which i feel is too heavy for general use. Though it has many features but personally i never needed to use them as such.

Chris Hoffman

Yeah, Adobe has a lot of features — but most people don’t use ‘em. Adobe seems faster than it used to be, though — or maybe that’s just computers getting faster!

Laga Mahesa

Sumatra PDF? 2.4 Mb? I’m sold. I’m extremely old school and detest bloat. Larger hard drives have led to super lazy programming.

Also, I’m Indonesian, and Sumatra is an island here. =)

Chris Hoffman

Yup, it’s good to see there there’s still super tiny, lightweight software out there!

Anuj Sharma

Chris Hoffman

Yup, alternative PDF readers have been covered a lot, so I wanted to do a wide-ranging overview.

Mani KL

Sumatra is light and really fast.

Chris Hoffman

It is awesome. Uncontested king of the lightweight PDF viewers.


Been using Chrome to view my PDF’s forever. So much faster.

Chris Hoffman

Me too, usually. Why bother installing another program?

Chris Lloyd

PDFill tools are pretty good for splitting/merging pdf’s and other manipulation

Chris Hoffman

Thanks for the tip! I’ve had good luck with pdftk in the past, myself.


sure Adobe Reader is not the fastest, but the reason i keep using it because the way it displays text is much better than the others.

Chris Hoffman

Interesting — I’ve never noticed much of a difference. But then, I don’t really use Adobe Reader, so maybe I don’t know what I’m missing!


is everybody know,programs not only to view PDF but it can create and edit PDF Files for free? thank you


I’ve been using Foxit for a long time, and two things I sorely miss is a vertical split view of the document, and some form off session manager to save different views. I have different sets of books that I use for reference when I study, and it’s really annoying to have to open all of them manually every time. Does anyone know of any PDF reader that has these features?

Chris Hoffman

Well, you can use Aero Snap (assuming you’re using Windows 7) to open two PDF reader windows side-by-side. Open the two windows, then drag one of the title bars to the left side of your screen and one to the right. Windows will automatically give you a side-by-side view.

Sadly, I’m not sure what program will give you session management and save this view — does anyone else have any ideas?

You might want to ask this on MakeUseOf Answers — you’ll get more eyeballs and better answers:


Thanks for your answer! In fact, I did some research and figured out a method that works for me. As usual, Firefox came to the rescue. The Foxit plugin for Firefox in combination with the Tile Tabs, TabGroups Manager and Session Saver add-ons gave me exactly the functionality I needed! This also makes it easy to mix in for example Wikipedia pages in a reference collection.

Chris Hoffman

Ah, thanks for figuring it out — that’s actually an obvious solution when you think about it! I’m kicking myself for not thinking of it earlier.


Hi Chris,
I like your post here. Just a quick FYI. Foxit’s PDF actually supports both Kindle and HTC devices today.


thanks for your post i just uninstalled adobe because it was ridiculously bloated and was looking for alternatives :)

Amartuvshin Tseden-Ish

What about Nuance PDF Reader? it came pre-installed with my new laptop and along accommodating, i find it useful and fine.

Chris Hoffman

Huh, never heard of it — I don’t think it’s very popular. I may have to take a look at it sometime.


Nuance was pre-installed on my new Asus laptop, it might be their own one.

Chris Hoffman

Definitely not ASUS only, but Nuance is obviously paying ASUS to include it!


i use nitro reader..its good programs


I would suggest PDF Reader for Windows 8 at

It’s free, and offers you decent performance when viewing large PDF document.

Amr Emara

Thanks for the list :)


I use Foxit for some time now. It has so many features Adobe reader does not have, starting by tab to display many documents, to put comments, text, links, insert files etc, that I do not even think or returning to Adobe reader, or even buy the full Adobe program. And I never encountered a document that Foxit cannot handle. If I ever do, well, I will use Adobe reader then.


i prefer pdf xchange nitro is way to resource intensive nuance isn’t bad either
my suggestion is to not use foxit there have been some reports of spyware issues with it

Chris Hoffman

That’s too bad, if true. Foxit was the _the_ alternative back in the day. I didn’t run into spyware when I tested it.


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

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

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!

Chris Hoffman

Thanks! I actually associated Chrome with PDF files. Does all I need it to do.


yes Foxit is best


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.

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.

Chris Hoffman

Never tried it, what makes it better?


Like I said, it’s the smallest PDF reader out there. 800kb, vs. Sumatra’s 4.2mb and Nitro’s 26+MB.

Chris Hoffman

Ah, I thought Sumatra was smaller for some reason — thanks!