Productivity Windows

The 6 Best PDF Readers for Windows in 2019

Tina Sieber Updated 04-12-2019

The best PDF readers are free without advertising. Long story short: Adobe Reader isn’t the only document reader. There are many different and superior options out there.


The alternative PDF readers presented here 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 Acrobat Reader, such as basic PDF-editing tools.

1. Sumatra PDF

This is a screen capture of Sumatra PDF Reader

Highlight: Most lightweight PDF reader, also available as a portable app.

Sumatra PDF is the best alternative to using your browser as a PDF reader because it’s easy on system resources. It’s also open source. If you want something even more minimalistic than that, you could download its portable app instead of the desktop version.

Sumatra PDF doesn’t have any editing options or other advanced features – it’s just a window that loads extremely fast and displays PDFs. It does, however, support tabs and it’s packed with keyboard shortcuts, making it even more ideal for rapidly reading PDFs. Furthermore, Sumatra supports other types of files, including ebooks in ePub and Mobi format and comic books in CBZ and CBR formats. Want support for more ebook formats? Try one of these dedicated ebook readers for your PC.


Download: Sumatra PDF

2. PDF-XChange Editor

This is a screen capture of PDF-XChange Editor

Highlight: Packed with features, yet fast.

PDF-XChange Editor offers a bouquet of features, making it great for editing and annotations. And PDF-XChange Editor is free. You can buy a license to unlock pro features, but you can also use those features in exchange for a watermark.


If you find the cluttered look of the toolbar distracting, go ahead and edit it to your liking. Right-click anywhere onto the toolbar to launch a menu for quick changes. Click Customize Toolbars at the bottom to enter a static menu where you can take your time to manage those same options.

While PDF-XChange Editor and Foxit Reader have a similar feature set, I noticed that PDF-XChange Editor required twice the memory to run the same document. Keep this in mind if resource efficiency is a priority.

Download: PDF-XChange Editor

3. Nitro PDF Reader

This is a screen capture of Nitro PDF Reader


Highlight: Blends into Microsoft Office applications and offers extensive features.

Nitro’s interface looks like it was lifted straight from Microsoft Office. And like the market leading office suite, this PDF reader is rich in features.

Unlike many other free PDF readers, with Nitro you can fill in forms and sign your documents using your digital ID. You can also add notes, extract images, or convert a PDF to a plain text document.

While the resemblance to Microsoft’s ribbon interface is somewhat charming, it may not be your cup of tea.


Download: Nitro Reader 5

4. Foxit Reader

This is a screen capture of Foxit Reader

Highlight: The most feature-complete free PDF reader.

Foxit Reader was one of the first mainstream Adobe Reader alternatives. It remains a great option because—among the free PDF readers—it offers the most features, with no strings attached.

You’ll notice that an extensive number of editing tabs dominates the interface. They cover a range of advanced options, including text markup, a typewriter option, form handling, digital signatures, managing reviews and tracking changes, and connected PDFs.

One of Foxit Reader’s best features is that you can add your own shortcuts to the Quick Action Toolbar in the top left. Right-click anywhere in the toolbar to access all customization options.

Foxit Reader managed to pack all those features into a cleaner interface than PDF-XChange Editor. But the feature richness comes at a cost: your system resources. You can, however, download a portable version of Foxit Reader.

Download: Foxit Reader

5. STDU Viewer

This is a screen capture of STDU Viewer

Highlight: One viewer to replace them all, great for navigating multiple documents.

This document viewer wants to be the only application you use for all your technical documentations, books, and other readings. STDU Viewer supports TXT, Comic Book Archive, PDF, DjVu, MOBI, EPub, several image files, and many more document formats.

STDU Viewer’s strong suit is managing multiple different documents at once. Not only can you open documents in tabs and expand a navigation panel, but you can also create and navigate bookmarks and highlights, view thumbnails of your open documents, and split windows to compare different pages within the same document. Another neat feature is that you can invert colors, such as from black on white to white on black, which can reduce eyestrain.

While STDU Viewer doesn’t have all the features of Nitro and Foxit Reader, it is a great alternative for those who have to read or refer to a lot of digital documents.

Download: STDU Viewer

6. Adobe Reader

This is a screen capture of Adobe Reader

Highlight: Simple interface and minimal features.

Adobe’s PDF reader remains the de-facto standard. At 105 MB, sans optional offers, it’s definitely the heavyweight champion among the readers featured here.

On the bright side, Adobe Reader maintains a pleasing interface and isn’t overloaded with features. You can comment, fill & sign, and convert to PDF or other formats (export). If you ever run into issues opening a PDF file or filling a form using an alternative PDF tool, you won’t suffer too much when you have to fall back onto Adobe Reader.

While you will find options to edit and combine PDF files listed under Tools, these are actually pro features that will set you back at least USD 15 per month.

Download: Adobe Acrobat Reader DC

Bonus: Read PDFs With Your Web Browser

Whether you’re using Google Chrome, Firefox, or Microsoft Edge, your browser already has a built-in PDF reader Edge vs. Chrome vs. Adobe Reader: Which PDF Viewer Is Best? Can Edge now rival both Chrome and Adobe Reader when it comes to PDF documents? Here's a direct comparison of the three. Read More . It won’t have all the features, but using your browser as a PDF reader is a quick way to read PDF documents and it will save you lots of system resources.

The small footprint and easy access come at a cost. In-browser PDF readers aren’t always compatible with all types of PDF. Furthermore, browser-based PDF readers lack advanced features, like form filling, document signing, or annotation. It’s a compromise, but for the average user, it’s a small one.

Microsoft Edge

In Windows 10, Microsoft Edge is both the default browser and the default PDF reader.

PDF files open in an Edge browser tab. The only thing that distinguishes them from a regular web page is the PDF toolbar at the top. You can search the document, adjust the zoom level, print, and save the file.

Microsoft Edge PDF reader toolbar
This is a close up screen capture of the Microsoft Edge PDF reader toolbar

You can also share the document or add it to your Favorites or Reading List. Unfortunately, Edge’s unique Web Notes feature is not available in PDFs.

This is a screen capture of the error message "Microsoft Edge Web Notes aren't available"

Note: Microsoft Edge suffered from a PDF exploit back in 2016. This vulnerability has since been patched, but issues such as this are the reason why you should always install security updates.

To change your default PDF reader in Windows 10, go to Start > Settings. Within the Settings app head to Apps > Default apps, click on Choose default apps by file type and change the app association of the PDF file extension with an application of your choice. This can be another browser or a third party PDF reader.

This is a screen capture of Windows 10 choose default app by file type

Google Chrome

Chrome’s PDF interface is similar to Microsoft Edge’s. You’ll find the controls for the zoom level in the bottom right. In addition to everything Edge does, you can rotate the document, which is essential on a Windows 2-in-1 or tablet.

Google Chrome PDF reader toolbar

If Chrome is your default browser, but you’d rather not have it open PDFs for you, you can disable its built-in PDF reader. Open chrome://settings/content, scroll to the bottom of the content settings windows, and under PDF Documents check Open PDF files in the default PDF viewer application. Make sure you have selected a default Windows PDF viewer.

Mozilla Firefox

Among the in-browser PDF readers, Firefox offers the most comprehensive package. In addition to standard features offered in Chrome and Edge, you can expand a sidebar, rotate in both directions, and toggle the hand tool.

Screen capture of Mozilla Firefox PDF reader

To disable the Firefox PDF viewer, go to Menu > Options > Applications. Next to the Content Type Portable Document Format (PDF), select your preferred Action.

screen capture of Firefox PDF reader settings preview in Firefox

While in-browser PDF readers and system default apps are great, sometimes you need more than that. Hence, the market for dedicated PDF readers remains highly competitive. Here are some more alternatives with advanced features.

The Best PDF Readers Do It All

These six apps are the best PDF readers around. But not all needs are the same. Even so, hopefully, one of these PDF document viewers is perfect for you.

In case you need to edit PDFs 5 Free Tools to Edit PDF Files PDFs are universally useful. However, they fall short when it comes to editing. We're here to show you the best free tools to edit your PDF files. Read More or convert your PowerPoint presentation to PDF How to Convert a PDF to PowerPoint Presentation Want to converting a PDF to a PowerPoint presentation? It's difficult at the best of times, but these file converters try to do a good job of it. Read More , we’ve got you covered there too! Also try these free online PDF editors and PDF annotation tools 5 Free PDF Editor Websites to Create, Fill, Annotate or Alter PDF Files These web apps will help you get everything done with a PDF, without ever installing any software. Read More .

Related topics: Adobe Reader, eReader, Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge, Mozilla Firefox, PDF, PDF Editor.

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  1. realityhits
    July 29, 2020 at 1:36 pm

    pdf exchange sucks lost menu tabs cannot restore. THEN when there is an update past 1 year of owning you do NOT get to update!!! Unless you throw MORE money into their hands. Uninstalled and went to another,,... Oh by the way I gave my License to 17 other computer users to use fro Free bah-bye extra $54 dollars in your pocket, tracker software... LOL

  2. OliviaP
    May 8, 2019 at 5:27 pm

    For me PDF-XChange Editor is the perfect PDF editor and document manager. It brings all the essential tools -and even more than that.

  3. Varun
    February 12, 2019 at 9:41 am

    Microsoft Edge browser FTW, for excellent smooth scroll. I wish other reader had smooth scroll feature.

    • v1adimir
      June 30, 2019 at 7:04 pm

      "Microsoft Edge browser FTW", do you even *know* what you're saying, LMAO

  4. VG10JWG
    January 24, 2019 at 9:52 pm

    Foxit Reader enables a PDF file preview in File Explorer preview pane - I don't know if any of the others do

  5. SanjP
    January 22, 2019 at 10:49 pm

    PDF-XChange Editor is painless to use even for beginners and very reliable. . I really enjoy theextensive features that making a professional PDF easy. And - 80% of features are free. And - Portable version! I can keep PDF-XChange on my stick and use everywhere whithout making any change in system

    • realityhits
      July 29, 2020 at 1:37 pm

      No it isn't it sucks and does not offer "updates" past 365 days. There ARE a lot of other better solutions out there.

  6. DaveM
    October 24, 2018 at 6:15 pm

    Nitro free Reader does not exist; nowhere on Nitro's site. There is a free trial of Nitro Pro, but to continue using it's $159US - not exactly free.

  7. OkenaP
    September 11, 2017 at 8:02 pm

    PDF-XChange and Foxit both are good (indeed, the best in replacing Adobe), but PDF-XChange Editor Free version offers more features for free than Foxit, works faster, its some features are more detailed.

  8. MonicaJ
    August 17, 2017 at 3:43 pm

    I use the Kdan PDF reader, which is the best pdf reader and is also free.

    • Tina Sieber
      August 17, 2017 at 7:07 pm

      Thank you for sharing, Monica!

  9. Marshall
    July 24, 2017 at 2:04 pm

    One I keep ready for occasional use is PDF-Exchange. It has a search option that allow you to search through folders of PDFs. We have several thousand inspection reports in PDF files and remembering in which one we found X or did Y is well beyond my ability, so being able to search the entire folder, without pulling up each report and searching it, is a god send.

    • Tina Sieber
      July 24, 2017 at 10:54 pm

      Thank you for sharing, Marshall!

  10. Will
    June 25, 2017 at 10:18 am

    I'm used to install Foxit reader, but I've come to understand it has become somewhat bloated and installs more then just a PDF reader.

  11. Mati
    June 13, 2017 at 3:00 am

    I use Sumatra + CutePDF Writer and i all set for my pdf needs

  12. Hildy J
    June 8, 2017 at 7:49 pm

    Another option is LibreOffice. You can view and edit the PDF and export it as a PDF after editing. My biggest frustration with it is that you can create a PDF with fillable form fields but you can't fill form fields in a PDF you import. WTF?

  13. Doug
    June 8, 2017 at 1:33 pm

    I've been using PDFX-Change Viewer (now updated to PDFX-Change Editor, which I don't use) for years. It's full-featured, flexible, and free. I know it so well that I'm not ready to consider any other PDF programs, though in the distant past I used Foxit for a year or so.

    • Tina Sieber
      June 8, 2017 at 7:35 pm

      PDFX-Change Viewer was on this list before. I decided to remove it because the editor isn't free and nothing about the viewer stood out to me.

      Why are you using it and what makes it better than other PDF viewers in your opinion?

      • Luís Carreira
        June 9, 2017 at 12:07 pm

        "The smallest, fastest, most feature-rich FREE PDF editor/viewer available!"
        It's the phrase just below the app's name on it's website.
        I'm using it since it came out to replace the viewer and never paid anything...
        What it has is "pro-features" for which you need to pay the pro version... But that is also valid for others in the list.
        So I do not understand your argument to remove that one from the list...

      • Klaas Vaak
        July 6, 2017 at 10:56 am

        PDF-XChange Editor is also free.

      • Olivia
        August 8, 2017 at 5:48 pm

        PDF-XChange Editor has Free version too (like its previous Viewer). I often have work with PDF documents, and I would say that Editor is my favorite. It is more advanced as old Viewer (and it's absolutely new built), it's faster and more detailed as Foxit (in many features- that is very necessary for me!), cheaper than Adobe (and, again, some features are more detailed). Also, support is really fast and helpful (during 1-5 hours I always got answers). I have this Editor at home and at work (one license is ok for both my computers).

    • realityhits
      July 29, 2020 at 1:41 pm

      It sucks especially after you PAY for the Pro version and find out a year later you CANNOT receive "updates". They (tracker software) are nothing but "money-hogs" trying to get you to purchase more from them.... Plus their menus get cluttered with useless garbage.

  14. Howard A Pearce
    June 8, 2017 at 8:12 am

    I have used PDF Xchange viewer for a while, which now comes as PDF Xchange editor too which I use instead of the the viewer

    This built-in editor/viewer is an advantage over mere PDF viewers, IMHO
    It also has a plugin for most browsers

    • Tina Sieber
      June 8, 2017 at 7:36 pm

      So you bought the editor?

      Except for the editing feature, what convinced you about this product?

  15. Mo
    February 21, 2017 at 9:25 pm

    Thanks, most interesting. A question please......can I convert an excel workbook with several worksheets into an android app?

    I am struggling with this, as excel is obviously not a secure platform. But hoping it is do-able

    • albert e
      March 29, 2017 at 6:10 pm

      the is an addin for excel that can do this, its call, unicorn dreams or something like that

  16. Steve
    October 21, 2016 at 8:08 am

    Foxit has lost the plot, it has become bloated and now wants us to connect to the cloud

  17. Hariom
    July 30, 2016 at 4:21 pm

    Foxit Is The Best

  18. PoOI
    May 13, 2016 at 7:47 pm

    PDF-XChange Editor is my favorite PDF editor/viewer.
    Tracker Software offers excellent PDF Tools that allows to work with bunches of documents without opening any PDF redactor. These Tools are not free but also not expensive.
    And with Tools you will get PDF-XChange Editor and Lite without additional payment.

    • john hepper
      July 23, 2016 at 5:48 am

      Did someone ask whats your favorite?

      • PoOI
        August 16, 2016 at 5:31 pm

        "smart" question. I've added the new information to that topic (it came to me as ad) because I see there is no information about Tools - new software. It's strange, seems for me.

  19. Anonymous
    April 12, 2016 at 11:45 pm

    I am absolutely agree with Steve DJ. PDF-XChange Editor is amazing! I'm using it for years (yes, before it was Viewer). Nothing can compare with its quality and fast work+number of free features+price for full version. New version 6 works well in Windows 10. I like it more that Adobe, Foxit, ... and can recommend to take a look.

    • PoOI
      May 13, 2016 at 7:56 pm


    • Leo
      October 24, 2018 at 7:23 am

      Yes indeed! I use PDF-XChange for many years with Nova PDF Lite. Both have adjustable spharpness wuth adaptable DPI for a charming quality. Great with my bad vision. NOVA PDF comes free once or twice a year with giveawayofthe day and the registered serial number is usable for newer versions!

    • realityhits
      July 29, 2020 at 1:45 pm

      I've lost my menus/tabs after 1-1/2 years and now cannot find them in any menu, U.I., preferences. A lot of times with multiple documents opened it would crash, also would not allow you to "save" document, had to "save as" another file. Oh by the way, after 1 year; bah-bye "updates" support.

  20. Black Thunder
    January 19, 2016 at 10:27 am

    By the way, windows 8 and 10 have built in reader.
    Firefox and Chrome have also.

    • Pavilion g4
      April 2, 2016 at 4:58 pm

      By the way, this post is some 4 years old.

  21. Black Thunder
    January 19, 2016 at 10:25 am

    Foxit Reader is the best!