We’ve previously looked at which family of apps—dedicated PDF readers or web browsers—is better for viewing and managing PDFs.
You should check out the full article if you’d like to read a detailed analysis. The TL;DR version is that, even though it was close, we decided dedicated PDFs readers were the more robust choice.
But since we wrote that article, Microsoft has added new PDF-related tools to its Edge browser. Now you can type in text fields, rotate your documents PDFs, add sticky notes to your files, and a whole lot more.
So, can Edge now rival the most popular PDF app Adobe Reader? And how does it compare with its direct competitor Google Chrome? Let’s take a closer look.
A More Powerful Edge
Edge received its new capabilities as part of the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update. As long as you’re using Windows build 1709 or later, you will be able to use the new features.
Before Microsoft added the new tools, Edge’s PDF capabilities were minimal. Yes, you could navigate through page numbers, zoom in and out, and print your files, but that was about the extent of it. Indeed, the only way you could search a document’s text was if your file was saved in the IRS format.
Thankfully, that’s all changed.
Microsoft’s recent updates aim to put the PDF capabilities of Edge on a par with Firefox. The PDF tools in Mozilla’s browser are widely considered to be the best outside of dedicated PDF apps. Perhaps more importantly, the changes attempt to make Edge a more full-featured PDF tool than Google Chrome.
In addition to the arrival of fillable fields, orientation tools, and sticky notes, you can also access a variety of viewing configurations, annotate PDFs with a digital pen, add digital signatures, use Windows Ink, and listen to a machine reading of your document.
We’ll look at each of the new features in turn and discuss how they compare to the equivalent tools on Chrome and Adobe Reader.
Fillable Text Fields
Support for fillable fields on PDFs is a significant time saver. You won’t need to download and print the document, fill it in manually, then scan it back into your machine.
Chrome and Adobe both support fillable PDFs and have done for some time. But in our opinion, Edge’s support for fillable fields goes above and beyond the Chrome offering for one simple reason: the ease with which you can save your file.
On Chrome, you can’t save a filled-out PDF form. Instead, you need to “Print” the document using a Print to PDF tool. Doesn’t sound so bad, but the frustration arises if you want to change one of your fields later. Once the document is “printed,” you can’t make any further changes; you’d need to start again.
Edge gives you a typical save dialogue, meaning you can reopen the document and make further changes in the future.
The ability to annotate PDFs is an underrated feature. If you’re collaborating on documents, giving feedback on a piece of work, or merely brainstorming layout ideas, it’ll save you both time and paper.
Edge offers two basic annotation tools. You can use a highlighter in multiple colors to bring people’s attention to a specific part of a document, or you can add notes for other people to read.
To start making notes on a PDF, highlight a part of the text. The annotation menu will pop up. In addition to the highlighter and the note tool, you’ll also see buttons for Copy and Cortana.
Edge is ahead of Chrome here; Google’s browser does not offer any annotation tools by default. Adobe Reader’s annotation tools are almost identical; just select some text, and you can highlight it, add a strikethrough line, and add notes.
Edge is now fully integrated with Windows Ink. Neither Chrome nor Adobe Reader offers a similar feature.
Windows Ink allows you to annotate a PDF document in freehand.
To start using Windows Ink on a PDF document in Edge, click on the pen icon in the upper right-hand corner of the window. It’s part of Edge’s toolbar rather than being on the pop-up PDF toolbar. You can use a freehand pen, a highlighter, and an eraser. There’s also an option for touch writing.
Furthermore, Windows Ink allows you to digitally sign documents without subscribing to a service like DocuSign. Even if you only use your mouse to create your signature, it’s legally binding under both the Transactions Act and E-Sign Act. Both acts came into force during the Clinton era.
Note: You will see the most benefit from Windows Ink if you have a touchscreen computer or use a dedicated drawing tablet. As the picture above attests, it’s not easy to draw accurately with a mouse!
Listening to a Document
Listening to a document is a fantastic way to pick up on typos and grammar errors you might have missed. And, of course, it’s a boon to anyone who struggles to read the on-screen text and needs accessibility tools to use their machine.
Once again, the addition of this feature puts Edge on a par with Adobe Reader and ahead of Chrome.
To listen to a reading of your PDF document in Edge, just click on the Read Aloud button on the toolbar in the upper right-hand corner of your screen. When the reading starts, you can use the on-screen controls to pause the narration and jump forwards and backward.
In Adobe Reader, go to View > Read Out Loud > Activate Read Out Loud, then View > Read Out Loud > Read This Page Only or Read to End of Document.
Chrome users have to rely on text to speech extensions.
Edge has finally introduced an expanded set of layout options.
There are two buttons on the PDF toolbar that you need to be aware of. The first is the Rotate button. Clicking it will rotate your document 90 degrees clockwise. Click the button four times to rotate through a full 360 degrees.
Alongside the rotate button is the Layout button. Click on it to bring up a sub-menu. The sub-menu lets you view either one or two pages on your screen at a time and also provides a way to enable continuous scrolling.
Adobe Reader offers the same layout and rotation options and uses continuous scrolling by default. Chrome also uses continuous scrolling and has a rotate button, but there’s no way to see two pages on-screen at the same time.
Edge Moves Ahead of Chrome for PDFs
It’s impossible to deny that Edge now offers users a more full-featured PDF experience than Google Chrome. Indeed, it’s arguably the most powerful browser-based PDF tool you will find.
And for many casual users, it’s a viable alternative to Adobe Reader; all the commonly-needed PDF tools are present.
Power users, however, will still find that it comes up short. The extra features offered by dedicated PDF readers combined with the occasional compatibility issues you’ll encounter when using a browser make it a non-contest.