The Best Free PDF Readers

These picks make annotations and more a breeze.

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Most of us encounter PDFs at some point or another, be it when e-signing employment-related documents, downloading a product manual or reading comics or ebooks. The default PDF reader application on your Android phone or Windows computer may not cut it, though, especially if you need to accomplish more advanced tasks such as notating a document, splitting a PDF into individual pages or more.

That's where these programs come in. Turn to these PDF readers when you need something better than what's already available on your phone or computer.

01
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Foxit Reader

Foxit (Softonic)

Strong points: Microsoft Office-Style "ribbon" toolbar design, PDF editing and creating in addition to viewing, available on a wide variety of platforms

The Foxit PDF reader will be especially intuitive to those who work with Microsoft Office, as this application uses a similar ribbon toolbar with a variety of tabs that can be customized depending on the actions you need to access most frequently. Foxit also supports touchscreen Windows devices, so you can enable Touch Mode to interact with the program through your fingers if you have a touchscreen PC.

Advanced and additional features include the ability to protect PDF files with passwords, certificates and more; sign PDFs digitally; combine multiple PDFs and access PDFs from various sources such as Google Drive, DropBox and OneDrive.

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02
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Adobe Reader

Adobe

Strong points: Intuitive design familiar to many (especially on mobile), available across a wide variety of platforms, extensive annotation and editing feature set, ability to e-sign documents.

The desktop versions of Adobe Acrobat Reader are actually on the clunky side, with less-than-intuitive menus and options that can make simple things take longer than they should. The smartphone version of the application, however, is a different story. The layout is straightforward, and you can accomplish plenty, from opening PDFs to annotating them with drawing tools or sticky notes to scanning documents with your smartphone's camera. You can even scan multiple documents and then save them as a single PDF.

Other features include the ability to e-sign documents using your finger, print documents from your device and reorder and delete pages in PDFs. You can also save PDFs as Microsoft Excel or Word files that can be edited.

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03
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Preview

Apple

Strong points: Pre-installed on Macs so you don't have to download it, easy-to-use interface, annotation and photo-editing capabilities, ability to e-sign documents.

Baked directly into the Mac operating system (meaning you don't have to download it if you have an Apple computer), Preview is a great app for viewing and annotating documents. If you simply need to open and read PDFs occasionally on your computer, you definitely can do without downloading an alternative.

But more than just accomplishing the basics, Preview also lets you annotate and sign documents, fill in forms, edit images and more. It's more of a powerhouse than you might think.

Platforms: macOS

04
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MuPDF

MuPDF

Strong points: Simple and straightforward, lightweight, basic annotation, PDF conversion.

If your PDF-reading and -editing needs are relatively straightforward, MuPDF should do the trick. This application, available for Android and Windows as well as Apple's platforms, is lightweight, which is programming speak for a download that doesn't take up much memory and is on the simple side as far as functionality goes.

You can fill out text forms, add annotations to documents and convert PDFs to a variety of other file types (including HTML, SVG and CBZ). The interface is rather bare-bones, which can actually be a huge plus if the option-heavy toolbars of Microsoft Office-type readers are overwhelming to you.

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05
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WPS Office

WPS Office

Strong points: Wide variety of functionality beyond just PDF viewing. For example, it converts other file types to PDFs, lets you view annotations on PDFs you open and more.

WPS Office is actually an all-in-one Microsoft Office type application (as its name implies), so it does more than simply allow you to open and view PDFs. Still, it can accomplish that, and it lets you add bookmarks to PDFs and view annotations as well. It's not the heaviest option on this list when it comes to PDFs — and note that it doesn't include editing abilities like annotation — but if you simply want to read PDFs on your computer or smartphone, it has you covered. And it does allow you to convert other file types to PDF.

Non-PDF-related features include the ability to access and edit documents from cloud drives, spreadsheets, a writer tool and a presentation tool.

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06
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Nitro PDF Reader

Nitro PDF Reader

Strong points: Create PDFs from basically any Windows program, sign documents, add password protection to PDFs and more.

This PDF reader is only available for Windows, so you won't be able to use it for PDF editing and viewing on your phone. However, if a desktop program fits the bill, Nitro PDF Reader has plenty to offer. It lets you create PDFs from a huge variety of Windows applications with more than 300 file formats, and all you have to do is drag and drop a file to create a PDF.

You can sign documents, password-protect documents, add annotations, highlight text, add underlines and strikethroughs and more. Nitro PDF Reader is probably one of the most popular alternatives to Adobe Reader due to its generous selection of features.

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07
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SumatraPDF

Sumatra

Strong points: Straightforward and lightweight program, supports generous amount of file types, speedy.

SumatraPDF is another lightweight option, and in addition to functioning as a PDF reader, it can open and view ePub, MOBI, CHM, XPS, DjVu, CBZ and CBR files. Because it doesn't include many extras or frills, the program is known for opening documents quickly and generally being a fast application. It includes a variety of viewing modes as well.

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08
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Google Play Books

Google

Strong points: Solid pick for e-books and comics, especially if you already use Google Play Books to buy and read titles.

If most of your PDF needs involve reading e-books rather than marking up documents, this may be the program for you. In addition to letting you upload EPUB and PDF files to your library, Google Play Books lets you highlight text and sync across devices so you won't lose your place in a book.

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09
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Javelin PDF Reader

Drumlin

Strong points: Straightforward PDF reading, compatible with encrypted documents, the company (Drumlin Security) has a strong focus on software security. 

Javelin is one final relatively bare-bones option, available across all the main computer and mobile platforms. It can help you accomplish the basics like viewing standard PDF files and is also compatible with encrypted PDF files. 

This is truly a PDF reader, as you can't do much on the editing side with this download. You can annotate documents, but beyond that the feature set is more about the consumption side of things, with the ability to bookmark pages, click on hyperlinks and highlight text. It's definitely not a bells-and-whistles option, but if all the fancy extras are what you're after, you should find what you're looking for with some of the other options on this list.

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