The 9 Best Free PDF Readers for Windows & Mac

There are plenty of Adobe Acrobat Reader alternatives

A PDF reader is any software that will open a PDF file, probably the most recognizable document format in the world. Your downloadable bank statements, the newsletters from school—they're probably all in PDF format.

More and more operating systems, smartphones, and other devices contain built-in abilities to show PDF files; even your web browser can probably handle it. Even so, a dedicated document reader often has a number of advantages over the built-in reader you may already have, like viewing options, better search, and annotations or other light editing.

Need to edit a PDF, and not just open it for reading? You can convert it to an MS Word format or load it directly in a PDF editor. If you want to make one, use a PDF creation tool.

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PDF open in SumatraPDF
What We Like
  • Open source and lightweight.

  • Available in dozens of languages.

What We Don't Like
  • No anti-aliasing, so some fonts look wonky.

  • Primary menu options are tucked inside another menu.

SumatraPDF is an easy-to-use free PDF reader for Windows. While it is easy and simple to work with, it's also open for heavy customization if you so choose.

Different types of viewing modes are available, like Single Page, Facing, Book View, and Presentation. The latter view is great for distraction-free reading.

There are tons of keyboard shortcuts you can use that make it easier to move around a PDF file, which you can refer to in the online documentation.

You can download SumatraPDF in portable form or install it like a regular program.

PDFlite is another free PDF reader that's based on SumatraPDF. It looks extremely similar and works the same.

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Adobe Acrobat Reader

The Adobe Acrobat Reader DC in Windows 10.
What We Like
  • Handy drag-and-drop feature makes it easy to combine PDFs.

  • Excellent integration with the Adobe Cloud system.

What We Don't Like
  • Accessibility checker identifies problems, but it doesn't tell you how to fix them.

  • The free version is very limited in its features.

Adobe, the creator of the PDF file format, has a free reader called Acrobat Reader.

Tons of features are included: Take snapshots of text and images, view the PDF in Read Mode for a more concise reading pane, and have the program read text out loud.

This program works with Windows, Mac, and Linux. The Adobe Acrobat Reader mobile app is available for Android and iOS.

On the download page, you may be asked to install some McAfee products and other things that are unrelated to this PDF reader. You need to manually deselect these offers if you don't want them.

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MuPDF keyboard shortcuts
What We Like
  • Supports XPS and CBZ files as well.

  • Easy to use.

What We Don't Like
  • Interface is a little too bare bones.

  • Zoom feature is less than perfect.

MuPDF is super lightweight and runs on Windows and Android. Immediately after opening the mupdf.exe file, you'll be prompted to choose a PDF before you even see the program interface. Once you have, there are literally no options to be seen, but instead the full program window is dedicated to showing the PDF.

Click the top left program icon on MuPDF's title window, then select About MuPDF to see all the supported shortcut keys you can use to flip through pages, zoom in, and search for text.

The other way to use this program is with an initial menu. Open mupdf-gl.exe from the same download to use that version.

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Expert PDF Reader

Expert PDF Reader - Free PDF Reader
What We Like
  • Faster than other free options.

  • Intuitive interface.

What We Don't Like
  • Editing features are rather limited.

  • Tries to install other software during set up.

Expert PDF Reader is another option for Windows. You can view bookmarks and a list of pages found in the PDF in an easy-to-read index on the side of the viewing area.

There are also advanced options like signing and adding text to the PDF.

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Nuance PDF Reader

Nuance PDF Reader - Free PDF Reader
© Nuance Communications, Inc.
What We Like
  • Adding videos and images to documents is a breeze.

  • Dictation features make it ideal for the visually impaired.

What We Don't Like
  • You can open only one PDF at a time.

A really valuable search function is included in Nuance PDF Reader, where the words you search for show up with a bit of context for easier understanding as to where the search terms are at in the text.

You can also highlight text, which is great if you're using a PDF for study notes or a reference document.

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PDF-XChange Editor

PDF-XChange Editor
What We Like
  • Premium version is reasonably priced for what you get.

  • Adding and placing text is exceptionally easy.

What We Don't Like
  • PDFs created with the free version often include a big ugly watermark.

  • Doesn't automatically detect fields when creating forms.

PDF-XChange Editor's interface can be a bit nauseating to look at because there are buttons, toolbars, and side panels all over the place. You can easily disable most of these, though, for a much cleaner viewing experience.

In addition to opening a PDF from your own local computer, you can also enter a URL of a PDF file (the document will still be downloaded, but the program does it for you).

You can also add notes, record and attach audio, highlight text, attach files, and add a strike-through to words.

This is for Windows versions all the way back to Windows XP.

Lots of features are only available in the professional version of PDF-XChange Editor, but they're clearly marked as such and aren't difficult to spot.

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Sorax Reader

Sorax Reader with a PDF open
What We Like
  • Fast and lightweight.

  • Free from excess clutter.

What We Don't Like
  • Limited zooming options.

  • Doesn't come with help files.

Here, you'll find all the basic features of a PDF opener, like the ability to search through text, copy text out of the document, zoom, and change the viewing mode.

This program also lets you send the currently opened PDF to someone over email with the Email toolbar button.

Sorax is available for Windows.

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Javelin PDF Reader

Javelin PDF Reader
What We Like
  • Mobile version lets you access and manage metadata.

  • Advanced encryption options.

What We Don't Like
  • Occasional clunky performance.

  • The installation process is unnecessarily complicated.

Javelin PDF Reader is ideal if you're after something minimal. It has no extra features like editing or converting that litters the program interface.

Everything is spotless and easy to read and understand. The search feature isn't the best to be had, but it works well as is.

It can launch a PDF in full screen to make reading easier, and you can just click the screen to move down the PDF pages.

This PDF program runs on Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android.

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Cool PDF Reader

cool pdf reader portable with an open PDF file
What We Like
  • Can be used to convert to other formats (TXT, JPG, etc.).

  • Command icons describe their function on mouse hover.

What We Don't Like
  • Very limited features compared to the alternatives.

  • The help file isn't very helpful.

Cool PDF Reader is light on system resources and comes in a minuscule package, at just under 4 MB for the portable version. It makes sense, then, that it calls itself "the world's smallest PDF viewer."

While it might not require much disk space, it's not the best option available. There isn't a search function, and scrolling isn't the smoothest. However, it still works as a free PDF reader if you don't like the others on this list.

You can install Cool PDF Reader to your computer or use the Standalone Package to use it without installing anything.

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