Best PDF readers for Windows (January 2023): Premium and free PDF viewers

A woman using a smartphone and laptop.
(Image credit: Unsplash)

The best PDF readers for Windows make it hassle-free to view documents on your desktop computer. 

While most modern browsers let you open PDF files online, they often limit you to highlighting and commenting on documents. PDF editors, including free PDF editors, are usually equipped with advanced tools. But when you just need to view and collaborate on documents, a PDF reader is ideal. 

Alongside online collaboration tools, the very best PDF readers for Windows also come equipped with productivity-boosting features from eSign software to PDF converters.

To help you find the right tool for your workflow, we’ve tested the best PDF readers for Windows. We’ve looked at software performance, pricing, user interface and experience. As part of our evaluation, we also explored more powerful tools like OCR software and PDF merger tools.

On a different platform? Try out the best PDF readers for Mac and the best PDF apps for Android. 

Windows PDF readers: which tool is best? 

Why you can trust TechRadar Our expert reviewers spend hours testing and comparing products and services so you can choose the best for you. Find out more about how we test.

Adobe Acrobat DC is the best PDF editor and reader. (opens in new tab)

Adobe Acrobat DC is the best PDF editor and reader.
(opens in new tab)Whether you're reading. editing, converting, or compressing PDFs, Adobe Acrobat is the office standard. Available for a monthly or annual subscription, on desktop and mobile, it's built for power-users and professionals. When we reviewed the tool, we were impressed by the advanced tools, awarding the software 5 stars and saying, "sometimes, the best solution on the market has its reputation for a reason.” 

The best PDF readers for Windows of 2023

(Image credit: Adobe)
Best PDF reader for Windows overall

Reasons to buy

Convert and edit PDF files
Neat file comparison tool
Works across PCs, tablets and smartphones

Reasons to avoid

There are more advanced products out there

Software giant Adobe not only pioneered the PDF, but it has also created a highly popular and comprehensive application that lets you manage such documents effectively. Adobe Acrobat Document Cloud provides you with the tools to download, convert and edit PDF files across computers, tablets and smartphones.

With the software, you can use your smartphone camera to capture and turn any document into a high-quality PDF. There’s also a new file comparison tool, which quickly and accurately analyzes two PDF files to find any differences. That could be handy if you’re looking to compare different drafts of the same piece of work.

What’s more, when you create a PDF document using Acrobat, you’re sent a smart file that you can edit, sign, share and search. You can even use the built-in preview feature to see what the document will look like on different screen sizes and resolutions. And if you’re writing a letter or have been sent an important form, you can add your signature by using the Acrobat app on a touchscreen-enabled device.

If you’re interested in purchasing Acrobat, there are two offerings to pick from. Acrobat Standard DC which lets you create, edit and sign PDF documents. The subscription costs around $13 / £13 / AU$20 per month when paid for annually. However, it only works on Windows devices. Meanwhile, Acrobat Pro DC gives you access to all the listed features – plus it’s also compatible with Mac devices. This service costs around $20 / £20 / AU$30.

If you strictly need a free PDF reader for Windows, there's also Adobe Acrobat Reader DC. It's less effective than Acrobat DC, with ads, but it should serve you well. 

Read our full Adobe Acrobat DC review.

(Image credit: Foxit)
Best budget PDF reader

Reasons to buy

Cloud tools
Collaborative features
Good value for money

Reasons to avoid

No OCR in free version

Foxit has developed a sophisticated PDF management app, with PDF Editor (formerly PhantomPDF) being pushed as a tool that goes well beyond PDF viewing, providing a range of cloud-based tools that allow you to create and customize documents at scale.

Described by the company as a ‘transformative’ PDF application, the software lets you create and modify PDFs while providing a plethora of sophisticated management, security and collaboration features. For instance, you can manage who has access to documents, track who opens them, notify readers of document updates and send document requests to your colleagues.

This software also sports a whole suite of useful editing tools. You can change the layout of a document, rearrange paragraphs, columns and pages, or make your documents look more professional by including stamps, watermarks, headers, footers and so forth. You can also merge PDFs and split PDFs into new files.

Should you be mulling a purchase, the good news is that there’s a free trial so you can test out the software first.

If you want more, the cheapest subscription offered is the cloud solution at around $50 / £45 / AU$75 per year.

Read our full Foxit PDF review.

(Image credit: Soda PDF)
Best online PDF reader for Windows

Reasons to buy

Plenty of smart features
Compatible with Google Drive and more

Reasons to avoid

Not cheap

Soda PDF is one of the best PDF readers for Windows for both individual users and businesses. It offers a full suite of cloud-based PDF tools through either home or premium editions. 

When we tested out Soda PDF, we discovered a versatile online PDF editor with plenty of tools for  document management, whether it's tweaking minor typos or more or less starting from scratch. 

With the software, you’re able to review, annotate, send and track documents from a single comprehensive user interface. You can also connect Soda PDF to Google Drive, OneDrive, Dropbox, Evernote and Box accounts, which makes it easier to download and distribute documents.

Another great thing about the application is that it comes with a batch processing feature, allowing you to create and convert multiple PDF files at the same time. There’s an e-sign function as well, which you can use to prepare and send PDF-based contracts to clients or partners. What’s more, you can track and get reminders on all the documents you distribute through the app.

Plus, if you use a range of devices within your company, the software works not just for Windows, but also Mac, Linux, iOS and Android devices. 

Overall, PDF power-users prepared to pay for the premium features will gain the most from Soda PDF. And it's certainly not one for those looking for an offline PDF reader.

Read our full Soda PDF review.

(Image credit: WinZip)
Best PDF reader for Windows only

Reasons to buy

Simple and elegant interface
Easy to use

Reasons to avoid

Annual subscription may not offer value to all
Some occasional glitches and odd design choices

WinZip PDF Pro is so dedicated to viewing PDFs that it's the first thing you'll see when you open this top PDF reader for Windows. 

In fact, when we reviewed the software, we found this constant nudge to make it our default PDF reader on Windows, that it started getting mildly irritating. Still, overlook this minor grip and you'll find a stellar PDF reader fully loaded with tools for editing, manipulating documents. This isn't just a PDF reader,

You'll find all the usual tools - and simply, too, since the interface is clean and elegant navigation is incredibly easy. Overall, we were left with the impression that anything we needed to do with our PDF documents was largely possible in WinZip PDF Pro. 

Hardware requirements are minimal, so it's an ideal PDF reader for low-end PCs. The software is available for an annual subscription of $75 / £78 / AU$90 - about average for the features on offer here. 

Read our full WinZip PDF Pro review

(Image credit: Kofax)
Best PDF reader with enterprise-level tools

Reasons to buy

Used by major enterprises
Lets you create, edit and annotate documents

Reasons to avoid

A tad expensive

Another notable PDF management software platform for individuals and enterprises is Power PDF, an easy-to-use piece of software that lets you create, edit, annotate and share documents quickly. It’s used by a number of large organizations and governments.

There are several versions of the software, all of which offer different features. The Standard edition lets you create, convert, combine and edit documents, fill in forms and share PDF files. It also lets you turn documents like invoices and receipts into PDFs through a scanning and OCR feature.

Meanwhile, the Power PDF Advanced package is targeted at business users. While offering all the same features of the Standard edition, it comes with collaboration, security and redaction abilities. You can access documents anywhere and at any time through the cloud, too.

Enterprises can get a quote for volume licensing of the software as well. By going down this route, firms get one deployment package with a single license.

Read our full Kofax Power PDF review

(Image credit: Soft Xpansion)

6. Perfect PDF Ultimate

Best Windows PDF reader for beginners

Reasons to buy

Very user-friendly
Solid functionality
Downloadable from Microsoft Store

Reasons to avoid

Tools are too basic

SoftXpansion has developed Perfect PDF Ultimate, which is described by the firm as an ‘all-in-one’ application for processing PDF files. Available to buy direct from the Microsoft Store, this user-friendly software is perfect for viewing, editing and creating PDF documents.

Features include the ability to edit page content, generate interactive forms, comment on existing documents, as well as being able to convert, combine and split files. You can also add e-signatures and encryption to important business files.

Thanks to its simple and intuitive interface, Perfect PDF Ultimate is a great app for beginners, especially if they’re looking to dabble with PDF editing. However, the software could feel too basic for some users. There’s also no option to convert PDFs to other formats or vice versa, so you may need to consider other options if conversion is a priority.

Windows PDF reader: Buying advice

How to choose the best PDF reader for Windows for you?

When it comes to choosing the best PDF reader on Windows for you, you’ll want to gauge your needs correctly to select the right product. If you don’t often use PDFs, then it’ll be smart to get a low-cost or free PDF reader with limited functionality. But if you’re regularly working with PDFs and even need PDF editing or file conversion, then a more powerful software will be helpful. 

For those who read many physical documents and need to scan and store them, a PDF reader with the OCR (Optical Character Recognition) feature will be quite handy. In case you plan to access sensitive documents through the PDF reader, you’ll want an application that is secure and offers advanced security features.

While Adobe dominates the PDF field - the company invented the format, after all - we have tested out the best Adobe Acrobat alternatives

Alternative PDF readers and editors to consider

PDF Exchange (opens in new tab) is a free PDF editor that's rich with features. Aside from being able to view, create, and edit PDFs, there are additional options to OCR and digital sign documents. PDF-XChange Editor Plus is an upgraded version which allows for the creation and editing of PDF forms. While PDF Exchange Editor is freeware, you can pay a nominal fee to get a version with support. 

Nitro PDF Reader (opens in new tab) is another free PDF reader that allows users to read, edit, and annotate PDF files. Nitro PDF offers a couple of key differences to a lot of other free PDF software, though. The first is that it allows for the creation and editing of PDF forms. The other is that it has a sleek and simple interface that uses tabbed menus, making it look like it took inspiration from Microsoft Word in presentation. Sharing and signing are also available.

STDU Viewer (opens in new tab) - aka, Scientific and Technical Document Utility Viewer - is a freeware viewer that works with multiple file formats. It aims to be an all-in-one viewer for most common file formats used in scientific documentation, such as PDF, TIFF, DjVu, XPS, JBIG2, WWF, FB2, TXT, TCR, PalmDoc(PDB), MOBI, AZW, EPub, DCX, as well as offers a range of supported image file types. It comes with a tabbed interface, multilingual support, and can also work with multi-layered text documents and convert them to single layer document file.

Adobe Reader DC (opens in new tab) is probably the most famous read-only viewer for PDF files, not least because it's free and has often been integrated with web browsers. The positives, apart from being free, include the stated aim of making PDFs viewable regardless of the operating system used. The negative, of course, is that you can't edit and annotate files in the free viewer and you will need one of the options above to do that.

How we test the best PDF readers for Windows

To test the best PDF readers for Windows, we analyzed the features and performance of many applications. We looked at how quickly the software would load PDFs, especially if the file had a lot of images or was large in size. We considered the usability and simplicity of the app interface, and whether it was suited for beginners or experts. 

We evaluated free and paid options, and checked if the apps were for online or offline use. For paid software, we looked at their free trials and how comprehensive the trials were. We also looked into the pricing plans, and whether there were discounts on bulk purchases. 

We've also featured the best PDF compressors. (opens in new tab)

Brian has over 30 years publishing experience as a writer and editor across a range of computing, technology, and marketing titles. He has been interviewed multiple times for the BBC and been a speaker at international conferences. His specialty on techradar is Software as a Service (SaaS) applications, covering everything from office suites to IT service tools. He is also a science fiction and fantasy author, published as Brian G Turner.

With contributions from