Saturday, 9 March 2013

Android PDF readers with text reflow: Foxit Mobile beats qPDF and Adobe

Most PDFs were made for printers and big monitors. They often have multiple columns, which looks good on paper but not on small screens. And you usually need to do a lot of horizontal scrolling if you want to keep the letters big enough to read.

Most mobile web browsers rearrange website content to fit your screen. If you want to read PDFs on your phone, you need a PDF reader that can reflow the text to break the lines into chunks that fit a narrow display.

Adobe Reader

Adobe makes bloated clunky apps for Windows, but they made the first free Android PDF reader with text reflow. And their Android app is surprisingly lean and efficient. It behaves quite well too: Adobe Reader for Android won't go online unless you use a feature that really requires internet access.

When you switch on text reflow you can't always increase the size of reflowed text. Even worse, Adobe Reader wraps the text around the pictures (if any), but pictures may end up at unexpected places. If you read scientific papers in Adobe Reader with text reflow switched on, figure legends often appear far away from their figures, which made me look for alternative apps.

Adobe Reader

qPDF Reader

Large files load really slow in qPDF, but once they're loaded all parts of the document display really fast. There's a scroll thumb for quick scrolling through long texts, and you can make bookmarks to find your way back in PDFs with many pages. qPDF doesn't ask for internet access, but as a result PDFs with DRM usually don't work.

When you switch on text reflow qPDF won't show any pictures, and you often get weird formatting. This is why I don't use qPDF.

qPDF Viewer

Foxit Mobile PDF Lite

Foxit opens PDFs really fast if they don't have big complex images in them. It can open PDFs from Dropbox and, and Foxit doesn't seem to use its internet permissions for anything else. I couldn't catch it going online when I opened locally stored files.

You can rotate your documents without rotating your phone by pushing a button. You need this button if you want to rotate your text, because rotating your phone won't rotate the screen even if you want it to.

Foxit can remember your position in a file, which is especially useful for large documents. And it has a thumbnail view to quickly navigate to the page you like. It's got bookmarks too, but they only appear when you swipe from the far left to the right. If you missed that part in the quick start guide you'll never find your bookmarks. A bookmark button in the menu would make things a lot easier.

When you scroll through a PDF it may take a while before the content appears, especially in text reflow view. Pinch-to-zoom only works in single page and continuous view mode. You can't zoom in and out by pinching in text reflow view. On the bright side,  the zoom buttons work really well.

Foxit shows images inline in text reflow view at the right places (figures and figure legends stay together), which is the reason it's my default PDF viewer on my Android now. It's my default PDF reader on Windows too.

Foxit Mobile PDF

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  1. The only free version of ezPDF is a time-limited trial, so it doesn't fit this site.