PDF has long been a favored file format for businesses, academia, and several other professional areas.
That’s because of its relatively smaller size (compared to Word and other document formats), consistent display attributes, and the fidelity of the information contained in a PDF.
In the past, Adobe’s plat at the top of the global PDF market was practically unshakable.
However, even though it still leads the pack in market share and technical specifications, it does not appeal to markets like China, where the culture and habits of consumers are vastly different from the rest of the world.
Arising from this need for localization of software, companies like Foxit and Wanxing Technology have released powerful PDF software that is more suitable to the habits of the local user base.
With that, the question “which is the better PDF tool to use?” has become an important one for software users.
Seen from a user experience perspective, this article compares the features and usability of three key players in the market: Adobe Acrobat Pro DC, Wondershare PDFelement Pro, and Foxit PDF Business Edition.
For the sake of this evaluation, the tests were all run on the same Windows 7 Professional PC with a 100mpbs Internet connection.
The versions of the software were all the latest releases at the time the evaluations were conducted.
PC and mobile device performance is far greater today than just a few years ago.
However, the preference for lightweight software still remains.
Users tend to favor products with smaller installation footprints and simpler processes.
So, let’s first consider the sizes of the installation files for all three products.
Adobe Acrobat Pro DC is 20.02KB according to the CNET download’ data.
Foxit’s Advanced PDF Editor’s download package is about 834MB, which is even larger than that of Adobe.
By contrast, the downloader file for Wondershare PDFelement Pro is less than 1MB, although the actual software is larger at about 54MB.
Next is the installation process.
The installation process for Adobe’s PDF editor is a little tedious because you first need to get the 20MB downloader, then log in to your Adobe account to download the actual file and install Acrobat Pro DC and Creative Cloud, which is included.
It takes about 20 minutes for the whole process to be completed.
Foxit offers a direct install option but with some plug-in selections during the installation process. The total time is about 10 minutes for downloading and installing the PDF editor.
PDFelement Pro is the smallest size so the download is rapid and the installation is done in about 20 seconds.
UI (User Interface)
From a design standpoint, Acrobat Pro DC seems relatively simple, and there are limited options in the main toolbar. That’s because the bulk of features has been pushed into the Tools menu, which has a lot of options.
Foxit’s PDF Editor has all the features presented visibly on the toolbar, but this makes it look quite complex and hard to follow, especially for first-time users.
The PDFelement interface is clean and minimalistic.
The toolbar options are limited, and only the frequently used tasks like PDF conversion and batch process features are displayed on the welcome page.
The appearance of all three editors when there is a PDF document open in them is shown in the screenshots below:
Adobe Acrobat Pro DC
When you compare all three interface designs, you immediately notice that Acrobat and PDFelement have chosen simplicity as the preferred approach. Foxit has given its PDF editor a Word-like appearance.
As to which one is the best, that depends on user preference and individual needs.
Performance and Usability
Each of these three PDF editors has unique capabilities and differences in terms of functionality. Rather than comparing features, let’s look at some key performance touch-points.
The mark-up feature allows users to review and comment on PDF documents and is a widely used functionality.
Naturally, all three PDF editors support this feature with extensive tools like underlining, highlighting, signatures, pencil drawings, strikethroughs, and so on.
However, PDFelement and Foxit’s Advanced PDF Editor both offer some unique mark-up tools not seen in Acrobat Pro DC, such as the wave tool and a few others.
Acrobat and PDFelement offer mark-up tools directly from the toolbar, while Foxit’s software does not.
It should be mentioned that PDFelement also has a signature option in the annotation toolbar, unlike both the other applications.
– Editing PDFs
As professional software, all three editors have rich PDF editing functionality, which includes font modifications, text formatting and editing, hyperlink addition, the ability to attach files, control over image attributes, etc.
Foxit does offer one unique feature here: the ability to add video and audio content.
The other two applications currently don’t support it, although there’s a workaround for video files to be embedded as comments in PDFelement.
Nonetheless, during the evaluation, Foxit didn’t immediately show images or video and audio files that were inserted.
At times, the dialog box to add these elements would not appear. By contrast, adding images in PDFelement and Acrobat is a very fast process.
We also noticed a few details when inserting hyperlinks into PDF.
Acrobat and Foxit have a two-step process to insert a link, while PDFelement only requires one step.
This kind of operational simplicity leads some users to think that PDFelement is similar to Acrobat, which isn’t true at all.
As a matter of fact, when you look at the link insertion dialog box in Foxit, it’s almost a shadow of the corresponding feature in Acrobat.
PDFelement, on the other hand, takes a fresh new approach as far as functionality and performance are concerned.
– File Conversion and Export
All three utilities offer extensive ranges of file format options for converting and exporting, but PDFelement has a dedicated function for batch conversion and export.
All you need to do is set the output format for all files and convert them in as large a batch as you need.
Aside from batch conversion for exporting PDFs, PDFelement also offers other batch processes such as Bates Numbering, adding watermarks, extracting data, and even encryption.
Overall, PDFelement sports quite an impressive feature set that focuses on usefulness, speed, and ease-of-use.
PDFelement offers simple subscription plans for the Standard and Professional versions on Windows and macOS systems.
Foxit’s PDF editor comes in Standard and Business flavors for Windows and a single edition for Mac.
They are all available as one-time, monthly, or annual licenses.
For Adobe Acrobat Pro DC, there are options for Pro DC for both Windows and Mac users but the Standard version is not available for Mac.
There are also a bunch of other options for team licensing.
Verdict and Summary
All three PDF editors are adequate for daily PDF tasks, but if you look at it from the perspective of users in the Chinese market, Foxit and PDFelement clearly have the advantage.
For example, Bates Numbering is not available in Adobe Acrobat Pro DC but both Foxit and PDFelement offer this feature.
Overall, the lightweight nature, agility, and powerful features of PDFelement Pro make it the most compelling of the three PDF editors evaluated here.
In addition, the starkly simple UI that masks the rich features inside shows Wondershare’s ability to capture the pulse of modern PDF users and translate that into a highly functional and attractively designed product.
From a pricing standpoint, PDFelement’s annual subscriptions and lifetime licenses are the most cost-effective of the three utilities showcased here.
Acrobat is notorious for being too pricey for many users like small businesses, startups, and self-employed professionals who really need strong PDF functionality for their daily work.
There’s no question that it is a ‘master-level’ PDF tool and still offers several advantages in terms of PDF version compatibility, advanced features, and so on.
However, as software localization has spurred companies like Wanxing and Foxit to invest heavily in developing pro-caliber PDF utilities, there’s bound to be a massive shift in user preference in the domestic PDF software market in China.
Companies like these have an unparalleled understanding of local sensibilities and will reap the benefits of being home-grown businesses.
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