How to read a PDF on an Android tablet

Update: This post was written in late 2010, a time when it was difficult to find a PDF app for a cheap Android tablet. That is no longer true.

If you need a PDF app today, look in Google Play. If you can't access it, try the Amazon Appstore. If that is inaccessible then the apps mentioned below will tide you over until you find something better.

If you are reading this then you have probably found yourself in need of a PDF reading app. (If you're in a hurry, scroll down to the end.)

So did I, and after looking here and there I found a number of free PDF readers. In order to save myself some trouble next time around, I pulled together a list of 7 apps. All are free and can be downloaded from your web browser.

Is this every PDF reader? No. Just the ones I could find easily and link to.

I ended up getting the apps from only 2 sources. One is the SlideMe App Store and the other is Freeware Lovers. In total, I checked 7 sites. The other 5 had poorer selections and didn't have any app that I couldn't find at the first 2.

Update (29/5/2011): Amazon has launched their Appstore, so you might want to check there for free PDF Readers. I found Aldiko there, but it requires a later version of Android than i have on my Pandigital tablet.

If you can, you might want to look at the Android Market. I'm sure there are PDF apps in the Marketplace but since I can't access it I couldn't test them.

I was disappointed with all the apps. None of the apps had any annotation abilities, support for table of contents, or a zoom setting that cropped the white space. I was also surprised that only one had text search. I have a 6 year old version of Adobe Reader for WinCE that could meet or beat all of the abilities of all of these apps. That's pathetic.

Some apps I didn't test

Several of the office suites for Android include PDF viewers. If you have one then you might want to check it and see if it works for you. I also didn't test anything that I couldn't find outside of the Android Market. I'm sure there are PDF apps in the Marketplace but since I can't access it I couldn't test them.

Update: Kindle, Montano, Bluefire Reader for Android, and Aldiko can display DRM-free PDFs.

DroidReader

(SlideMe, v1.5+) Page turns and opening the file were reasonably fast. It has a go-to-page and zoom options, but it lacks reflow, search, and TOC support. Also, whenever I tried to zoom in, it crashed. (It's still under development). But it does have little on-screen page turn buttons in the bottom corners.

Update: The developer behind DroidReader left a comment about features he's planning to add.

Update 29/5/2011: It appears to be broken. I can't get it to open any PDFs.

PDF Viewer

(SlideMe, v1.5+) It doesn't do page turns, only scrolling. It has zoom,  go-to-page, and text search options (this may not be working right) but no reflow or TOC support. I think this one would be good for a smaller screen (under 5"), but it was a waste on a 9" tablet. On a smaller screen the scrolling could be a useful feature.

Update 29/5/2011: This app has been updated since I reviewed it last, but it doesn't appear to have any new features.

Adobe Reader 9.0.2

(Android Freeware) Based on the ones I've tried, this was the best app if you have a large screen tablet. It only has the fit to page width option, but it also has text reflow. There's no search, page jump, or TOC support. But I like that you can either scroll or turn the page. This was also the only app to find my PDFs and list them without having to find them manually.

Adobe Reader 10.0

(Android Freeware) This couldn't install. It requires v2.1, unfortunately.

VuDroid

(Android Freeware) This is a basic app with only a page jump option, but no search, reflow, TOC support, zoom. You can scroll but not turn the page.

PDFDroid

(Android Freeware) This is pretty much the same app as VuDroid. It only had a page jump option, but no search, reflow, TOC support, zoom. You can scroll but not turn the page.

Addendum

All of the PDF readers were tested on a 9" Android tablet running v2.0 and the Spare Parts app. I couldn't find compatibility info on several apps so I don't know that they will work with earlier versions of Android. Also, some of these apps might require the Spare Parts app  in order to display full screen on a large tablet so you might want to install it.

36 thoughts on “How to read a PDF on an Android tablet

  1. Mike Cane found a video of ezPDF by unidocs on a rooted NOOKcolor aweek ago. It might not have annotations (depending on what “bookmarking with its description” means), but otherwise looked very good. However, it is 2.1 and up.

  2. The DroidReader update I mentioned a while back still isn’t out because I’m finishing off “a zoom setting that cropped the white space”. I’ll let you know when it’s out.
    I have a couple of questions for you, if you can spare a moment to answer them:
    1) I haven’t found any applications that do acceptable text reflow, probably because I read mostly technical documents with lots of illustrations etc. In your opinion what application (on any platform) does the best text reflow?
    2) For annotations, how important would you rate the ability to export your annotations and read them in a different viewer? Off the top of my head, options would be: storing them so that they only appear on the device where they were created, or saving in Xournal format, or saving a revised PDF (that’s quite a big job).

    1. The only good reflow that I know of is Adobe Reader Mobile (their reading app SDK). This is one feature you can skip. Due to the way Adobe designed PDF, reflow isn’t as useful as one might think (all those lost graphs and charts).

      For annotations, Xournal would be a great option. Any chance you could do a full port of the app? (I love Xournal.)

  3. Another good pdf reader for Android devices is Repligo reader. It has the standard zoom and TOC features, and a reflow (or text view) which actually works pretty well. It runs very nicely on my HTC Desire.

  4. I installed the EZpdf viewer from the marketplace for a dollar for my Archos 70 after being disappointed with the Adobe app. EZpdf viewer supports bookmarks and lets you add new ones. I also like the fact you can highlight and copy text, although no annotation feature like I have seen in some reading apps on my IPOD. I could paste the text into a separate note taking app easily enough however.
    The ability to highlight and copy text is disabled if you use the “Text Reflow” feature. It also has a feature to crop white space which they call “Fitting to Text Column”). If I hold my tablet horizontally and crop the white space, the text is quite readable.

  5. I recently moved from WinMo6.5 to Android 2.1 (Samsung Intercept) and found Adobe Reader quite underwhelming. In WinMo it was much better than on Android. My phone came with a full version of ThinkFree Office, but the market had a Lite version. I was impressed with how many more choices there are in the ThinkFree to customize your view of a .pdf including Page View and Reading View, 3 display modes, search and zoom. 2nd level menu offers jump to specific pages and bookmarks.

  6. I need a PDF viewer to Android 3 running in a Acer Iconia A500.
    The reader that I need must be able to zoom more than 200x (as Adobe Reader).
    What do you recomend?

  7. Hello:

    I have been looking ALL OVER for a pdf reader that was in Android as it is in Windows! Finally, and a BIG THANK YOU for the tip about the Foxit Reader for Android! I have just installed it and it means my search is over.

    Again, thank you so much!

  8. You really should check out qPDF Viewer (free) and qPDF Notes (not free,but with form fill and markup capabilities as well as viewing).
    Both Android PDF apps offer fast rendering, touch-based pinch and spread zoom, customizable toolbar, continuous page view, text search to jump in the document, without requiring a connection.
    qPDF Notes also enables filling PDF forms, adding graphical and text markups and notes, sticky notes, and advanced sending options (email and more).
    Both 100% Android PDF products are built on Qoppa’s proprietary PDF engine. Android 2.1 is required to run these apps but since Android 3.0 is already out this seems reasonable.

  9. I was wondering if you knew anything about a reader that can be installed as an add on to the browser. For example if the Pdf is contained inside a webpage

  10. Found an App called VUViewer which finally worked with the old Pandigital 7″ software to view PDFs. Has zero real capabilities but it works enough so that I was able to read an entire book on it. It does have the skip to page feature.
    My device wouldn’t intall Kobo, Nook etc so this is as good as I could get.
    After the fact, I found this thread and went ahead and downloaded Adobe Reader 9.02 as first suggested which also installed on the Pandigital.
    Just wanted to add in my 2 cents here since there may be others out there with a hand-me-down tablet like me that thought it would be easier than this.

  11. I want to read only text type pdf files in a tablet. And nothing I require. Which tablet should I buy? Plz help me…

    If there is WI-FI it would be good, but without doesn’t matter… So plz reply…..

  12. I really recommend ezPDF. I ended up buying it when I had some PDF files with embedded links, which linked to other parts of the PDF or other PDF files, and none of the PDF readers I found could handle that. It was well worth the purchase.

  13. Hi, the list you have looks great and extensive. But if I may add, I think Xodo is one of the best and new rising stars on the Android Market for PDF readers, and it’s completely free. If you are interested, you can find out more on the Xodo website.

    1. Actually, i would say the list is old and outdated. It was written for a time when most budget Android devices didn’t have Android Market, and finding apps was truly a pain.

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