Comparing PDF Readers

If you want to read PDF files on your Pocket PC, you have a couple of choices in PDF Readers.  In this article I will evaluate and compare the three most popular PDF Readers for Pocket PC:  Foxit Reader for Pocket PC; PocketXpdf; and Adobe Reader for Pocket PC 2.0.

Foxit Reader for Pocket PC (Beta 1.2, Build 0602)

NOTE: Foxit Reader no longer offers the Pocket PC version on its website. You might be able to find a working version of Foxit Reader for Pocket PC if you search the internet.

Foxit Reader is the lightest PDF reader – it does not consume near the resources as Adobe Reader.  The Beta 1.2 version of Foxit Reader has greatly enhanced the functionality of this PDF Reader.

Tapping Menu > View, you are now able to select a Reflow option. Reflowed documents display much better on the Pocket PC screen, but because the margins are justified, some of the spacing is weird.
Foxit8  Foxit9

Foxit Beta 1.2 provides many zooming options

The Actual Size, Fit Page, Fit Width and Fit Height options are not available when Reflow is selected. Selecting the Zoom To option allows you to set the magnification to any where from 10% to 400%
Foxit2 Foxit10

If you do not use the reflow option, you can Zoom In and Zoom out by tapping the plus (+) or minus (-) icons displayed on the bottom of the screen or by tapping the stylus on the Pocket PC screen.  When you zoom into a document you can move around the document by dragging the stylus up and down or left and right across the screen, or by tapping the document minimap (see the small gray picture of the document found in the lower right hand corner of the screen).  When moving around the document, the text blurs until you stop moving the stylus (see the screenshot on the right).  I think it would be tedious to read a large document on Foxit Reader in this manner.  Instead select the Reflow option for a better reading experience.

Foxit5 image

You can view the document in full screen mode and you can turn the document minimap feature off for a better viewing experience.

Zoom > Fit Height / Full screen mode Reflow on / Full Screen mode:  The weird justified spacing detracts from the fluidity of the text.
Foxit3 Foxit12

You can easily rotate the document from portrait to landscape.


Foxit Reader recognizes pre-existing bookmarks in documents and remembers your place in the document, so if you exit the application in the middle of a document and then reopen it later on, the document will open in the place where you left off.

PocketXpdf (v0.5)

PocketXpdf takes a little longer to open a file, and moving from page to page is quite a bit slower than for Foxit Reader or Adobe Reader.

PocketXpdf’ provides a “View Text Only” option that removes all of the document’s formatting (including paragraph indentations) and “reflows” the text to fit the smaller mobile device screen.

Document when first opened in PocketXpdf. The print is quite small and you’d have to scroll up and down and left and right to read the document. Document set to “View Text Only” mode – notice that the new paragraph, which starts with, “Once the votes……,” is no longer indented.
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You can view documents in full screen mode and adjust the font size from 11 up to 16.  PocketXpdf also supports VGA screens.

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PocketXpdf includes a Zoom In and Zoom Out option, but zooming is very slow and I encountered memory problems before I could zoom the text to a comfortable size for reading.

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Adobe Reader for Pocket PC 2.0

NOTE: Adobe no longer provides a Pocket PC or Windows Mobile version of Adobe Reader. You can find a link where you can download a working version of Adobe Reader on my article, entitled “Adobe Reader for Pocket PC.”

Adobe Reader for Pocket PC has the largest footprint and is a memory hog.  But compared to the other PDF readers, it offers the most options, provides the most comfortable reading experience and accommodates the widest variety of documents.   Some of the options that keep me coming back to Adobe Reader include:

Adobe Reader recognizes tagged PDF files and reflows the files to work with a smaller mobile device screen.  You can also see that reflowing documents preserves existing formatting (paragraph indentations) and removes excess margins.

Document that is not reflowed Document is reflowed to fit the Pocket PC’s screen
image Adobe in reflow mode

Pressing and holding the stylus on the screen reveals a menu with many different options, such as “Full Screen” and “Automatically Scroll.”

Pressing and holding the stylus on the screen provides a menu with many different options: Reflowed document in Full Screen
image Adobe reflow full screen

You can rotate the view from portrait to landscape either by using Adobe’s rotate function or by using the Pocket PC’s rotate option (if available).

  • Adobe’s rotate function only rotates the screen to the right, so if you rotate it to landscape mode, it will take 3 rotations to get it back to upright portrait mode.
  • Pocket PC’s rotate option (this usually involves pressing and holding a button) is clunky.  If you use the Pocket PC’s rotate option, the screen will not appear correct (see screenshot below), but if you select the Full Screen view mode after you rotate the screen, the screen will self correct.


Full screen mode with view rotated to landscape view.


You can use Adobe Reader’s Zoom In option to make the text as large as you need it to be to read comfortably or you can use Adobe Reader’s Zoom Out option to make the text as small as you can stand it.

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You can customize the toolbar that runs along the bottom of the screen to display up to 11 icons along the bottom of the screen by tapping the up arrow found on the lower left hand side of the screen and selecting “Customize Toolbar”

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Adobe Reader for Pocket PC is the only PDF Reader that will allows you to read protected PDF files.

Protected PDF files

There are  two possible levels of protection you may encounter with PDF files: 1) DRM level encryption and 2) Password Protection.

1) DRM level encryption

NOTE: DRM level encryption is no longer functionality within the app.  Adobe discontinued its use of this method of encryption.

PDF formatted eBooks that you purchase or check out of a library may include DRM level encryption.  To read DRM encrypted PDF files on a mobile device requires activating the device through Adobe’s website. The Pocket PC activation on Adobe’s website appears to be broken (I managed to activate one of my 4 Pocket PCs through Adobe’s website months ago, but now I receive error messages when I attempt to activate any of my other mobile devices). If you can get your Pocket PC activated on Adobe’s website, then you can transfer and read DRM files on the device by:

  • Adding the PDF file to the Digital Editions module within Adobe Reader 7.0 (you cannot use Adobe Reader 8.0 for this).
  • Then connecting the Pocket PC to the computer, highlighting the PDF file and selecting the “Send to Mobile Device” option found in the Digital Editions screen. 

send to mobile device

You can not use Adobe Reader 8.0 or Adobe Acrobat 8.0 because this version of software does not include a Digital Editions module.  Instead you will be forced to use Adobe’s new Digital Editions software (this is a free standing PDF reader) that does not support Pocket PCs or other mobile devices at this time. 

Adobe Reader for Pocket PC is the only PDF reader that can accommodate DRM encrypted PDF files. 

2) Password Protection

The other level of protection revolves around files that do not have DRM encryption on them but are password protected. Password protected files may require a password to open them and may require a separate permission password to copy or print them.  All of the PDF readers I evaluated were able to open Password protected files.  If the book is protected with a password, you will be prompted to enter the password when you attempt to open it on your Pocket PC.

Let’s Compare PDF Readers

Adobe Reader

Foxit Reader






Accommodates a small screen Yes, tag files & use reflow option Yes, tag files & use reflow option Yes, use “View Text Only” option
Search option? Yes Yes Yes
Change font size / VGA support? No, use zoom instead No, use zoom options instead Yes from 11 – 16, with VGA support
Bookmark option No, but remembers the last page read No, but remembers the last page read Yes, up to 5 bookmarks; remembers the last page read
Zoom levels Yes Yes, many zoom options available Yes, but slow and subject to memory errors
Smartphone version? No Yes Yes
Reads password protected files? Yes Yes Yes
Memory Requirements:
Storage Memory 7.6M 1.9M 1.2M
RAM load * 3.25 MB 1.41 MB 2.89 MB

* RAM load calculated by subtracting the amount of program memory available after opening a book in the respective reader (available program memory after a soft reset – available program memory with application running)

Which one would you prefer to read?
Foxit Reader: Reflow on / Full Screen mode PocketXpdf: Full Screen & View Text Only mode Adobe Reader: Full Screen & Reflowed mode
Foxit12 image Adobe reflow full screen

Final Thoughts & Recommendations

Foxit Reader is a lightweight PDF reader that performs quite well.  If you don’t mind paying for it and you don’t need to read DRM encrypted files on your mobile device, Foxit Reader is worth your consideration.  Foxit Reader Beta 1.2 is a huge improvement from its earlier version.  Fixing the weird justified spacing or providing an option for the user to turn off justification will greatly improve the reader’s experience when using this application.

PocketXpdf is an adequate PDF reader.  If you are looking for a free lightweight PDF reader and you don’t need to read DRM encrypted files on your mobile device, PocketXpdf might be good enough.  If you need a PDF Reader that accommodates VGA screens, PocketXpdf is your best choice.  However, its performance needs to be improved before I can recommend it for anything more than light PDF reading.

Adobe Reader for Pocket PC is the best PDF Reader if you plan to read lengthy PDF documents on your mobile device and the only PDF reader that can handle DRM encrypted PDF files.  Given the memory requirements of Adobe PDF Reader, be sure to install the software to a storage card.  Before opening a large PDF file, close all other open applications so as to free up as much program memory as possible and avoid memory issues.

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