Adobe Acrobat Review: Worth the Money?

by Reads (19,054)
  • Editor's Rating

    Ratings Breakdown (1-10)

      • Design
      • 10
      • Performance
      • 10
      • Total Score:
      • 10.00
      • Rating 1 to 10, top score 10
  • Pros

    • Most complete PDF solution available
    • Never a compatibility problem with PDFs -- Adobe sets the standard
    • You can create documents that can be electronically signed
  • Cons

    • Expensive
    • Might have more features than the average user needs

Whether you’re using a Windows PC, Mac, tablet, or smartphone, you undoubtedly encounter PDF (Portable Document) files on the Web all the time. First introduced by Adobe two decades ago, PDF has since become a ubiquitous way to let users view docs that look the same regardless of which OS and application software are installed on the device. Adobe’s Acrobat software lets you not just read but create and edit PDF documents, as well as convert documents to and from PDF and other file formats. Adobe is hardly alone, however, in the business of PDF software. Although the current version of Acrobat Reader is free, you need to pay if you want to use Acrobat’s other features. In this review, we’ll explore whether Acrobat is worth the money.

Overview

In 1991, Adobe outlined the specifications of a new document format named Portable Document Format, or PDF. PDF has its roots in Postscript, a page description language used in printing documents. Until 2008, PDF was a proprietary format, controlled by Adobe. In 2008, Adobe released PDF as an open standard, and the standard has been published and updated by the ISO (International Standards Organization), with Adobe releasing the patents on PDF so that other vendors could offer PDF-capable applications.

Acrobat was first produced in 1993 for the Macintosh. In 1994, Adobe debuted Acrobat 2.0  for both the Windows and Macintosh operating systems. Originally, Acrobat was a modular system, with components to create PDF files and a different component to read them. As PDF became a more popular and widely adopted format, Adobe rolled out the file reader component, now called Adobe Reader, as a free utility.

Acrobat as a product, however, is still something that Adobe charges for, (except for Acrobat Reader XI, the current version of the reader, which is separately available free of charge), The paid Adobe Acrobat XI system allows you to not only read PDF files but to create them from various file formats, and to perform other operations such as editing a PDF document or turning a PDF into another format like Word or PowerPoint. It is available in two editions. The Standard edition of Acrobat XI is priced at $199, or $139 if you upgrade from a previous version. The version I tested, Acrobat XI Pro, is priced at $499 or $299 as an upgrade.

Performance

My review copy of Acrobat XI Pro was provided as a download. Many of those who purchase the product will elect to receive the application in the same way, as it provides immediate access. I tested the application on an Acer Aspire V5 laptop running Windows 8. Since many users of Acrobat will be using the application on laptops with Windows 7 or earlier Windows versions, I operated Acrobat from the desktop, rather through the Start Screen.

Downloading the application from Adobe’s web site took less than a minute. The install program gives you the usual options such as specifying whether you want a Typical, Complete, or Custom install. (For expanded views of the screenshots at right, please click on the images.)

Typical installs those features most users commonly install, Complete installs everything, and Custom, as with many Windows applications, lets you specify which components to install, and whether you want all of the features of a particular component installed on the hard drive or whether you want to install that part of the software the first time it’s used. As with all of the software I test, I chose the Complete install, which was remarkably fast. Before the actual install took place, I had to specify whether I had a serial number (which I did), or did not have this and was installing the application on a free 30-day trial.

Adobe also warns you that your product serial number and other information will be sent via Internet to Adobe to complete the product activation process. Unless a multiuser license has been purchased, Acrobat XI Pro can only be installed on one computer, and if you need to move it to a different system, Acrobat must be uninstalled in a way that lets Adobe know the software has been removed from the machine to which it is registered. Otherwise you will be unable to reinstall the software on to another system.

Once installed, Acrobat XI Pro has a very clean and simple-looking launch and menu system. As with most PDF software, if you double-click on a PDF document, Acrobat will open it. Once open, the window displays the document along with a typical Windows-style tool bar on the top of the screen. This tool bar is deceptively simple. Most of the tools are contained in drop-down menus that open a large vertical pane on the right side of the screen. This pane provides multiple layers of tools that permit you to access numerous additional functions such as the Action Wizard, which is basically a scripting or macro facility for creating workflows that you perform frequently. Other expanded sections show tools for encrypting and password protecting documents, editing, creating forms, and more.

You can also reach tools and other features from a drop-down on the right side of the top toolbar labeled “Customize.” This has three tabs: Tools, Sign (to add signature components into your document), and Comment, which provides a variety of annotation and review tools.

Many users will appreciate the forms creation capabilities built into Acrobat XI Pro. I found creating forms to be a simple process, not unlike specifying form fields in Word. You can start from scratch by importing a document and adding fields, scanning a paper document, or downloading one of many forms templates from the FormsCentral online function that’s installed automatically when you specify a Complete install of the product.

This cloud-based feature also provides space for you to store your own forms, so they are accessible (with your permission) by others using Acrobat.

One feature that many business users will like is integration with Adobe EchoSign. This is an online digital signature and authentication service that lets you create a form like an estimate or contract and have it signed using a stylus on your touchpad (or touch screen if your laptop has one). If you have a small business and use a signed estimate or Statement of Work as a contract, your customer can sign the document electronically. If EchoSign is something you can use, it’s a terrific plus. Pricing is reasonable, and it’s free if you are the only user and restrict your use to five or less contracts a month.

Woth the Price?

Since the time when Adobe released the Acrobat specifications as a standard, many vendors have implemented the capability of creating files as a PDF, and have integrated this capability directly into their product. Others have licensed Adobe’s technology. They use Adobe’s PDF engine as the foundation for providing PDF file capability. Additionally, standalone PDF software has been available for some time. It varies in price from free to over $100.

The Pro edition of Acrobat XI, which is the version I tested, has a list price of $449 (though you may be able to find it for less on the Internet). Quite bluntly, that’s a lot of money, especially if you have limited needs insofar as PDF capability. The Standard edition of the application, priced at $299, is still somewhat more costly than similar PDF applications from other vendors, such as Nitro Pro 8 or Foxit Phantom Business.

If all you need to do is to create PDFs from various file formats, and occasionally turn a PDF into a form with fill-in fields, one of the above applications, or a program like Nuance’s PaperPort or PDF Converter, should do the job for considerably less cost. That’s the reason for the moderately conservative Price/Value Rating I gave to Acrobat.

Also, there is considerable feature overlap between the Pro and Standard editions of Acrobat XI. Obviously, the Pro edition provides additional functionality, but this functionality is in areas that most non-business users won’t require, such as Bates numbering, which is used in filing court documents. One exception to this is redaction, which is a feature that Adobe lists as available only in the Pro edition. Redaction, if you are unfamiliar with the term, is where areas of text are blacked out. This can be accomplished in other ways before you turn a document into PDF format, so I don’t see it being worth an additional $150 over the Standard edition.

The latest XI Pro edition does include the ability to include audio and Flash player compatible video into a PDF document. That’s an usual capability. If it’s something that you can use, the Pro edition is worthwhile just to have that feature.

From a usability standpoint, even Acrobat XI Pro’s more advanced features are easily accessible. The menus are intuitive and the help is excellent, both within the application and in the support section of Adobe’s web site. Video tutorials are concise, and they’re helpful for learning to use new features, like combining different content types into a single PDF portfolio. Acrobat XI Pro also lets you perform extensive customization of the tool bar, so that the application can be form-fitted to your particular usage and needs.

Conclusion

Given a choice and with the right budget, I would select Adobe Acrobat XI over products from other vendors, even though the Standard edition is priced more than twice as much as Nitro Pro 8 or Foxit. Adobe created the PDF format, and Adobe has the most experience in implementing it and dealing with potential problems.

If you’re faced with budgetary constraints, however, an application like Nuance’s PDF Converter Professional 8, priced at $99, might be a more cost effective solution for you.

Pros:

  • Most complete PDF solution available
  • Never a compatibility problem with PDFs — Adobe sets the standard
  • You can create documents that can be electronically signed

Cons:

  • Expensive
  • Might have more features than the average user needs


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2 Comments

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  1. nkdfish

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  2. jskerrigan

    ADOBE DC IS PURE GARBAGE. You cannot even edit in the software. Unbelievable you would think !!
    Here is the email I received from ADOBE Policy #: LS708929100
    Agent Name: JOHN KERRIGAN
    Proposed Insured: Srnivasa Talluri
    Thank you for your business and continued support.

    We are pleased to advise that this case has been approved . We have issued this policy today.

    If a draft date option was chosen, we are issuing the policy as requested and all commissions paid accordingly. If a backdate option was selected, please be aware that a 10 day notice may generate.

    If you need further assistance, please do not hesitate to contact your business case manager.
    PURE GARBAGE DO NOT PURCHASE THIS PRODUCT