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Updated: December 17, 2012 8:30 AM

Review: Nitro Pro 8 gives Adobe Acrobat XI a run for its money

Review: Nitro Pro 8 gives Adobe Acrobat XI a run for its money

Review: Nitro Pro 8 gives Adobe Acrobat XI a run for its money

And now in this corner, the scrappy competitor: Nitro Pro 8, a PDF application that costs just $120. In the other corner hulks Adobe Acrobat XI Pro, the reigning champion of PDF. Many PDF applications have challenged the champion; is Nitro Pro 8 the one to pull off the upset? It depends on what the audience wants to see and to pay for: If they're looking for an application that can get most of their PDF-related tasks done without many extras, then Nitro Pro 8 is the one to root for.

Comparisons to Acrobat XI Pro

Nitro Pro 8 lacks some of the newest features in the $449 Acrobat XI Pro, which was released shortly after Nitro Pro 8. While Nitro Pro 8 can create and edit PDF forms, it has no mechanism for creating Web-based forms, as Acrobat XI Pro's companion application, FormsCentral, does. (You could argue that you don't need Acrobat XI Pro for that either; you can either download FormsCentral or simply use its website skip the PDF software entirely.) Nitro Pro 8 does not yet have the ability to scan a PDF and suggest form fields, as Acrobat XI Pro does.

Nitro Pro 8's attractive, basic interface puts most controls in a ribbon bar.

Likewise, Nitro Pro 8's digital signature features are basic PDF ones: You can add a "QuickSign," which is an image of your signature that you can password-protect; or you can add a digital signature, which entails creating a digital ID, which is an encrypted, key-based file you can generate within the application with Windows' help. I think some people may get these two types confused, but they're pretty easy to set up.

Nitro Pro 8 has no provision for sending out documents for signatures or for managing them, as the EchoSign website that is somewhat integrated into Acrobat XI Pro does. However, because EchoSign.com does not require that you use Acrobat XI Pro, you could use Nitro Pro 8 with it too—or you could use Nitro Pro 8 with another digital signature website, such as Docracy.com, DocuSign.com, or SignNow.com.

Editing For Content or Clarity

When typing text into a PDF using Nitro Pro 8's Type Text tool, you'll now see helpful guides to help you align the text with other elements—text or images—on the page. Outlined boxes appear as you move your mouse among elements, and your cursor will snap to the edges of some of the elements.

Importing an Excel spreadsheet into Nitro Pro 8 works well, with proper formatting (but no formulas, of course).

However, you have to be aware of which editing mode you're using: If you're trying to edit the text in an existing document—for example, to change a person's name—then you need to go to the Edit menu, click Edit, double-click in a paragraph, then change the text. If you want to add text—say, to fill out a form, where alignment is often difficult in a PDF—you go to the Home menu, click the Type Text menu, then click on the document, using the new guides to help you line things up.

Nitro Pro 8's capabilities in editing existing documents are not quite as extensive as those of Acrobat XI Pro, but you can still use it to perform pretty substantive edits on documents. It can recognize the font, font size, and spacing in a document, and it will let you edit that text as if it were in word-processing program—with some limits. You can move text and image blocks around a page, resize them, and change the vertical and horizontal spacing in text, but the controls aren't quite as fine as in Acrobat XI Pro.

Exporting the spreadsheet back to Excel causes it to lose some formatting and to combine some cells that shouldn't be combined, but at least now you can put different tables on different sheets within a workbook.

Neither Nitro Pro 8 nor Acrobat XI Pro offers any control over image wrapping, and moving or resizing one element has no effect on other elements, so if you resize an image, for example, you'll have to move any interfering elements manually. At some point, you have to decide whether it's simply easier to dig up the document used to create the PDF and use its application to make changes.

If you can't find the original document you used to create a PDF, you can try converting the PDF into another format; Nitro PDF supports exporting to Word or Excel (but not to PowerPoint, as Acrobat XI can now do). You can now export a PDF that contains tables to either a single Excel spreadsheet or to a spreadsheet with multiple pages; in Nitro Pro 7, individual tables would get converted into separate worksheets.

Add your signature as a "Quick Signature" in Nitro Pro 8 or create an encrypted digital signature.

I first imported an Excel workbook intoNitro PDF 8, and that conversion looked fine, though of course, it didn't include any Excel formulas. When I exported that PDF back to Excel as multiple sheets, each page appeared on a separate tab. The fonts were different, some cells had been combined, and all the numbers were stored as text rather than as numbers, but these problems were simple to fix.

One of Nitro Pro 8's minor new features is that automatically saves your open documents every 10 minutes (you can change the duration, if you like). Of course, that's only for documents in Nitro Pro 8; if you've used the program to convert to other application types, then you'll have to rely on those applications' auto-save functions. Nitro claims that the application creates smaller files than Nitro Pro 7 does, but I couldn't test that claim.

If you're trying to add some text to a document in Nitro Pro 8, the application now shows you subtle guides (shown here by the dotted lines and "ABC") to help you line things up.

Nitro Pro 8 now includes optical character recognition (OCR) capability from I.R.I.S. at no extra charge; last year, it was a $20 option. That's a good move, I think, because that allows you to scan documents and get editable text and images you can move around, delete, or replace. Without OCR, all you get is a single image file that can't be edited.

Acrobatic Maneuvers

Nitro Pro 8 lacks many of the most innovative features that Acrobat XI Pro has, even if you don't consider things like online digital signature management and Web-based forms creation, which are features you can access whether you own either application (or neither of them). But for a basic PDF application, Nitro Pro 8 does many things well, and it does them at a reasonable price.

Note: The Download button on the Product Information page takes you to the vendor's site, where you can download the latest version of the software.

Copyright (c) 2012 PCWorld Communications, Inc.

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