Review: Alt Reader


Portable Document Format (PDF) may not be an open standard, but it is a defacto standard. Being able to send a file which shows a page exactly as intended for print, and that cannot be edited (in most cases) is a must for those aspiring to have a paperless office. On Symbian, PDF readers are few and far between, and have not provided the best possible user experience. Today we have a review of Alt Reader for PDF and DejaVu files. Does it succeed where others have failed?

Author: Tarasov Mobile

Version Reviewed: 1.0.9

When you load Alt Reader for the first time, you’ll find that it’s locked into landscape mode. Don’t worry though; the user guide that is opened by default informs you that this can be changed via the Options menu. The user guide itself takes a while to load, even though there are few images.

Browsing the user guide.

The user interface couldn’t be simpler – documents are navigated and scaled via swipe and pinch gestures, and there’s just one menu for opening files and setting zoom levels, etc. However, there is no bookmark facility – which is the norm for PDF applications. Having bookmarks would make it much more practical for reading PDF e-books.

Selecting zoom levels.

Performance wise, Alt Reader is noticeably smoother than the often-bundled Quickoffice PDF reader – but the two are quite similar in their feature sets. Alt Reader has several zoom settings that the free version of Quickoffice Adobe Reader lacks; e.g. Zoom To, Fit Width, Fit Text Width, etc. I was hoping to see more that would differentiate the two. For instance, Quickoffice’s PDF reader requires an exorbitant fee to enable text wrapping. Had Alt Reader had the same functionality, it would have been an automatic choice, given that it’s half the price.

Reading a hefty legal document.

Viewing images at minimum zoom.

Settling down for an epic.

I put together a particularly fiendish set of difficult-to-render PDF files, and Alt Reader performed quite respectably. Dostoevsky’s 608 page epic, “The Idiot”, loaded quickly and my N8 test device made no bones about rendering. Next up was Facebook’s 201-page SEC filing, mostly text, but has a few large images early on, as well as tabulated text. Alt Reader loaded the images fairly quickly, but I noted its ability to scroll outpaced its ability to render – blank pages often scrolled by and I had to wait for their contents to appear. Last was a CPU-grinding 63MB file full of nothing put scanned images. Predictably, it was unusably slow, but that’s what I expected to see on a Symbian device.

Alt Reader in action.

Alt Reader is also let down by less than ideal stability. The author has built in an error screen requesting that users email in reports of errant behaviour. It’s still early days for Alt Reader – it’s at version 1.0.9. I wanted to give it a recommendation, but there’s currently not enough (yet) to separate it from the PDF reader bundled with Symbian^3. You can get a free five-day trial or buy for £4 on the Nokia Store.

David Gilson, 15th February 2012.

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