Review: With PDFpenPro 6, Smile makes a great PDF utility even better

At a Glance
  • Smile PDFpenPro 6

    Macworld Rating

    PDFpenPro is a longtime favorite for editing and annotating PDFs on the Mac. With version 6, Smile adds helpful features and improves the user interface, making this app even better than before.

PDFpenPro has long been my favorite application for managing, editing, updating, and signing PDF files on my Mac and iOS devices. PDFpenPro 6 is a significant upgrade to what was already an outstanding app, adding features such as automatic form recognition, export of PDF files to Word documents, and an updated interface that puts oft-used tools just a short click away.

If you’ve used PDFpenPro before, one of the first things you’ll notice is some changes to the program’s interface. A new toolbar appears above the top of your document, giving you access to all of PDFpenPro’s most commonly used tools. What this means, speaking practically, is that you no longer need to navigate a string of menus to reach editing and annotation tools, add form fields, or draw on your document.

You Convert Me: PDFpen Pro offers a useful and powerful online tool that takes complicated PDFs and turns them into fully editable Word documents. (Editor's note: We blurred sections of the pictured document for privacy reasons.)

One new feature that I’ve already found to be especially helpful scans your document for possible data-entry locations and then automatically adds form fields to those locations in the document. Although it wasn’t always 100 percent accurate in recognizing possible data-entry points, it was able to find field locations easily, whether they were checkboxes or text fields. Once the recognition process is done, you can quickly adjust the size and location of the fields and add new fields if PDFpenPro fails to recognize one properly.

My only gripe about the automatic field-recognition tool is that it recognizes fields on only a single PDF page at a time. This issue isn’t terrible with a one- or two-page document, of course, but longer forms led to more repetition, which I found annoying.

Another feature added to PDFpenPro allows you to convert any PDF document into a Microsoft Word document. This feature requires Internet access since it involves uploading the PDF document to a server, converting the file, and then downloading it as a Word document, all with your permission. This conversion process is fraught with some of the same PDF-to-text conversion wonkiness you’ll find in any application of this sort—you’ll end up with some odd font choices, strange page and section breaks, and headers and footers that appear as a part of your body text. On the whole, however, I found PDFpenPro’s Word-conversion capabilities to be excellent. Tables rendered properly, and all the text within the tables was editable. Graphics appeared as individual, selectable entities and not as part of the paragraph text. Best of all, editing the converted Word document was as easy as editing a document created from the ground up in Word.

PDFpenPro also allows you to edit the text within your PDF file without converting it to a Word format. Although this feature works well enough, in most cases the changes you make will alter the font in the edited text and make it look different from the text in the rest of your document. In short, the inline editing features are optimal for rearranging images and making minor edits to text, but if you’re planning on making big changes to a PDF file, you’re better off converting the file to Word and editing there.

It’s important to note that one minor difference separates the App Store and direct-download versions of PDFpenPro, and your needs may affect your decision about how to purchase the app. The direct-download version no longer supports access to iCloud using Smile Software’s PDFpen Cloud access app. So if you, like me, want to have direct access to your PDF documents via iCloud on your Mac and your iOS devices, you must purchase the App Store version. Otherwise, both versions of PDFpenPro support syncing through your Dropbox account.

Bottom line

PDFpenPro is the crème de la crème of PDF editing and annotating applications. While the app’s new editing bar makes the program easier to use, it’s features such PDFpenPro’s form-recognition tool and excellent PDF-to-Word conversion tool that continue to make PDFpenPro a constant companion in my daily workflow.

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At a Glance
  • Macworld Rating

    PDFpenPro is a longtime favorite for editing and annotating PDFs on the Mac. With version 6, Smile adds helpful features and improves the user interface, making this app even better than before.

    Pros

    • New toolbar provides quick access to the most-used features
    • Form-recognition tool makes form creation a snap
    • Excellent PDF-to-Word conversion

    Cons

    • No iCloud access for non-App Store version
    • Form recognition works only one page at a time
    • Word-conversion service requires Internet access
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