FoxIt PhantomPDF Business 5.0 Review: Budget PDF Maker Does the Job
At a Glance
Often, you can get by perfectly well with a budget-minded software application that lacks fancy features you may never need. FoxIt's PhantomPDF 5.0 Business ($149 as of November 21, 2011) is the epitome of such middlebrow software: It costs a third of what the blueblood Adobe Acrobat X does, and it can handle most everyday PDF editing tasks.
But that's not to say that you'll be getting a Porsche for the price of a Pinto with PhantomPDF 5.0 Business. The program lacks the most innovative PDF features of Acrobat X, and it comes nowhere near matching Acrobat's polish. It's even rougher around the edges than Nuance's similarly priced PDF Converter Enterprise 7. But PhantomPDF 5.0 Business is a lean, fast application that will work efficiently on older, slower computers in your office; and like Nuance, FoxItcan lets you opt for other versions of PhantomPDF that omit a few more features but cost even less.
Foxit claims that PhantomPDF 5.0 Business is "up to three times faster than competitor tools." It certainly seemed very sprightly: The program opened quickly, actions happened in a snap, and I never got the impression that the app's operations was taxing my computer in the least. When I converted short Microsoft Word documents to PDF, the application finished them off more quickly than Acrobat did--though neither application required much time for those tasks. In other operations, PhantomPDF 5.0 Business enjoyed a much greater advantage. It required only 1 minute, 20 seconds to convert a 58-page PDF computer manual to Microsoft Word, whereas Acrobat X took 2 minutes, 45 seconds to convert the same document. Moreover, PhantomPDF created a 2.5MB file, while Acrobat X created an 8.5MB file.
On the other hand, Acrobat X performed the conversion of this document and most others far more accurately than did PhantomPDF. Among the shortcomings of the PhantomPDF's effort were a failure to include many images that the original user manual contained, and production of the manual's first page as at A4 size (8.27 by 11.69 inches), instead of at standard letter size (8.5 by 11 inches). It contained many smaller formatting errors, too. Both applications converted Word and Excel documents to PDF with excellent accuracy, but PhantomPDF's conversions of HTML documents weren't as good as Acrobat's. In my tests, Acrobat would have received a B+ for its conversions, and PhantomPDF would have received a C-.
One new feature in PhantomPDF 5.0 Business is its ability to convert documents from within Microsoft Word, Excel, or PowerPoint. In practical terms, that change means that you can find a Foxit PDF menu and associated icons in your Office toolbars, so you won't have to use the longer print routine normally associated with PDF creators.
Form Over Function
One of the most onerous tasks associated with PDFs involves creating forms containing fields for people to type information into. Some forms may have hundreds of fields, and each field may require a few custom settings. Acrobat X can analyze a document and automatically generate many of the fields required in the document, with pretty good accuracy, aligning them all correctly and thereby greatly speeding up the whole process. Because PhantomPDF, in contrast, requires that you generate fields one at a time, I would avoid using it for all but the simplest of forms. The new version of PhantomPDF allows you to fill out XML Form Architecture (XFA) forms, so data you enter into an already-created XFA PDF will generate the proper XML data behind the scenes.
PhantomPDF 5.0 Business is actually two applications: Foxit PhantomPDF and Foxit PhantomPDF Advanced Editor. The Advanced Editor, which comes only with the Business Edition of the software, allows you to edit text, images, graphics, and other PDF elements. You use the main application to convert documents, add comments, create bookmarks, and form fields. Unfortunately, having to figure out which application you're supposed to use can be needlessly confusing.
Redaction, another new feature in the Business Edition of version 5, takes place in the main app, not the Advanced Editor. It works adequately, though it's not nearly as sophisticated as Acrobat's or even as Nuance PDF Converter 7 Enterprise's. For example, with those two products, you can search documents for words or phrases and automatically redact them in one swoop; but PhantomPDF requires you to mark elements for redaction manually. Also, aside from its set of standard commenting tools, PhantomPDF lacks the collaboration tools that Acrobat X offers; you can't set up a check-in/check-out workflow for PDFs; and you can't collate reviewers' comments (you must review them sequentially, within the document).
In examining PhantomPDF 5.0 Business's output, I saw numerous grammatical and spelling problems, such as this garbled explanation of whether the application will let you embed a video into a PDF: "Foxit PhantomPDF does not only support playing multimedia in PDFs, but only allows users to add and edit multimedia files to a PDF." (The intended meaning here is that PhantomPDF does support embedding videos.) Some interface elements weren't centered in their windows.
One PhantomPDF feature that I liked a lot: A single button in the toolbar lets you display only the text in a document. No more copying text block by block--just click the button, select all, and copy the whole thing at once.
Beer Tastes on a Beer Budget
For the best conversion accuracy and the most professional-looking PDFs, nothing I've tried beats Acrobat X. Among budget-priced competitors, Nuance PDF Converter 7 seems a bit more capable, at about the same price. (Another rival PDF editor that I've tested recently is Nitro Software's Nitro Pro 7.) I But the one niche for which I can see PhantomPDF 5.0 Business as being a potentially good fit is a small- to medium-size office filled with lots of Windows XP systems (based on old, slow CPUs). PhantomPDF will operate quickly on such machines; and buying for them PhantomPDF might well be a prudent, minimal investment to extend their life.