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Review: Nitro Pro 9

22 October 2013, Nick Peers

It’s been a relatively quiet couple of years for Nitro Pro, the chief alternative to Adobe’s Acrobat PDF editing and conversion tool. Last year’s update was a relatively minor one, opting to refine existing tools alongside offering a handful of new features. With the release of version 9, the question is, has Nitro continued to prefer evolution to revolution?

The answer is a qualified yes. It’s worth remembering just how good Nitro 7 was on its release, and version 8 built on that. Helped by a competitive upgrade price, it was a worthy upgrade. Like its immediate predecessor, Nitro Pro 9 doesn’t pull up any trees, but there are some nifty new features to add to an already impressive feature set.

Unfortunately, though, those extra features come with an inflated cost, with the main program costing $20 more than last year’s release, while the price of an upgrade has sneaked up too – by $5 to $54.99. The question, then, is if Nitro Pro 9 is new and improved enough to justify the extra outlay?

Nitro 9 Pro

Nitro 9 Pro apes the look of Windows 8 and Office 365 to deliver a more integrated look and feel.

What Nitro does
Nitro Pro is a powerful tool for creating, editing and converting PDF documents. While a growing number of free products – in particular Nitro’s little brother Nitro Reader – can create PDF files from other documents, they typically employ the services of a virtual print driver to produce little more than an image of the original file.

Nitro Pro offers more intuitive PDF creation tools, allowing you to create PDFs from documents like Word that can subsequently be re-edited in Nitro using its own powerful text-editing tools. And if you want to scan in a paper document, Nitro also comes with its own – less impressive, but still serviceable – OCR engine, based on Readiris to ensure the resulting document’s text is editable too.

Nitro pairs this functionality with a set of powerful editing tools, with both line- and paragraph-based text editing possible alongside the ability to swap out or insert images. Throw in form filling, collaboration tools and the ability to combine PDF files from multiple documents, and you have a tool that – if not quite the equal of Adobe Acrobat – is more than capable for most people’s needs at less than a third of the price, even after the recent hike.

Nitro 9 Pro - Outlook plugin

There’s a new plugin extending Nitro’s functionality to Outlook.

Get the Microsoft look
Nitro Pro has long modelled itself on Microsoft’s beloved ribbon interface that is now as much a part of Windows as it is of Office. The reasoning is that it provides a familiar environment for Office users, so it’s no surprise that version 9.0 evolves this look to tie in more closely to the new Windows 8 and Office 2013 look. The results are successful, reducing the already shallow learning curve still further, although it’s not innovative, with rival PDF tool Foxit having beaten it to the punch by a few months.

Nitro also makes itself an indispensable part of Office with its range of plug-ins, and version 9.0 adds an Outlook plugin to existing add-ons for Word, Excel and PowerPoint. It’s designed to simplify the conversion of email (either single messages or entire folders) into PDF as well as attached documents. Sadly the plug-ins are 32-bit only, which could be a deal-breaker if you made the extra effort to install a 64-bit version of Office. Nevertheless, if you can get them to work, then they work well. The new Outlook plugin certainly simplifies the process of taking documents from email and turning them into PDFs.

Into the cloud
One feature Nitro is shouting about in version 9 is integration with its recently launched Nitro Cloud service, which allows you to tap into the power of Nitro through your web browser. It supports conversion to and from PDF like Nitro Pro, and is geared towards sharing and collaborating with others without requiring the use of the desktop version of Nitro. Various paid-for subscriptions are available, although you can road-test up to five documents using the free Basic version.

Somewhat disappointingly, Nitro Pro 9 doesn’t fully integrate into Nitro Cloud. Instead you’re given shortcuts for easily uploading documents for sharing, collaborating and requesting signatures, but the other options, such as the shortcut to your uploaded Documents, simply point you towards your web browser. You can’t for example, make changes to the document you’ve uploaded in Nitro and then sync those changes to the cloud; instead a separate copy is uploaded. We suspect Nitro will be developing this part of the program further going forward, but for now it’s a disappointment and of limited practical use.

Nitro Pro 9 - compare documents

You can now review two separate revisions of the same document side-by-side.

Batch printing
Version 9 also introduces a new Batch Printing feature, which allows you to select multiple PDF documents from a single dialog for printing. It’s one of those timesaving tools that could justify the cost of upgrading from a previous version on its own, and works exactly as it should – just select Print in Batch from the File menu, then click Add files… to select a file or group of files from one location before using it again if necessary to add files from other folders.

You can then print physical copies of the file, or create a new combined PDF using the virtual printer. All the tools you get when printing single documents – such as including markups and tweaking page scaling options – are provided.

Version 9 adds two new comparison tools as well: Visual Compare allows you to compare two image-based PDFs “pixel-by-pixel”, while Content Compare highlights the differences between source and edited document with an eye to documents containing editable text. Documents are displayed side-by-side on-screen and the changes clearly highlighted – both in terms of the actual content and any annotations you’ve added, such as comments. If you’re struggling to remember what changes you’ve made to a document then it’s clearly going to be useful.

A third new feature is Nitro’s measurement tool, which lets you measure distance, perimeter and area across your PDF file. It’ll obviously be of most interest to those working with CAD files, blueprints and similar drawings, and Nitro will respect a single embedded scale for each page, but you don’t need this thanks to its calibration tool.

It’s simple to use: first select two points on your document and enter the length. Then simply choose your measurement type and use the controls to select the length, area or perimeter, using the [Shift] key to correct angles if it becomes necessary. Once a length has been defined, simply move the mouse up or down to get a better look at the distance. It’s a little fiddly to get started with, but you’ll soon master it.

Nitro Pro 9 - measurement tool

Once calibrated, you can accurately measure dimensions in documents.

Minor changes
As you’d expect, Nitro 9 is also replete with minor tweaks and changes. One notable improvement promised is faster loading of files, particularly larger ones that could lead to Nitro Pro 8 locking up completely. This has been achieved by allowing Nitro to utilise multiple processor threads to render the file.

One of Nitro Pro’s biggest draws are its editing tools. Version 9 introduces a new “intuitive” editing option that makes it easier to make both line-by-line or block paragraph changes. Simply double-click a block of text and Nitro will attempt to intelligently give you the appropriate control you need. Thankfully you can still manually switch between line and paragraph editing.

The spellchecker has been improved to automatically check words in your document and highlight typos and other misspellings – simply right-click the word to see a list of suggested replacements, where you’ll also find a Language option allows you to switch different languages easily. And last, but not least, Nitro Pro 9 introduces a floating toolbar option that will sit above everything else on-screen – including other programs – for quick and easy access.

What’s great…
These tweaks and new features sit on top of a package that has evolved beautifully over recent years. Our favourite features include converting from PDFs back to editable Office documents – the results are impressive, and it’s unsurprising nothing new was added to version 9 as there’s little more Nitro could do in this area.

Conversion in the opposite direction – from Office to PDF – is good too, and the new Outlook plug-in will prove useful to anyone who uses Outlook to handle their email.

The boxes continue to be ticked when you look at Nitro’s form-filling capabilities, document security (encryption and password-protection) and recovery features.

What’s not…
We’re being pernickety here, but Nitro Pro’s editing tools don’t quite match the rest of the suite. We’d like to see an option for directly replacing one image with another, while the text-editing tools don’t handle major changes that well. Thankfully the pitch-perfect Office-to-PDF conversion means you can at least easily go back to the original document to perform major surgery before outputting a new PDF.

The OCR engine is another example of good, but not great. It does a reasonable job of turning image-based documents into editable text, but is still no substitute for a separate, dedicated OCR tool.

Finally, the new Nitro Cloud “integration” is little more than a convenient way to upload a document to the cloud; the lack of true integration with the online service is a major disappointment.

In summary
While there’s no major standout feature, the new tools and incremental improvements that are included make Nitro Pro 9 worth checking out if you’re an existing user. While Adobe Acrobat still rules the roost features-wise when it comes to PDF editing, there’s a hefty premium to pay for features you may not use. Nitro Pro has enough raw power and features for most individuals and business users, and even with its price increase, it’s still less than a third the cost of the current version of Acrobat. Which such a sharp saving to be made, Nitro Pro 9 remains a compelling choice for those looking for a bit more from their PDF documents.

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