Adobe Acrobat DC and Document Cloud review: The apps are nice, but the system still needs work

The Good Fill & Sign is a great app for everyone, and it's free, while Adobe DC mobile is nice for people who use a lot of Adobe products. The desktop versions of Acrobat have some nice new features and enhancements, but they're not must-haves for all. And syncing via Document Cloud is very convenient.

The Bad The storage aspect of Document Cloud isn't fully baked, and the subscriptions are on the expensive side if you're not a compulsive upgrader.

The Bottom Line Adobe Document Cloud, its apps and applications look like a very good start, but you may want to wait a bit before jumping in with anything other than Fill & Sign.

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7.7 Overall
  • Setup 8
  • Features 7
  • Interface 8
  • Performance 8

Review Sections

Adobe's new Document Cloud and the reworking of its Acrobat products a isn't a terribly sexy story, but it's one with something for everyone. From the new free Fill & Sign app, which should appeal to everyone still filling out paper forms, to enterprise verticals and print designers, these products still fill a variety of needs.

Given the myriad uses for the Acrobat ecosystem, I suspect my review will barely scratch the surface. But here goes.

How much?

Adobe has broken out its Acrobat product line into two tracks: Perpetual license, which corresponds with what people think of as software you buy, and Continuous, which applies to subscriptions. They're priced as follows:

  • Acrobat DC Pro subscription: $180 annually (which comes out to $15/month) or $25/month.
  • Acrobat DC Standard subscription: $156 annually (which works out to $13/month) or $23/month.
  • Acrobat DC Pro perpetual: $450 ($200 upgrade)
  • Acrobat DC Standard perpetual: $300 ($140 upgrade)
  • Adobe Reader and Fill & Sign are free.
  • Full Creative Cloud subscribers get Document Cloud gratis.

Based on the pricing, I'd say Adobe really, really, ( really!) wants you to commit to a year. Each subscription level comes with 20GB of storage; like Creative Cloud, there's currently no storage upgrade option. It's on the roadmap, though.

Enterprise licenses are described in an unclear grid of options that you are welcome to wade through. I'll provide UK and Australian pricing once it's available, though you'll be able to find it here for Australia and here for the UK.

Mobile apps

To me, Fill & Sign is the most generally interesting part of the system, in part because it's useful without requiring a subscription. With this app, available on Android and iOS, you can take a picture of a print form or open existing PDF forms. When you launch the app, you're presented with a big icon that prompts you select a form to fill out; your choices are from a file, from the Web, from camera roll or take a picture. When you take a picture, it processes the image and gives you the option to autoenhance as well as continue taking photos for multipage forms.

Fill & Sign knows how to automatically encircle entries on a print form, and has an autofill option. Screenshot by Lori Grunin/CNET

Then you simply start tapping on the print fields, and the app lets you fill in text (as well as change text size, which is important), checks, "X," a big dot (for filling in ovals, I guess), a line for striking through and a circle. If you apply a circle, the app automatically sizes it to encircle what it thinks it the appropriate option, though you can always resize.

When you're ready to sign for the first time, you tap the pen icon and a big dialog pops up for you to create a signature or initials using your finger or a stylus. Some people have mocked this, but it's actually pretty useful. Once you've created them, you can reuse them easily.

Note that the text size defaults to -appropriate; when launching on Android it's huge.

There's a sort-of autofill option as well. You enter all your personal information, as well as any other information you want to create a field for, and while filling in you can just tap it and have it fill. However, without a subscription it won't sync that info across devices. And its designed to handle only one identity; in order to add another you have to create a whole set of custom fields, and there's no way to organize them.

When you're done, you can share in a boatload of ways, though I discovered that some are hidden until you enable them, like Gmail. On both Android and iOS you can export to Creative Cloud, Google Drive and some other cloud storage services that I don't have installed.

My one gripe about filling print forms is that the autoenhance, despite drawing on Photoshop technology, isn't very good. You can't simply straighten anything, and there's no page recognition, so you have to crop it manually. It's also quite tedious to fill long forms this way, especially on a phone. I don't recommend it for that.

The new version of Reader is basically stripped-down Acrobat DC that only lets you view and comment unless you're a subscriber, though it never ceases to taunt you with the capabilities you don't have access to. With the exception of the new cross-platform user interface, it's pretty much the same as it ever was.

Acrobat DC for the iPhone and Android is a scaled-down version of the desktop apps, and lets you access capabilities depending upon your subscription level. Upgrade features include creating PDFs from other document types. It sends it up to the cloud for processing, saves it there, and notifies you when its done. You can also edit PDFs -- rearrange pages, edit text, move or delete blocks.

Fill & Sign on Android phones can be a little cramped, but it's fine for shorter forms. Screenshot by Lori Grunin/CNET

You can also export PDFs to a Word, Excel or PowerPoint document or send it to Fill & Sign. The export engine is much lower power than the desktop version, so unless it's a pretty basic document you'll want to save conversions for the computer.

The thing about Acrobat DC is that there are plenty of far less expensive apps that deliver most of the same capabilities, and it's really worth trying them first. Adobe's Mobile Link will sync files, settings and signatures across devices, but not everyone will think that's worth the cost. There's no reason to subscribe unless you're entrenched in Adobe's ecosystem or really want the convenience of syncing.

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