Do you need a more powerful PDF tool than your Mac’s Preview app or other free alternatives? UPDF is one such tool that offers more power and convenience in a premium package. So what do you get for the price of admission, and most importantly, is it worth it?
Why Use UPDF?
UPDF is a PDF editor, markup tool, organizer, and reader with a minimal modern interface that emphasizes content. Though many of us can get away with free PDF apps like Preview, some require more powerful tools for annotation, sharing, editing, and signing PDFs. That’s where premium apps like UPDF come in.
The Mac app has a tabbed interface for working on multiple PDF files at once, with a simple UI that appears on the right and left edges of whatever document you’re currently viewing. You can use these controls to switch between the three main modes: Reader, Comment, and Edit PDF. There are separate options for organizing, cropping, and accessing other page tools.
An OCR (optical character recognition) button appears on the right side of the document. You’ll need to download the plugin the first time you click it, after which you’ll see a dialog for creating a searchable version of the document you’re currently viewing. OCR worked well enough on typed text but struggled heavily with handwriting.
You can either choose to subscribe to UPDF yearly or buy it outright. The full price of a yearly subscription is $49.99, though when we tested the app, it was on sale for $29.99. To buy UPDF outright, you can pay a one-off fee of $99.99, reduced to $43.99 at the time of review.
If you choose to buy outright, you’re covered for “minor updates,” which infers that major app overhauls won’t be included. Apple’s macOS updates can sometimes introduce the need for major overhauls, an issue that isn’t limited to UPDF but software licenses in general. Subscribers will, of course, get all of the latest current versions for as long as they remain subscribed.
Though a single UPDF license gives you access to all versions (including Windows, iPhone/iPad, and Android), we only tested the Mac version here. Pleasingly, this includes a native Apple Silicon version (Intel users are included too). This is not the same version that appears on the Mac App Store, but one downloaded from UPDF’s website (the Mac App Store version lacks support for OCR).
Reading and Annotating
Reader and Comment modes come with all the tools you’d expect from a premium PDF reader. You can add text boxes, comments, and callouts using separate controls, highlight text using the highlighter tool, and markup in-line text by adding strikethrough, underline, and squiggly underline. These functions are easily accessed by selecting text and then using the floating interface or a keyboard shortcut.
It’s easy to remove your highlights and other annotations simply by clicking on them and hitting the Delete key. This goes for changes made in other PDF editors, too; something Preview doesn’t do. This solves one of our major grievances with Apple’s built-in tool. Annotating a document with UPDF is a much more pleasant experience than using Preview.
There’s a rudimentary “pencil” tool for drawing on the page, which works about as well as can be expected using a MacBook Pro trackpad or mouse. There’s no smoothing to speak of, but you can change color, thickness, and opacity so that your document remains readable even if your drawing skills aren’t up to much.
UPDF has a healthy array of shapes for highlighting sections, arrows for drawing attention, and a connected lines tool just in case you need it. On top of this, you get a selection of stamps that you can drop directly into your PDF, with labels like “Received” and “Reviewed” appearing alongside “Sign here” and “Initial here.”
Finally, a signature tool lets you create and store up to four signatures which you can roll out whenever you need them. Unfortunately, the trackpad signature tool didn’t work on the 2021 MacBook Pro I used to test the app, which means that (for me) Apple’s built-in free Preview tool was a better choice for creating a convincing signature. This could be limited to my model, but it’s something you might want to test before buying since the ability to produce a convincing signature is important.
Editing and Organizing
The ability to edit the original contents of a PDF is something that most free tools lack altogether. UPDF can do this using Edit mode, which provides three main tools: Text, Image, and Links. Text mode lets you select blocks of text and edit the contents with a cursor, and unlike some PDF editors (which separate text line-by-line), UPDF did a good job of identifying paragraphs to make text editing easy and quick.
You can also add text boxes, much in the same way you’d add annotations. Hold the “Option” button on your keyboard to superimpose a text box on top of another. Unfortunately, UPDF doesn’t remember your font and text size options each time you add a new text box (the same goes for annotations) which can be annoying if you’re trying to squeeze lots of notes into a document that’s tight on space. Apple Preview does this too.
Images can be edited using the “Image” tool by clicking on an existing image to reveal options for rotating, cropping, extracting, or replacing the image. You can also click or drag elsewhere in the document to insert an image, though this feature was patchy during our testing. The good news is that it seemed to work fine when we created a blank PDF (using File > Create).
When we tried to overlay an image into another PDF that already had a large image in it, we experienced some odd behavior. The image would appear garbled and then disappear altogether. Hitting Command+Z to undo our “changes” didn’t seem to help, and on one occasion, UPDF crashed altogether, and we had to force quit. We tried this with both JPG and PNG images and had similar results.
We also had issues trying to move or edit the source image in that particular document. This only happened on a scanned PDF created in Apple Notes, and didn’t seem to happen in blank or text-heavy PDF documents that lacked images altogether.
UPDF can also be used to add links to your document, either as visible or invisible rectangles. This allows you to turn standard elements within your PDF into clickable links. These links can point to a web address or a page within the PDF document.
Organizing and Sharing
Click on the “Organize Pages” button to see an easy drag-and-drop interface for reordering your PDF. Use the buttons above to insert, replace, and extract individual pages. You can also use the “Split” button to divide the PDF or use dedicated tools to rotate or delete individual pages if you need to.
If you’re working with large documents or need to incorporate pages or entire documents into a single PDF, this interface makes combining and organizing pages quick and easy. You can also crop pages using the “Crop Pages” button, a niche feature but one that’s nice to have.
Adding to that are a host of background, watermark, and header (or footer) tools. Apply a watermark to your PDF in a location of your choice, using an image file or another PDF file as the source. You can also design a watermark inside of UPDF with custom font, text size, and color. The same is true for backgrounds which include solid colors, source images, and custom text.
Create a custom header and footer using different anchor points, just as you can with a good word processor. It’s also possible to adjust the margins so that the content of your PDF isn’t obscured. These backgrounds, watermarks, and headers can be saved and applied to other documents in the future.
When it’s time to export your document, UPDF does some heavy lifting. In addition to editing permissions to limit printing, future changes, commenting, and the ability to extract pages, you can set a password to open the document and a separate password to change permissions. This is standard PDF stuff, and Preview does it all too.
UPDF makes it easy to share your document over the web using the Share dialog. Enter the email address(es) of whoever you want to share with, add a message, and then set permissions (you can also copy a link to your document for sharing in other ways). Your PDF will be displayed on a standard web page with no additional software required to view it. Choose to limit copying, downloading, and printing, or set a time limit for the share link to disappear too.
A “Send by Email” button opens your default mail app with the PDF attached (works great with Mail for macOS) or you can export a PDF to other formats like Word, HTML, RTF, or as an image. The first time you do this, you’ll be asked to download a free plugin. For exporting a PDF, there are options for flattening the PDF (so that existing markup, text fields, and so on aren’t editable anymore), compressing to reduce the file size, and the option to save to the archival PDF/A format.
Should You Buy UPDF for Mac?
For the most part, UPDF performed perfectly well on my M1 Max MacBook Pro with no noticeable slowdown (to be expected of a PDF editor). The wonky behavior I experienced importing an image into an existing image-heavy PDF did cause the editor to crash once. The lack of trackpad signature support was a bit frustrating, but a fix is hopefully just a patch away.
Whether UPDF is worth it depends on what you want to do. If you want the ability to edit the original text and image content of a PDF, a premium tool like this is essential. As a more powerful suite of annotation and highlighting tools than those included in Preview, UPDF delivers. If you need to quickly share restricted or time-limited PDFs over the web with clients or colleagues, UPDF is a solid choice.
But there were issues that I didn’t expect at this price point, so you might want to evaluate the product yourself before you buy. It’s a lot cheaper than the $240 per year Adobe expects from Acrobat Pro, but UPDF’s OCR and PDF authoring tools aren’t anywhere near as powerful either.
Instead, UPDF goes up against the well-regarded PDF Expert by Readdle ($80/year or $140 for lifetime), and Wondershare’s PDFelement Pro ($80/year or $130 for lifetime). It’s noticeably cheaper than both of these (particularly on sale), so if it does what you want, it might make sense as your PDF editor of choice. Purchasing the app once provides access across macOS, Windows, Android, and iOS, which ups the value proposition if you use a variety of devices.
I recommend using the free trial to test UPDF thoroughly before you buy.
UPDF for Mac
- A full suite of PDF editing, annotating, and organizational tools
- Great for annotation and highlighting
- Handy share options for sharing over the web
- Uncluttered and simple interface
- Decent OCR performance
- Some strange behavior when importing images in certain PDF files
- Trackpad signature tool didn’t work as advertised