Adobe may have created the PDF, but its Acrobat Pro software is far from a newsroom workhorse -- at least when it comes to OCR and converting PDFs into spreadsheets. If it's not already installed on your office computer, it's not worth the investment for these tasks alone.
Our toughest documents foiled Acrobat's attempts to convert them into spreadsheets, even though much cheaper software was able to handle them. That's not surprising given the software's one-size-fits-all approach. Users get no advanced options when carrying out a conversion, saving the file as an Excel spreadsheet to set Acrobat on its way. This cuts down on complexity, but makes Adobe's product unable to adapt to more nuanced documents.
Inaccuracy was also an issue even in the case of a simpler test using the output of a Microsoft Access database, where Acrobat omitted multiple entries throughout a massive document set. In this case, the results were so inaccurate that it would have created more work for any journalist looking to avoid deeply flawed reporting.
Acrobat fared better in our tests as a tool for optical character recognition, although the results were still mediocre.
The software worked where image PDFs were high quality and neatly scanned. Some common hangups with other programs, like complicated Arabic names and italics, weren't a problem for Acrobat. But every once in a while, omitted names and phrases threw a wrench in search attempts.
In particular, Acrobat struggled with a sloppy partial-text PDF, ignoring whole sections of text, botching numbers and making search impossible.
Acrobat does have some bright spots. Features like the ability to merge and split PDFs are convenient, especially if Acrobat is your default PDF viewer (although there are open-source tools for that).
The support community is also superb. Staff and users partner to operate an active, dedicated community site geared at solving problems and tackling hangups. Scores of multimedia tutorials can get users up to speed on additional functionality in a flash.
There's also the fact that Acrobat is often included with other popular Adobe software common in newsrooms, making it a likely part of many a reporter's tech toolbelt.
But at almost $500 retail, it's not a worthy standalone option for these two common tasks.
It takes less than a minute for Adobe Acrobat to transform this lined PDF table of Bernie Madoff's customers into an almost perfect spreadsheet reproduction. The resulting Excel file is clean and complete, requiring a little effort before journalists can dive into the data.READ OUR FULL TEST RESULT »
This collection of scanned-in memos from the Obama-Biden transition wasn't much of a match for Adobe Acrobat, which recognized the text with only a few minor errors. It even handled italics well.READ OUR FULL TEST RESULT »
Acrobat's OCR feature was able to fill this PDF collection with searchable text with only a handful of missing words. Even most of the Arabic names in the original document were translated accurately into the resulting PDF.READ OUR FULL TEST RESULT »
Acrobat took its time wading through this 1,600-page collection of forms from North Carolina legislators, but its attempt to make the poorly scanned document text searchable shows the program is a good first step when trying to locate keywords in lengthy PDFs.READ OUR FULL TEST RESULT »
The headers from the Microsoft Access database that generated this report of housing violations cause scores of missing data after Acrobat's done converting it into a spreadsheet. All those omissions throw the accuracy of the software's results into question.READ OUR FULL TEST RESULT »
Acrobat Pro's lack of customization options mean an inability to parse line breaks properly in this long table of political appointments from the Clinton administration. That makes the data too messy and the spreadsheet impossible to sort and filter.READ OUR FULL TEST RESULT »
Acrobat's not the program you want to handle a tricky PDF with an embedded font, like this list of contributors to Gov. Jan Brewer's border fence project. It failed two different ways using two different methods.READ OUR FULL TEST RESULT »
The relatively poor quality of this partial-text PDF of congressional reports was too difficult for Adobe Acrobat to translate into a fully text-enabled, searchable document. Much of the text was garbled and misinterpreted, so be wary of using this product if your document was hastily scanned or features unclear text.READ OUR FULL TEST RESULT »