Online PDF Editor or a Desktop App — Which One to Choose?

Sometimes you don’t want to install another app just to make quick changes to a single PDF. This is where online PDF editors come in handy. All you need is a browser and a good network connection. When you don’t like the website you opened to edit a PDF online, you can just close it and find another one.

Offline PDF editors require a more careful approach. You have to compare different apps and select the one that’ll become your go-to PDF tool.

Why do I need to install a PDF app if I can edit, merge, and compress PDF files online? That’s a good question that we’ll try to answer in this article. Online PDF editors are a great alternative to desktop PDF apps, but they also come with their own set of disadvantages. Let’s compare online and desktop PDF tools focusing on three parameters:

Features & ease of use

Online PDF editors are useful for quick one-time tasks. They can convert PDF files to Word, JPEG or other formats and vice versa as well as compress PDFs. Online PDF tools also help you merge and split PDFs, add, delete and crop pages. Many services even offer annotation and editing tools. The downside is that it’s painful to use all these features in a single flow.

Imagine, you want to combine two PDFs online and then sign the newly generated file. You open an online PDF editor, choose two files from your computer and wait till they are uploaded and merged. It usually doesn’t take long when your connection is fast and the PDFs are small, but sometimes you might even have enough time to go and make coffee. 

When the merged file is ready, some services like PDF2Go automatically download the PDF to your computer. You can click on the option to edit it further but have to wait till the merged file uploads again.

Fortunately, many websites let you edit your PDF further without instantly downloading your file. For example, Smallpdf allows you to add text, images, and shapes to the document you just merged. Yet, if you want to sign this PDF or add a password, you have to choose the corresponding action at the bottom of the screen and upload the file from your computer again. Should it be that complicated?

It’s easier with desktop PDF editors. Let’s look at PDF Expert for Mac. All powerful features — from text editing to merging PDFs — are available at your fingertips. It’s super fast and its speed doesn’t depend on your internet connection. Just open your file and do everything you wish, in any order. Have you forgotten to highlight some text in a merged PDF? Open your document again and continue where you left off!

Safety & privacy

Is it safe to use a free online pdf editor? Here is a rule of thumb: Don’t upload sensitive personal documents like medical records or bank statements while using online PDF editors and converters. Choose online tools carefully: Select the ones that have been around for a long time and check their privacy policies.

As for desktop PDF editors, select reputable apps and download them only from their official websites or from the App Store. Once you install the reliable app, you don’t need to worry about your files. No matter what’s in your PDF — a new $10M contract or a plan to conquer the world — it remains between you and your computer.


Online PDF editors are free to start: No registration, no payments, no bureaucracy. Just upload your file and you’re good to go. This is really helpful when you need to quickly edit your document (and see some ads along the way).

However, if you deal with PDFs frequently, you’ll quickly face numerous limitations. In most cases, you can edit only a limited number of PDFs, perform only a couple of tasks per hour, and can’t upload large and long files.

You’ll need a paid subscription to continue working with your favorite online tool. For example, Sejda charges $5 per week or $7.50 per month, while PDF Pro bills $47.88 annually.

It can be frustrating to spend time on editing an important PDF to find out you must pay to download it.

Desktop PDF editors are more expensive but offer a wider set of features. PDF Expert asks for $79.99 and offers all the tools needed to work with PDFs. With this one-time purchase, you can edit PDF files as long as you wish.

If you’re a student and educator, you can enjoy PDF Expert with a cool 50%-discount.

What to choose?

If you only need to make small changes to occasional stubborn PDFs and don’t want to install additional software, you’re good to go with online PDF editors. Just make sure you trust the website you download your files to.

But if you work with PDFs regularly, need all kinds of editing and want to keep your files safe, it’s better to stick to a desktop app. PDF Expert is fast, easy-to-use and can do almost everything with PDF files. Test it with a free 7-day trial or buy PDF Expert right now.

Maria Henyk Maria Henyk

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