Fluent Design Has Landed

Let’s start with the good. FyleViewer is a beautiful UWP Windows 10 app. Invoking Microsoft’s new Fluent Design System, FyleViewer makes use of several new components and materials now available to UWP developers.

Acrylic

In-app acrylic add physical texture and depth to the interface by lightly showing the current page behind the title bar and navigation pane.

in-app-acrylic

In FyleViewer’s drawing and copying tools, the background acrylic effect subtly reveals the desktop wallpaper behind the window. Subtle, but very nice.

background-acrylic

Reveal Highlights

FyleViewer also incorporates the new reveal highlight (as showcased in the revamped Windows 10 Calculator app). According to Microsoft, reveal “gives users a better understanding of the space that they are interacting with, and helps them understand the actions available.” Whether all that’s true or not, it does look pretty cool.

Windows Ink

The Fluent Design System brings more than mere eye candy to the table, however. There’s also significant new functionality developers can implement in their apps, including the Windows Ink platform. FyleViewer makes use of Ink in its Draw Tool. It’s nicely implemented in terms of the UI and it works as expected. (As an aside, however, I’ll note that opening the Draw Tool caused the app to crash for me as many times as it didn’t.)

Tools

Draw

Need to quickly annotate a PDF? FyleViewer has you covered. As mentioned above, FyleViewer comes with Windows Ink-powered annotation via its Draw Tool. Of course, Windows Ink really shines when using a Surface Pen, but a mouse will work just fine. (Heck, even my old Wacom tablet works fairly reliably as an input device.)

Make sure you’re confident about your annotations, though. Ctrl-Z will not undo your changes, unfortunately. If you make a mistake, you’ll need to erase all your ink and start over.

Copy

The Copy tool allows you to select a portion (or all) of your PDF and copy that portion to the Windows clipboard or save it out as a .jpg. No other formats are supported. FyleViewer has OCR—it was able to extract text from an image without any problems. My testing was pretty limited, but I was impressed with the app’s speed and accuracy in this regard.

Search

Search capabilities are modest. You can, indeed, search for text inside a document. FyleViewer will even tell you how many instances of your search term appear on individual pages within the document. What it won’t do, unfortunately, is highlight your search terms in the body of the document itself. You’re left to scan the text and find them for yourself. This feels like an odd oversight. The search results pane also tends to obscure the upper left portion of the document. So, you may not see the text for which you searched anyway.

search@3x

Share

Windows Share functionality is baked right in to FyleViewer and it’s a stand-out feature. Share makes it very easy to, well, share your document with frequent contacts or with a slew of other Windows 10 apps, including Mail, OneDrive, OneNote and others available from the Microsoft Store.

share@3x

Vectors Not Invited

There’s some bad to go along with the good.

FyleViewer apparently renders a document once upon open (as a bitmap image?), at whatever size the main application window happens to be at the time. If the app window is small when you open a PDF (at least one containing vector text or images), you’ll end up with a soft-‘n’-fuzzy rendering when you zoom in or make the application window larger. See video below.

This fuzziness on zoom makes FyleViewer less useful than it could be, especially for vector and text documents where enlarging to view details or small print may be desirable. For example: in the screenshot below, I saved out a vector file from Adobe Illustrator as a PDF, opened it in both Adobe Acrobat and FyleViewer, and zoomed in. Note that the enlarged image is a fuzzy mess in FyleViewer (left) but remains crisp and sharp in Acrobat (right).

Now, I don’t expect FyleViewer to go toe to toe with Adobe’s industry-leading PDF creation and editing tool. And, to be fair, this limitation is hinted at in the app’s feature list as found in the Microsoft Store. Per the developer, FyleViewer is intended to view “Photo PDFs,” i.e., one assumes, PDFs containing bitmap images. With photographs, pixelization on enlargement is to be expected. Nowhere does the developer claim FyleViewer can faithfully render vector or text-based documents at zoomed-in resolutions. In that sense, it’s probably unfair to complain that FyleViewer doesn’t do what it never claims to do.

I just find it an odd choice for a PDF viewer. I rarely need to view a raster image file contained in a PDF. There just doesn’t seem to be much of a use case there. I’m far more likely to view bitmap images in their .raw format or as a .jpg (but your mileage may vary).

My personal use case for a lightweight PDF viewer is to quickly review text documents without needing to open Acrobat, a hulking 3GB behemoth that often seems to lag, even on my decently-specced machine. But, FyleViewer doesn’t render text documents very nicely.

The Verdict

Should you try FyleViewer? Yes, you should. Will it do what you need it to do? That depends on your use case. If your main use for a PDF reader is to review text documents, I can’t really recommend it. On the other hand, if you need a lightweight, beautiful app to review “Photo PDFs,” it may work for you. As I wrote above, Share is a very nice feature, but you can access the same functionality in Windows Explorer these days. (You can find that on Explorer’s Share tab. Fitting, I know.)

All in all, I don’t think FyleViewer is quite ready to be my daily driver. The inability to zoom text documents without significant blur will be a deal breaker for many, myself included. Probably for you, too.

And the app is buggy. It crashes fairly regularly.

But lest you think this is relentlessly negative review, let me end on a positive note. Despite all I’ve written above, I heartily recommend that Windows 10 users download the FyleViewer app and try it out for themselves. It’s a great demo of what a Windows 10 UWP app should look like in the era of Fluent Design. Kudos to the developer for understanding and embracing the new paradigm.

The Future of FyleViewer

I sincerely hope the developer continues to iterate on FyleViewer. It has some serious flaws at present, but also a ton of potential. I’d love this app to grow into what I hoped it would be: a very handsome (and it is!) replacement to Acrobat for simple PDF viewing.

What I’d love to see in future versions:

  • The ability to render vector documents crisply at all zoom levels
  • A dedicated search button (right now search is hidden under what I think is the bookmarks menu)
  • Text labels for buttons
  • Highlighted search terms
  • Better app stability

Update (01/04/2018)

I opened FyleViewer today and was greeted with an app update notification. The developer has added some nice new features, so I think a quick update of my review is in order, too.

(As an aside, the update happened seamlessly in the background without my doing a thing. Nice. I’m really digging the smooth integration of Microsoft Store apps and Windows 10.)

Draw and Copy Tools

The Draw Tool now respects Ctrl-Z (undo) and Ctrl-Y (redo) commands. No more need to erase all your annotations due to an inadvertent slip of your input device. The mere presence of these commands makes FyleViewer’s Draw Tool approximately one million times more useful than it was before.

In addition, when you invoke the Draw/Copy Tools (by right-clicking inside the app window), the button group now appears directly beneath your cursor, allowing for quick selection of the tool you’re after. This is a definite improvement over the previous behavior, which had the button group pinned to the left-ish edge of the app window.

You can also now share directly from inside the Copy Tool. What that means, practically speaking, is that you can select just the portion of a PDF you’re interested in and immediately invoke the Windows Share dialog. Send it to frequent contacts. Send it via Mail. Send it to OneDrive. It’s up to you. Previously, you would’ve had to: (1) save out the selection as an image, (2) find it on your hard drive, and (3) share it from there.

If you do choose to share an image via the Copy Tool, however, be warned that it sends a .bmp file to the recipient. This may not be what you want. Conversely, if you save out the selection as an image, it gets stored as a .jpg (much preferable for continuous tone images). I’m not sure if this inconsistency is intentional, an oversight, or a limitation of the UWP platform.

Check it out here.