Updated 19-Oct-2009 -Added pdfdownload.org and Serola’s mobile PDF conversion form.
After Adobe Flash, I think the second biggest mobile browsing annoyance is the PDF file format, which most mobile browsers can’t display.
Thanks to Opera Mini and the ingenuity of the mobile user community it is now possible to view PDFs on most phones. The process is a bit tedious but if you really need to read a particular PDF on your phone it works.
The idea is to grab the URL of the PDF document and pass it to Adobe’s online PDF to text converter at adobe.com/products/acrobat/access_onlinetools.html. The Adobe converter isn’t very mobile friendly. Its big page size requires a lot of scrolling with a mobile browser plus you have to fill out an intrusive online form every time that basically asks you to justify why you need to use the tool. Fortunately Windows Mobile guru “Menneisyys” has created a simple mobile front end to the Adobe converter at menneisyys.s156.eatj.com/pdf.html that only requires you to enter the URL.
So how do you get the URL to paste into Menneisyys’ form? A new feature in Opera Mini 5 lets you select and copy text from any web page. If the PDF’s URL is displayed on the page you can just copy it and paste it into the converter in another tab. But many pages link to PDFs without showing the actual URL which is a problem as Opera Mini, unlike UCWEB, has no “Copy Link Location” feature.
Lucky for us, Finnish University of Tampere researcher and WapReview reader Serola found a bookmarklet that replaces links in web pages with their URLs. He tweaked it a little to get it working in Opera Mini. I’ve added the bookmarklet to my Opera Mini Bookmarklets page for your convenience.
Here’s how to use Serola’s bookmarklet to view PDFs in Opera Mini 5.
- Visit o.yeswap.com or serola.info/2008/06/27/more-bookmarklets-for-opera-mini/ with Opera Mini and click the link labeled “Links as URLs” at the top of Serola’s page or in the Tools section of o.yeswap.com.
- When the page reloads, press the wrench icon in the Opera Mini toolbar on touch phones and choose “Bookmarks” to bring up the bookmarks screen. On non-touch phones press # then 5 to view your bookmarks. Click “Add Links As URLs“
- When you encounter a web page with a link to a PDF, go to your bookmarks and choose “Links as URLs”. The page will repaint with the links displayed as their URL addresses.
- Scroll to the link to the PDF you want to view and do a long press on the screen (touch phones) or press the “1” key to bring up the context menu (image, above right). Choose “Select text” from the menu. Touch and drag to select (touch phones) or follow the prompts to mark the start and end points of your selection (non-touch). Do anther long press or tap on the “1” key to bring up the context menu again and choose “Copy”.
- Open Menneisyys’ converter page and bring up the context menu again with a long press on the text box or by positioning the cursor over the text box and pressing the “1” key. Choose “Paste”.
- Press the “Submit Query” button and wait. A text representation of the PDF should appear. If it doesn’t after 30 seconds or so refresh the page with “*” then “0” or by clicking the refresh icon in the menu on touch phones. The Adobe converter can be slow so you may have to refresh a couple of times before the document appears.
Unfortunately, the Adobe converter is not only slow but I’ve found it quite unreliable. It returns an error or a blank page about a third of the time I use it. If you know of a better online PDF to HTML or text converter that works with Opera Mini please leave a comment.
Update: Thanks to Wap Review reader Marat for suggesting pdfdownload.org/free-pdf-to-html.aspx as a better online PDF to HTML converter. It seems faster and more robust than Adobe’s and can disply images that are embedded in PDFs. To make it easier to use, frequent Wap Review commenter and Opera Mini guru Serola built PDF convert ( http://serola.info/test/pdfconvert.htm) a mobile friendly front end to pdfdownload.org. Use it by copying the PDF’s URL as described above and pasting it into PDF convert’s form.