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Review: Snapseed app offers simple, fun image editing on smart devices

Consumer Reports News: December 12, 2012 01:08 PM

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The Snapseed photo-editing app was originally developed by Nik Software and cost $5. But Google acquired both the company and app, and announced last week that it would offer Snapseed for free; it has a few new filters features, too. The tools in Snapseed are not as precise as those in iPhoto or Photoshop Touch, but they're much easier to use.

You can use Snapseed on both iPad and Android tablets as well as on smart phones and other mobile devices to color, tone, frame, and sharpen your images. I've been using the app on my iPad, and here's what I've found.

Snapseed's main interface on an iPad

Getting started. The Apple iPhoto app has a photo-organizing element, and Photoshop Touch offers a more comprehensive selection of editing tools than Snapseed. And that's not necessarily a bad thing. In short, Snapseed gives you a variety of filters you can apply to your photos, similar to Instagram, but Snapseed affords you more control over the strength and application of the effects you apply.

To start editing, simply open up a photo from your library or shoot a new one. You can also use the Paste command to select an image to work on, a new feature: In your photo library, copy an image, then open up Snapseed and paste it into the program.

Filters and effects. Once you've imported a photo, you can begin applying filters. I liked that you can apply more than one or "stack" several filters. You adjust the strength of the effect by swiping your finger left or right, and depending on which filter you're using, change the type of enhancement by swiping up or down on the screen: changing from color saturation to contrast, for example. This method is intuitive and easy to use.

Adjust the filter strength by swiping your finger left and right on the device screen

It doesn't have a lot of precise editing features, but Snapseed includes a few useful tools, such as Crop and Straighten, to fix problems like a slanting horizon line.

One unique tool is Selective Adjust, which uses Nik Software U-point technology: You drop a point on your photo, and then adjust the radius of one of three effects: color saturation, contrast, or brightness. But the effect will also work on similarly colored or selected objects. Say you want to change a section of several trees with the same color and tone. Drop a point on one of the trees and then expand the radius of the point's circle to encompass all the trees. When you change the brightness, the effect will alter only the trees—nothing between the trees. That's smart technology.

Once you've applied the effects you want, you tap the Apply button to save a copy of your image with the edits you made. You can undo them, too. For me, the Grunge filter (a rough-looking texture) and Tilt-Shift (which creates a band of focus in your image that blends into a blurred section) make even mundane images look dramatic and surreal. The Retrolux filter is also fun to use: It has a similar quality to Grunge, but adds more controls.

Help. Like in iPhoto, Snapseed's Help button brings overlay guides onto the screen. The app also offers a longer online Help section, and a few online videos as well. All in all, the help features are straightforward and helpful.

Sharing and posting online. Snapseed lets you share your photos in a number of ways: You can e-mail them, post to your Facebook or Google+ account, and open them in other programs. Everything worked quickly and easily for me.

Bottom line. With its uncluttered interface, variety of fun filters, and selection of editing tools, Snapseed offers you many ways to manipulate your photos creatively and quickly. I didn't get lost in the app, and I didn't feel like I was needlessly drilling down into a tool bar or option menu.

At times, I wished for a few more controls—such as a more precise selection tool and the ability to darken or lighten an object more precisely. But for the most part, the app is fun and effective. And since Snapseed is free, there's no reason not to try it on your tablet or smart phone.

Terry Sullivan

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