Photoshop is not just a strong brand. In the world of photo manipulation, it’s pretty much the only brand. When your product’s name becomes a verb (“photoshopping” images), that says something. But there’s a reason it’s such a strong brand – on the desktop, it is very, very good. It is not a simple product – we’ve got a guide covering just what’s new in Photoshop CS6, and a complete four-part series of other guides (look for them on the page) covering the full version of Photoshop in depth.
So naturally, when looking to review the free Android version of Photoshop called Adobe Photoshop Express, I was expecting to be wowed by something at least as awesome as Snapseed, the powerful Google-owned image editor. Unfortunately, this was not to be.
How Simple Is Too Simple?
Mobile apps, especially those aimed at phones rather than tablets, should be dead-easy to use. You shouldn’t be fiddling with complex controls and swiping through teeny tiny toolbars in pursuit of the right icon to tap. That said, this sort of simplicity can be taken too far. Right from the get-go, Adobe Photoshop Express had me worried:
These are the thumbnails of images on my phone. But they’re not divided into albums, and, worse still, many images are missing by default. By messing about with the settings, I was able to finally get Photoshop Express to index all of the photos stored on my phone, but by default, it only included a limited subset. I picked a photo I wanted to edit, and with high hopes for a sophisticated interface, set about tweaking it.
The Editing Interface
The editing interface consists of two toolbars, each with four buttons:
The top toolbar is where all the action takes place. You get to crop, tweak image settings (exposure, saturation, tint, and others), apply a soft focus effect, and finally, apply color effects and frames. Why soft focus gets its own button rather than be folded into the general Effects tab is anyone’s guess. The editing submenu looks like this:
Once you pick a tool, adjustment is easy: Just swipe your finger across the image to control the intensity. This is somewhat similar to Snapseed’s interface:
When adjusting the soft focus, I was expecting more granular controls, such as where the center of the focus should be. My hopes were in vain:
Just like with the other effects, you can adjust the soft focus by swiping left or right, and that’s about it. It’s more of a “hazy focus” than a true soft focus – you can’t really fake depth-of-field with it.
Applying Effects & Frames
Much like Instagram, Photoshop Express lets you apply full-image color effects to quickly get the look you want:
Just pick an effect, and it’s applied. The effects are very heavy-handed, and there is no way to control their intensity. There’s a selection of seven effects in all, ranging from “vibrant” to “soft black-and-white,” but they all lack the finesse usually associated with the Photoshop brand.
You can also pick a frame for your photo:
Once again, there is no way to adjust anything about the frame. You can’t control the thickness of the line, the corner radius, the color, or basically, anything. You’re pretty much stuck with the rigid presets Photoshop Express decided to allow. Once applied, the rounded frame didn’t even come with PNG transparency: Instead, I got a JPG with four black corners.
Photoshop Express has a single Settings screen with a handful of options:
You can opt to connect it to Facebook or TwitPic, and share your usage data with Adobe. There is one setting that’s truly important – “Show camera photos only in Phone view.” I find the label confusing, but by unchecking it, I was able to get Photoshop Express to recognize all of the photos on my phone rather than just the limited subset it started out with.
Finally, you get a button for resetting your preferences (all three of them), and one for clearing the image cache. That’s about it.
Bottom Line: A Disappointing App
To be blunt, Adobe Photoshop Express is unworthy of the Photoshop name. It certainly doesn’t make the grade for our Best Android Apps page, and remains an inferior product to Snapseed in each and every way. If you’re using it to edit images, you should really check out some of the alternatives.
Or, if you think I’m wrong and Adobe Photoshop Express is the best editor around, you’re more than welcome to tell me about it in the features. I’d love to hear what I missed.