Google+ App's New Photo Filters Offer Instagram-Like Experience

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Posting an unfiltered smartphone photo on your social network is so last year. Google+ mobile users no longer have to suffer that particular humiliation, thanks to an app update that delivers a host of photo editing tools. The new interface resembles Facebook's Instagram-enhanced mobile photo suite, but offers finer control thanks to some clever features imported from Snapseed, a powerful photo editing app recently acquired by Google. 

To test out the new photo tools, we headed to the App Store on our iPhone 4 and downloaded the official Google+ app (the update is also available for Android in Google Play). After logging into our account, we entered our phone's Camera Roll by touching the blue camera icon on the left hand side of Google Plus's bottom pop-up menu.

After taking a test photo of our favorite owl-shaped USB drive, we selected the photo by tapping its thumbnail image in the Camera Roll and were taken to a screen with the selected photo and the new editing tools. There are three categories: "Rotate," "Crop" and "Filters."

The Rotate option only allows users to rotate the image by 90 degrees at a time. No frills there, but the Crop tool offers a bit more flexibility. Users have the option to drag and draw a crop box around the desired part of your image with the Free tool, or they can constrain the tool to the dimensions of the original image or a square frame. We used the Free tool to crop out the objects on the right side of our photo, making the owl the more clear focus of the frame.

Google gives users 10 filters to play with, including staples such as Black and White and Warm and Cool tints. We tested the interface by selecting the Retrolux 2 filter, which added a smokey, soft focus to the image and slapped on a very Instagram-esque frame. 

The most notable advantage the Google+ filter gallery has over Facebook's is its ability to adjust the effects of a filter. Touching the image and sliding slightly up or down activates a menu with controls for the active filter. The controls vary depending on which filter is in use; Retrolux 2's options included Style Strength, Brightness, Contrast, Saturation and even a setting to control the amount of artificial scratches (to give your digital photos that vintage look).  

After selecting the effect you want to adjust, sliding a finger left and right across the photo controls the amount of effect being applied. The controls are easy to pick up and quickly become intuitive, and they make a killer addition to the app.

We ramped up the brightness, saturation and scratches to make the most hipstered-out picture of an owl standing in front of a terrarium that’s ever been posted on Google+. With this new update, the developers behind Google+ have shown their willingness to make Google's social service behave more like its competitors, and anyone who likes a chance to play cinematographer with their mobile photos will enjoy the change.

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