Although relatively unknown in the mainstream sphere, Nik Software has long been a player in the professional arena, crafting high-quality Photoshop and Apple Aperture plug-ins for more exacting image tweakers. The company brings its expertise to the masses with Snapseed, a $5 photo editing app for the iPad. This app has some serious competition in iPhoto for the iPad and Photoshop Touch, but it's more than up for the challenge.
We were struck by the straightforwardness of Snapseed's interface. Like iPhoto for iOS, the real estate is divided into two panels: a smaller left-hand one with thumbnails, which helped us navigate through the adjustments and filters available, and a larger panel on the right side, which housed the image we were editing. Across the bottom are icons for the four main functions of the app: Compare, Revert, Save and Share.
Tapping on Open Image let us select a photo either using the camera or from our photo library. Once we chose the effect we wanted to apply to our photo, we could use the handy Compare button on the bottom left corner of the viewer. When we touched the icon with our finger, the image minus all our edits appeared; when we let go, we could see the edited version of our picture.
The left-hand panel contains the various tweaks you can make on photos you wish to edit. The first six thumbnails represent adjustments you can make to your picture, including Automatic, Selective Adjust, Tune Image, Straighten & Rotate, Crop and Details. The rest of the thumbnails show the special effect filters you can apply to your photo, such as Black & White, Vintage, Drama, Grunge, Center Focus, Frames and Tilt & Shift.
Nik has designed a pretty clever unified gesture system for the Snapseed, based entirely on touch. Here's how it works: Once we selected a specific adjustment--for instance, Tune Image--from the left panel, we touched the picture that we wanted to edit. Without lifting our finger, we then swiped vertically. This brought up a scrollable menu of items: Brightness, Ambiance, Contrast, Saturation and White Balance.
Once we made our selection (contrast), we took our finger off the screen, then placed it back onto the surface, swiping right to increase contrast, and left to lessen it. The app let us preview the changes live, after which we could tap Undo or Apply buttons on the lower right corner.
Other gestures within the app are very straightforward: You crop images by pulling on the edges of crop handles, rotate them by dragging your finger across the picture horizontally, pinch to increase or decrease the area of a vignette, pick up and drop points using your finger, etc. The omnipresent nav bar along the bottom presents a slider with notches to help you set down an effect more accurately. Compared to iPhoto, which also leverages touch- and gesture-based photo editing, we found Snapseed's to be much more intuitive.
One of the handiest functions Nik Software has ported to the mobile realm is its U Point technology, now known as Selective Adjustment. Instead of adjusting parts of the image using masks or layers, the app intelligently detects what you want to edit based on the control points you've dropped, a feature we found rather ingenious.
For instance, we could select a portion of the water in a beach photograph to give it a more vivid azure hue, and even pinch to expand the area of adjustment covered by the control point. It proved much easier to use than Photoshop Touch's lasso feature, which had us taking extra steps to achieve the same effect--we first had to draw an outline of the portion we wanted to edit with our finger, and only after this could we apply the edits we wanted.
We also liked that we could apply an impressive array of Holga-style filters and antique effects to rival the likes of such apps as Instagram and Hipstamatic. Add that to the ability to choose a stylish border for our picture, and Snapseed had colored us impressed.
Unfortunately, the magnification feature within Snapseed was anything but powerful. The most we could do was tap on the Details filter on the left-hand panel, which brought up a magnification loupe that showed details of the image at 100 percent. Aside from this, no other zoom feature exists within the app. Snapseed says this is so that they can preserve the balance between processing power and the capabilities of the algorithms they use, which we took to mean that they would not be able to show filter previews in real-time otherwise.
Compared with iPhoto and Photoshop Touch, Snapseed was the most responsive, whether we were tapping on a single portion of the picture or applying changes to a full-sized image. The app rendered the effects smoothly and pretty much instantaneously, intensifying brightness and contrast and widening the scope of a vignette with aplomb. The changes could be previewed as quickly as we could drag our finger across the display.
There's nothing too surprising about Snapseed's sharing features. The app incorporates the ability to send photos via email; upload them automatically to Flickr, Facebook or Twitter; or beam them to AirPrint-compatible printers. However, one noticeably absent feature in Snapseed is the ability to host edited photos online. Unlike both iPhoto and Photoshop Touch, Snapseed lacks a dedicated server where users can easily upload and share their pictures with others. You also don't get the ability to create journals, which iPhoto offers.
Both professionals and brand-new hobbyists will find a lot to like in Snapseed. Its wide array of filters, intuitive touch controls and robust sharing capabilities constitute add up to our favorite photo-editing app for tablets. Those who are looking to do precision editing might prefer Photoshop Touch, and we also wish Snapseed let us zoom into pictures to check on minute details. But if you're looking for software that's incredibly fun to use, yet still produces impressive and creative edits, Snapseed more than delivers.