Pros: Simple, straightforward interface; Useful help overlays when you use features for first time; Good for making quick photo fixes
Cons: Niftier effects require in-app upgrade; Exposure adjustments a bit extreme; Relies on low-res renders when performing edits; Android version not as developed as iOS version
Verdict: The free Adobe Photoshop Express for iOS and Android devices is easy to use for making quick edits to photos.
With Photoshop Express for Android and iOS, Adobe joins the parade of free, basic image editors. This app eschews many of the gimmicks of other editors, and instead opts for an interface that's as basic and straightforward as it can get. The result is a serviceable tool that works well for quick edits on your tablet.
We tested Photoshop Express on an Apple iPad with Retina Display; as of this writing, the Android version was geared solely to phones, and it couldn't view images that weren't taken with the device's camera.
When you first start Adobe Photoshop Express, you're presented with a clear button in the center of the screen that prompts you to select your photo, from the camera roll or any other folders you may have on your iPad or iPhone. Once you open an image, you're dropped directly into the editor's workspace. The app can be used in portrait or landscape orientation.
MORE: Best Apps 2013
Along the top of the display are options to select a photo; share a photo via email, Facebook, Twitter or Tumblr; or save your edit. Running along the bottom of the display are five simple icons; most of them lead to other editing options. The first option is an auto-fix button. Next is the crop tool; nothing fancy here, just grab at a corner and resize. Tap on the padlock icon at the bottom of the screen to lock the ratio or select another ratio. You can also straighten an image, rotate it or flip it from this same menu.
Under the exposure icon are more precise adjustments for exposure, brightness, contrast, hue, saturation, tint and temperature. Still other edit options include applying effects such as black and white, colorize, sketch, soft focus, sharpen and reduce noise; and then the effects, borders, and red-eye reduction.
The free effects were standard and fewer in number. Others, like the Bright Rays shown here, were fun and unique, but required an in-app purchase of the Adobe Effects Pack for $2.99 (the pack includes 45 additional effects in all).
All adjustments are made by swiping your finger up and down, and left-to-right, on the display. As you first enter an editing option, Adobe provides a helpful overlay demonstrating how to move your finger. However, this overlay only appears once, and beyond that, there's no in-app guidance or help if you need it again.
Early on in our use of Photoshop Express, we found one glitch, and one limitation of the app. The glitch came when we would enlarge images to view them more closely; however, once enlarged, the high-resolution image couldn't be moved about within the workspace. The only way out of this was to hit cancel and reopen the image.
Another limitation: Photoshop Express uses lower-resolution versions of images as you edit. This is a common fault of other free image editors we've seen, but it's not an issue with Photoshop Touch. Nonetheless, the image pixelation makes applying some edits challenging, such as when you're trying to sharpen an image -- it's tough to do if you can't clearly see how sharp an image is from the outset.
While we like some aspects of Photoshop Express' quick fixes, we found others frustrating to use. For example, some of the automatic fixes provided a good baseline, but on a few images, the exposure ran hot after we ran it through Photoshop Express, resulting in a more washed-out look than we expected.
Photoshop Express on iOS lacks the power of Adobe's $9.99 Photoshop Touch for mobile. However, its basic interface makes this app an uncluttered pleasure to use. Among free photo-editing apps, we prefer Snapseed, which works on Android and iOS and offers more editing tools. Overall, though, Photoshop Express will get the job done.