Early forecasters who opined that the iPad would only ever be used as a content consumption device have one more reason to eat crow. The Grand Poobah of desktop image editing, Adobe Photoshop, has released a tablet-focused version of its software--and the app is an impressive content creation tool indeed. While (expectedly) not as fully featured as its desktop counterpart, Photoshop Touch packs a lot more functionality than other apps in its category. But at $10, Adobe's Photoshop Touch app costs $5 more than Snapseed and Apple's own iPhoto. Is it worth the extra money?
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When you launch Adobe Photoshop Touch, you're greeted by a screen that asks whether you want to begin a tutorial or start a new project. Choosing the tutorial option brought up a thumbnail grid of 13 walkthroughs, including how to slap a cropped foreground onto a new background, how to apply artistic effects (pencil sketch, painting, etc.), how to create camera layers and more. While the tutorials were quite easy to follow (a banner across the bottom of the app presented step-by-step instructions), there's no way to disable them, which could prove frusrating for experienced hands.
Moving into Project mode, we first chose a photo to edit; you can select one from Local Photos, Creative Cloud (Adobe's cloud storage service), or one from the Camera, Google or Facebook.
To better suit tablet usage, Photoshop Touch presents a simplified UI, but with tools in roughly the same arrangement as on the desktop version. The left side houses a palette where we could find the familiar Marquee Selection, Magic Wand and a new Scribble Selection Tool. Below these options sit Paint and Spray, the Healing Brush, Clone Stamp, Eraser, and Smudge and Blur tools. Tapping on the very first icon at the top of the tools palette toggles between the settings of a tool and the tool palette, while tapping and holding on an icon switches between other tools with similar functions.
On the right side of the screen, you'll find the layers palette. Here, layers are displayed as thumbnails and stacked one on top of the other. Like desktop Photoshop, the top layer is what's visible in the main editing space. To toggle between hide and show, we simply tapped on the circle on the top left corner of the thumbnail. We could also add new layers, duplicate a selected layer, add an imported photo layer or make a new layer from our current selection. Each of the layer's settings was adjustable, giving us the ability to modify opacity, experiment with blend modes, and to merge and delete layers.
One neat Easter egg in the app was also tucked away in this palette. When we double-tapped on a layer, a 3D rendering of the layer stacks appeared. We could even touch it to rotate the model, looking at it from several angles.
Finally, across the top of the screen, you'll find a horizontal menu of tools and effects, which includes icons for Back, Add image, Pencil, Selection tools, Transform mode, Levels, Effects, other common tools such as Crop and Image Size, and an icon to toggle full-screen view.
Other photo apps, such as Snapseed and iPhoto, typically allow for whole-image modification while throwing in some features for spot editing here and there. Photoshop Touch is the exact opposite. It puts the greatest emphasis on tweaking smaller details--menu items for these functions are immediately accessible--while it buries the artistic filters and effects deeper within the app.
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There aren't too many multitouch gestures you can apply within the Photoshop Touch. It's a far cry from both Snapseed and iPhoto, where we made adjustments to images primarily using touch-based gestures such as swiping, tapping and pinching. As a result, the learning curve for manipulating images was much easier in Photoshop Touch. All we had to do was tap on a tool, then touch our image. For instance, we could use our finger to draw a lasso selection within an image, pinch to increase or decrease the size of a brush, and swipe horizontally to adjust its opacity.
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In being refitted for the tablet, Photoshop Touch contains the ingredients of only the most popular features of desktop Photoshop, such as brushes, erasers, layers, the Magic Wand, warps, fills, drop shadows, color levels, blend modes and more. In addition, Adobe developed two functions that can only be found within the tablet app: the Scribble Selection Tool, and Camera Fill. Scribble Select let us separate the foreground from the background in our picture by tracing outer and inner outlines with our finger. We could even zoom in on the details to get a cleaner crop of the foreground. Camera Fill let us create a floating layer on top of a camera-enabled layer so that, for instance, we could create our own face-in-hole pictures.
Since most controls focus on making changes to the finer details, there was little opportunity for the app to show that it lagged. Even adjusting the brightness and contrast didn't provide us with a live preview--we touched sliders along the bottom of the app, and the screen refreshed when we let go of the display.
That being said, we didn't notice any troublesome delay in Photoshop Touch while it executed our gestures and touch commands. The didn't have the same lightning-quick responsiveness as Snapseed, but for the meticulous process of editing details--Photoshop Touch's forte--we didn't find this problematic. This also may be due to a file size restriction, too; you can only edit images up to 1600 x 1600. That means if you wanted to edit an 8-MP image from an iPhone 4S, you'd have to downsize it first.
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Options to share images on Photoshop Touch include Save to Camera Roll, email, Facebook or to an AirPrint-compatible printer. We also appreciated the inclusion of Creative Cloud, Adobe's cloud storage locker with 2GB of free space upon sign-up. However, the absence of support for Twitter, Flickr or other popular Web services was disappointing.
Another weakness is that the app is only able to preserve layers by saving the file in an app-specific format, PSDX. If you want to work on the photo on your desktop, you first have to download a free plug-in from Adobe's website. Also, flattened images can only be saved as JPEGs or PNG.
On the spectrum of image-editing software for the iPad, Photoshop Touch is definitely the most advanced app we've reviewed. It crams more features into its little package than most amateur photo editors will ever use on a daily basis. Ironically, though, its file-size and format restrictions may make it too limiting for professionals, who should consider the app as a complement to the desktop Photoshop more than anything. And, as far as taking advantage of the iPad's multitouch capabilities, we prefer the $4.99 Snapseed, which also has fairly robust editing tools. But experienced image tweakers will be satisfied by Photoshop Touch.