Review of Pixlr Express for Android
If you are looking for a simple to use, quality app for editing images on the Android platform, there are a number of options out there these days. Among them is the welcome Pixlr Express, created by Autodesk Inc., a company behind a heavy suit of professional and quality products for creative design and engineering. Pixlr Express is a free app, released in the fall of 2012, and which completely replaced the limited Pixlr-o-matic app (which is still offered in the Google Play store). The app was released quite timely in fact, only a few weeks previous to the Android release of Google owned Snapseed.
To give some indication of the quality of this app, without yet going into its finer details, over 95,000 people have rated it on Google Play, with over 80,000 of these rating it with five stars. That isn’t a small feat, nevermind this being more than four times the number who’ve rated Snapseed, and with a slightly higher rating at 4.8 (Snapseed is at 4.7). While this speaks for itself, in this review we are going to go into some of the finer details of what the app can do and which set it apart from other apps. I’ll cover the app’s most recent update (you can read Autodesk’s press release here), including its collage feature.
Phones are changing fast. I’d wager that two phone generations from now many smartphones will come standard with a 12 megapixel sensor, while high end phones may even pack 20 and even 40 megapixel cameras. And I don’t mean with tricks like oversampling. With that in mind, Pixlr Express is ahead of the pack with save capabilities at just a little over 19 megapixels. Not only can it save at that resolution, but it actually does. The new collage feature saves square collages att 4378 x 4378 pixels, with minimal loss of individual image quality, making it de facto the best app on the Android market for making high resolution collages.
One of the best aspects of Pixlr Express is its simplicity. The user interface remains as it has been from the start, streamlined and quick, with visible menus so you always know where you are at within the app. The simple UI and broad functionality of this editing app make for a powerful and quick tool of creativity. Upon opening Pixlr we are greeted by a camera and gallery option as well as the new collage tool. There is a quick image below these to select the most recent picture in one’s gallery, which is a real convenience for quickly editing and sharing.
Though this review won’t deal with app specs such as settings or active memory usage, from the UX or user experience side of things, it was much quicker in loading 25 megapixel images than even HandyPhoto, which is a tough app to beat.
Some newer features in the recent update are “Add Image” and “Splash”. Add Image is not very significant. As far as layering goes, this app is in its infancy. You can only add an image as a normal layer, rather than darken, lighten, multiply, add or subtract the layer from the other, as you can in other programs. These features are not available in this app, and until they are it is quite a limited tool for creativity. You can also not snap layers to the primary image edges, which is essential to crafting quality artistic works. The basic opacity setting for layering could be enhanced in the future (this is advice, Autodesk) by selective eraser tools or the ability to ad, subtract, or multiply one image on top of another. Were such new tools integrated smoothly into the natural and easy to use interface, it would make for one of the better layering apps on Android. But that will have to wait.
Update: It seems Autodesk took my advice, and with the most recent update (December 2014), they have added ten different blending modes to the layering capabilities of the app, making it a quick app for high resolution layering comparable to, though quicker than, PS Touch. There is no snap to edge feature, and Pixlr’s own overlays can’t be blended in different ways, but that isn’t a hard task for them to achieve. The new update has also added numerous additional overlays and geometric patterns. One year after this review, and the app has pushed the quality of its product even further. [End update, but read on!]
What is new and worthy is the Splash feature. There are entire apps dedicated to poor quality and low resolution attempts at what this one feature does. It turns the image black and white, and then you simply run your finger over the image until it displays the color you wish to pop out of that black and white image. You can alter the tolerance (or breadth) of color that is brought out, select a specific color from a palette or from the image, erase portions of color, and reset the image to black and white. Since it does this at full resolution, and quickly, it is de facto the best app for doing such creative imagery. The example above shows a quick demonstration of such. One typical limitation I find with this feature and with all other apps that do same is the assumption of a neutral black and white. The monochrome image itself should have options upon which one splashes color. That’s me being picky though.
This is the largest addition to the app’s most recent update, and deserves a little scrutiny, as it makes Pixlr Express the best app on Android for creating collages. Upon touching the collage button when starting the app, you are taken to the most recently opened gallery of photos in your phone’s image gallery. Because it opens these photos in an internal app gallery, it is quicker than the native gallery. I am, for example, on a Galaxy SIII. It’s gallery opens notoriously slow in all apps on the market. For some reason, Autodesk decided to not include their in-app image gallery in the editing portion, so that selecting images to edit is time consuming. The hope is that they provide the same in-app gallery in the editing tools section in a future update.
The UI for collages is simple and in harmony with that of the rest of the app. Simply select a number of images (maximum of ten, the Pixlr blog calls this a ton) and they show up at bottom. Click done, and you are taken to the collage. It automatically selects a frame based on the number of images you select. You can then modify this with the layout button. You can drag and drop photos so that they switch places easily. You can zoom them in, move them to where you like, etc. One of the best features is, if you are not satisfied with an image, you can select it, and edit it with all the other tools in Pixlr Express! Rather than hit save when finished, you hit done, and you are back in the collage with the edited photo. Another nice touch to collages is that, if your last image was a collage, it shows up as the most recent image in the start menu and, clicking this, you can continue editing it as a collage.
Then there are the typical collage tools such as background or frame color, spacing to determine the border size, and roundness just in case you want to soften those hard border corners. Another cool feature is proportion, which allows you to modify the heighth/width ratio of the collage. The frames respond to this adjustment, and allows for exposure of more or less of your various images. All in all this is hands down the best collage maker, and again, at 19 megapixel resolution.
The effects, overlays, borders (which carried over from Pixlr-o-matic) are all still available and unchanged. Type and stickers remain as is, excepting a couple new (and resurrected) sticker packets for those inclined to doodle.
[A note from the author, that being me: No one has paid or influenced me to review this app or say what is said here. It’s an impressive app all around.]