Adobe Photoshop Touch (for iPhone) review

Pros

  • Surprisingly advanced photo correction
  • Good use of small screen size
  • Can open files in desktop Photoshop

Cons

  • No hand tool
  • Can't import PSDs with layers
  • No level/straighten tool

Getting an app with many of the advanced features of its flagship Photoshop application onto a tablet seemed hard enough, but Adobe has gone a step further, taking the world's leading image editor to phones, with Photoshop Touch for iPhone (priced at £2.99). It only makes sense to offer these capabilities on the iPhone, since that's become the primary point-and-shoot camera for many users, including me – despite the fact that I own a shiny new (but much bulkier) Canon EOS 6D.

If you're going to shoot and share the photo from the phone, why not have the ability to edit it effectively, too? Photoshop Touch boasts a lot of – although obviously not all – the familiar Photoshop tools and concepts, including layers, filters, and the beloved Magic Wand. But the iPhone version is not as powerful or usable as the iPad app, which is only to be expected, given the smaller work area. It's also missing some expected tools like red-eye correction and photo levelling.

Interface

You get started by tapping the bottom centre photo icon, which lets you choose from your camera roll, or Adobe's Creative Cloud online service, or to shoot a new picture with your camera, or with a blank document. I missed the ability to open a Facebook photo, and I also missed all the helpful tutorials of the iPad app, but the first time through the interface, tool tip overlays explain what each button is for.

The camera option doesn't offer any shooting tools like Camera+'s separate focus and exposure points and self-timer. Once you've got an image in the app for editing, you'll see four icons across the top. The first is for basic actions like selection and pasting, the second is for image adjustments, and the next two offer filters and advanced effects.

The bottom left icon is the tool selector: This popped up well-known Photoshop features like Clone Stamp, Healing Brush, and Magic Wand, along with selection and painting tools. If you need (just a little) more space, you can hide the top toolbar.

The coolest of this last group is the Scribble Selection tool, which lets you finger-paint a rough trace of the object in the photo you want to select, and “automagically” your person or whatever other item you want is selected with a usually accurate outline. You use a green scribble to mark what you want to keep and red for what you don’t. The Refine Selection tool let me do just that after the rough scribble selection.

One basic thing missing was a hand tool – it took me a while to figure out that the same two-finger input was used for this. And I'm not alone, several users have complained about the app's lack of a hand tool in the product forum.

Basic photo edits

Photoshop Touch carries all the basic photo adjustments you'd expect from the imaging software leader: Brightness and contrast, colour saturation and temperature, and noise reduction. You also get more specific tonal adjustments for shadows, dark areas and highlights. I like the fact that these adjustments start in the middle and let you slide down and up to darken or brighten the effect. You even get the more advance curves and levels tool, which lets you adjust using a histogram, and even by separate colour channels. I was surprised not to find sharpening in the adjustment tool set, but thankfully it was available in the FX tool set.

I could rotate my photo by 90 degrees or flip it, but I couldn't level or straighten images from this tool, which other photo apps offer. This seemed odd for an app that actually lets you "warp" your photo using several control points. You can use the Transform tool to rotate to a specific number of degrees, but that also rotates the image sides.

Another tool I was surprised to see missing was red-eye reduction. You could of course go in and select pupils and replace colours, but red-eye is a basic correction that's in nearly every photo editor at every level.

Jazzing up photos

Photoshop Touch puts Instagram to shame when it comes to artistic and retro filters (though Snapseed has more), but Adobe's mini-photo editor goes way beyond just filters, with far more radical image manipulations. Nevertheless, let's take a look at those first. One powerful capability Touch shares with the recent Repix app is that you can apply them to specific parts of the photo using a brush.

Four groups of effect filters, under the heading "FX" include Basic, Stylise, Artistic, and Photo. Each offers nine choices, for a total of 36 compared with Instagram's 20. But each of Touch's also offers further slider adjustments. Even without these adjustments, the filters are more drastic than Instagram's, with options like colourise, halftone, moonlight, and drawing styles. The "&" group of tools includes image basics like crop, resize, and text, but it also adds stuff you don't find in other apps, such as warp, gradient, and fade. A lens flare tool here seems to belong in FX, and offers its own sub-choices like Spot, Artus, Fantasy, J.J., and Sunset.

Photoshop Touch is among a very small number of iPhone photo apps that can add text to your image. It has the largest selection of fonts I've seen in an iPhone photo app, and lets you change the colour and rotation of text. One limitation is that it only allows one line of text.

One of the app's coolest capabilities is that it lets you remove distracting objects on a uniform background as you can in the iPad version, by selecting an object and then using the Clone Stamp tool to replace the object with the background. I was able to eradicate a groundskeeper from a lawn pretty effectively – a pretty nifty trick on a phone. The results aren't as jaw-dropping as with the real Photoshop (and Photoshop Elements) content-aware technology, but they’re impressive nevertheless.

The app lets you add, arrange and remove layers, which you can even see in a 3D view. Unfortunately, you can’t work in the app with layers from an imported PSD file you created in Photoshop for desktop; but you can go the other way, opening Touch images in Photoshop for desktop, with all editing options. The layers let you produce effects like gradient backgrounds, drop shadows for masked objects, and layered drawings, all with adjustable opacity. You can turn a layer on and off by tapping a dot on its thumbnail.

Sharing

The preferred Adobe method of sharing is to use Creative Cloud – the company's online service with which you get 2GB storage with your purchase of Photoshop Touch. When doing this, you have a choice of JPG, PNG, or Touch's own PSDX format, the last of which saves your layers and other editing info. You can then sync edits made in the app to the cloud version and make a public web view of the image using Behance. From there, you can share to Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest, but surprisingly not email.

The other sharing options include just what you'd expect and what you’d most likely want – Facebook, Twitter, and, yes, email. But these are one more click away than the Creative Cloud choice. You can simply send your work to the Camera Roll or iTunes from the top level share menu.

The app did, however, crash a couple of times during my testing. This happened when I tried to use the Camera Fill tool. Other users in the product forum complain about various crashes, so it's not only me. I know this app is trying to do a lot in a small platform, but I do hope for and expect software released by as distinguished a source as Adobe to be more stable.

Verdict

There are some things that Adobe Photoshop Touch for iPhone can do that no other iPhone photo app can. A couple of these features include selecting objects with the impressive scribble tool and removing them from your photos with the clone stamp tool. Another is letting you create edit layers you can later work with in Photoshop.

If anything, Photoshop Touch tries to do too much, but it nevertheless manages to cram an amazing amount of functionality into the small screen of a mobile phone. But for a powerful, easy-to-use general photo editing app for the iPhone, I still prefer Snapseed.