BeFunky is aiming to be more than just a good mobile-and-web photo editor/enhancer: The company wants to create a new, automated way for you to organise and find your photos and those of others, whether you're using a computer browser or you're off somewhere with a mobile device.
Unlike Instagram, each BeFunky entry point gets full citizenship, so you can edit and upload photos in the browser as well as in the app. On the other hand, as with Instagram there are filters and social discovery elements, but BeFunky is more organised, with categories for photo types such as nature, pets, faces, and so on. Unfortunately, the app and service don't deliver the goals of editing wrapped with discovery as ably as the competition.
Setup and interface
You can start with BeFunky either by installing the app from the iTunes Store or by signing up on the web. As far as the app goes, versions are available for the iPad and Android as well as the iPhone one which we’re reviewing here. Signing up on the web is a dead easy process if you simply click the big blue button that uses a certain social network. This requires access to your public profile, friends list, email address, birthday, status updates, photos and your friends' photos. It also requests the ability to post publicly on your behalf, but given BeFunky's purpose, that makes sense.
Once you've clicked on okay twice, you've got yourself a fully functional BeFunky page and account. The default profile description is cute: "One magical day a unicorn handed me a camera and showed me BeFunky. The rest is history."
The app's home screen features two large buttons on top: Camera and Camera Roll. Above this, there’s a Settings gear and a smaller Create button, the latter of which you can't use unless you've selected a photo. I'm not sure why this button is even on the home screen, since you can't have a photo selected there. But the largest part of the screen is dedicated to photo thumbnails for categories like Nature, Pets, Love, and Tattoo. Along the bottom are five more buttons – in addition to Home, we have Profile, Explore, My Stream, and Activity. It seems like a couple of these are redundant, and could have been eliminated to make room for the standard Camera icon for shooting pictures that you find in most photo apps.
When it comes to shooting pictures, the app uses the built-in iPhone Camera app, so you don't get anything in the way of extras like separate focus and exposure points. Befunky has a lot more basic photo editing tools than Instagram, including white balance, levelling, fill light, and sharpening. These offer the Snapseed-like swiping gestures to increase and decrease the effects. However, they work in an unusual way: You have to hit the check mark icon once you're happy with an edit, otherwise it will be lost when you swipe over to apply another. There's an Undo arrow which displays a small thumbnail showing each edit step, rather than actually undoing your last action. At first I found this process odd, but then it seemed to make sense.
Next come the effect filters. Unlike a lot of photo apps that use funky names for these, in a welcome move BeFunky uses straightforward descriptive names like Cross Process, Instant, and Lomo. I also like how the illustrative thumbnail for each effect shows your actual photo, rather than a sample image like Instagram's balloon.
I counted 29 filters in the free app, with a lot of eye-catching choices like Pop Art, Sketch, and Holga. You can purchase even more in categories like Instant, Old Photo, and Duotone for £0.69 each. Alternatively, you can buy the whole set of 65 effects in the form of BeFunky Pro for £1.49, which is better value.
Borders and frames are a similar deal: You get plenty to choose from in the app, but if those don't meet your visual desires, you can purchase more.
The text feature is something with no equivalent in Instagram. You can choose from six fonts, many background colours (or a transparent background), and coolest of all, you can rotate your text on three axes! Happily, you're not restricted to square output, as you are in Instagram.
Once you've boosted your photo's visual impact satisfactorily, it's time to share it. Output options include the Camera Roll, BeFunky's online presence, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Flickr. You can choose any combination of these for simultaneous posting. If you choose BeFunky, you'll be asked for a name and category (you can assign more than one), otherwise you just need a name.
When I tried uploading over 3G, there was no progress bar to display the, well, progress of the upload; instead you just get a spinning "Please wait" message. This persisted indefinitely, until I restarted the app.
View from the web
On BeFunky's site, you'll see the same categories as in the app, though of course with large thumbnails. You also get buttons for Upload, Explore, and My Stream. The last only showed me a BeFunky staffer's feed, included by default. Unfortunately, the web view doesn't give you a full screen view of the photo or one with a black background like Flickr's light table view, which puts all the focus on the image. Instead, you see a busy box around the image, with share buttons and your title and category. You also see "Points." I got 10 points each for my two uploaded photos. The number of points determines how high the photo sits in the site's “hot” section.
You can upload a photo from a folder or one of your connected online services. You get all the same editing and enhancing choices as with the app, though if you want an amazingly powerful web-based photo editor, check out Pixlr. BeFunky's site also gives you all the same sharing choices, with an option to save your creation to the hard drive. By default, the photos you upload are public. Anyone viewing a photo can Like or comment via Facebook. An ad displays on every page, unlike Flickr which leaves individual photo pages ad-free, even in free accounts.
BeFunky is aiming to be YouTube for photos, a place where anyone on the web can find photos in "channels" based on subject. You can subscribe to these channels, which are both algorithmically and moderator ranked, or to other users' streams. The photos I found were mostly of the Instagram ilk, gussied up with filters and effects. I like the YouTube-like channel idea, but I'm able to find a much more targeted and larger selection in Flickr's Groups.
Sometimes it's better to leave selection and categorisation up to the users, as Flickr does, rather than applying algorithms and moderators. For example, BeFunky has a "Nature" channel, full of cliché, Hallmark-like images. I even found close-ups of people's faces ranked high in the category. On Flickr, by contrast, you can find groups for every subset of wildlife, down to one for a specific genus of woodpeckers. And it's got over 2000 photos!
Full BeFunky site access isn't free, either. You can upload photos at a reduced resolution for free, but for up to 2500 x 2500 pixel uploads, you'll pay £3.20 a month or £16.30 a year. In contrast, Flickr charges the same yearly fee for unlimited full resolution uploads and downloads. A Pro level BeFunky account costs £65 a year, which lets you upload photos up to 4000 x 4000 pixels. I regularly upload 4752 x 3168 pixel photos to Flickr using a £16 per year account, so BeFunky doesn't offer much value in comparison. You also don't get Flickr's map geo-tagging or even general tagging, which helps people find photos of specific things.
BeFunky give you a good deal more photo editing tools than Instagram, though no photo shooting tools like you get with Camera+ and Camera Genius. It also adds YouTube-like discovery into the mix, allowing you to subscribe to channels and users. BeFunky’s web features are richer than what Instagram offers, but pale in comparison to our top choice photo sharing site, Flickr. If you want more editing options than Instagram, the free version of BeFunky can serve you well, even if it’s not as smooth or powerful as Snapseed. By now it's probably become clear to you that while BeFunky does a lot of things, it doesn't do any of them best.