A year after being named the iPad app of the year by Apple in 2011, Nik Software's impressive tablet photo editor has arrived on Android. Maybe that's not such a huge surprise, considering that Android creator Google purchased Nik Software, the maker of Snapseed, this past September. Though it doesn't have quite the stunning interface of Apple's iPhoto for iOS, or some of the mind-blowing content-aware tricks of Adobe Photoshop Touch, Snapseed remains one of the most powerful image editors available for tablets. And best of all? It's now free (as is its iOS counterpart).
Snapseed for Android's interface is nearly identical to that of the iPad app. It's simple and clear, yet it packs in a lot of power and in-depth detail. After you open or shoot a photo, you'll see rectangles along the bottom of the screen (or along the side if you're in landscape orientation), which you can swipe through to choose edits, adjustments, and effects. Simple swiping gestures let you adjust contrast, brightness, and colour; or you can have the program select those automatically, or choose control points in the image.
An always-present icon lets you compare your edited work with the original, and the original image is always saved – the editor is non-destructive, in other words. A question mark is always available in the upper right hand corner, and touching it overlays helpful hand-drawn instructions showing where to tap or swipe to perform a function (see the image above).
The app adroitly handles photo-fixing basics such as brightness, contrast, cropping, and straightening. For Snapseed's sharpening capability, accessible from the Details option, Nik borrows from its pro-level Photoshop plugin, Sharpener Pro 3.0. This even lets you adjust sliders for strength and "structure," providing a powerful way to bring out hidden textures.
I was also impressed that many of the adjustments and effects can be applied to specific areas of the image using control points in the app's Selective Adjust and Selective Focus sections. These let you apply brightness, contrast, and saturation to an adjustable circular region of the photo. You drag one finger in and out while holding the other on the control point to enlarge or shrink the affected area, which is shown by a red overlay. Adobe's Photoshop Touch app, however, outperforms Snapseed in this department, with desktop-Photoshop-like local brushes. That app also surpasses Snapseed in terms of capabilities such as removing background objects, and working with image layers.
Snapseed's Drama tool did indeed add drama to a bleak landscape I tried it on, while Vintage (see above) offers nine old-fashioned photo looks and several texture options. Grunge is one of Snapseed's most impressive tools, with a whopping 1,500 style settings, each offering different degrees of colour emphasis or fading. Once you're done with tweaking the actual image, you can place it in a choice of frames that give the photo a mounted appearance.
Snapseed offers one of the hottest effects in digital photography today – "tilt shift" (see the pic below). I use quotation marks because although this is the popular term for the miniaturisation and saturation technique, tilt-shift is actually a geometry effect only possible with expensive lenses. Snapseed lets you choose an elliptical or linear focus area for the effect, and you can change the angle and thickness of the focus area. This is actually more control over the tilt shift effect than you'll find in some desktop apps, and the results can be impressive.
Unfortunately, Google is using this app as another way to pump up its under-populated social network. To that end, there's a big Google+ button below your photo on the main screen. Fortunately, you can share to places you're more likely to have contacts on from the Share menu available from the options, top right. This will make any service’s app you've installed a sharing target; on my test tablet, I could share to Pinterest, Facebook, Box, and several more.
Instagram certainly offers fun ways to doll up your photos, and a compelling social photo community – albeit one embroiled in controversial debate this week – but Snapseed is more capable and powerful when it comes to enhancing images. True, it lacks the flashy design of Apple's iPhoto for iOS, but it exceeds even that excellent app in some effects. And the price is right – free – making Snapseed a great choice for your Android photo editing.