We selected 12 popular photo apps, and after testing and analyzing all of them, we selected the following six as the best in their category.
Best photo editing app overall
We picked PicsArt as the best photo editing app overall, because it’s as comprehensive as you can get in an app intended for consumers. It has very accessible yet powerful photo editing and collaging tools that strike a nice balance between creative control and lively fun. With the addition of the new Remix feature, PicsArt also offers collaborative photo sharing.
Best photo editing app for serious photographers
No other app we've tested comes close to Snapseed's power and versatility. But it's definitely not for the consumer who wants quick results and fun projects. The handful of new features this year include a Double Exposure filter (for combining photos) and the ability to save Stacks (layers) of edits you've applied to a picture as a "Look," which can then be applied to other photos and shared with other users.
Best photo-sharing app
The definitive instant-gratification app for sharing smartphone photos, Instagram provides a quick and easy path from capture and simple edits to direct simultaneous sharing to several social networks. Instagram has strengthened its top position in this category with the recent addition of Snapchat-like Stories and Twitter Periscope-style Live Video.
Best photo-messaging app
Snapchat is highly popular thanks to its playful spontaneity, and that its augmented selfies and other pictures are viewable only by a select number of friends and then quickly self-destruct, giving users a sense of belonging to a private clubhouse. New masks, silly hats and other facial special effects are added periodically, to keep users involved. But the most interesting new development are the New World Lenses that add Pokemon-Go-like 3D animated cartoons to your scene (such as a hovering UFO beaming up grazing sheep).
5. Facetune 2
Best photo editing app for portraits
For those who want to put their best face forward, Facetune 2 is a highly specialized app, focused entirely on providing top-notch tools for retouching portraits. The new version has introduced finer quality skin-smoothing, greater editing precision, smart filters and the ability to retouch a portrait in the camera preview before you even take the picture.
6. Google Photos
Best photo editing app for backup
Google Photos backs up all your photos and videos, by automatically syncing your media library across all your mobile devices and computers, as well as the cloud. As a digital asset manager, it also organizes your multitude of files, making it easy to find a single specific image among the thousands you've taken. While Google Photos doesn’t have much regarding editing features, a recent update enabled parallel uploading, which has helped improve performance.
How we tested
The 12 apps represented a wide range of focus and purpose. So, when we developed our test scripts, we made sure that we judged and rated each app based on its own strengths and weaknesses, as they relate to what the app is meant to do.
All apps were tested for:
- Quality and accessibility of the interface.
- Ease of use.
- Number and quality of features.
- Ease and versatility of sharing.
- How well it achieves its stated purpose (such as photo editing or backing up).
Other aspects that we selectively tested, depending on the app, are:
- Versatility of photo import.
- Versatility of camera module.
- Photo-editing capabilities, versatility and ease of use.
- Ease of use, power, flexibility and fun of collaging tools and other projects.
Other photo editing apps tested
Here are our findings on the apps that we didn’t choose as best in their category.
Adobe Photoshop Express reflects its heritage in high-quality photo editing. However, on the mobile side of things, PicsArt offers more versatility for the consumer, and Snapseed is far more powerful and flexible for serious photographers.
Facebook Stories is currently only an underpowered add-on module to a well-established general sharing app.
Fotor is an excellent photo editor for serious photographers, but Snapseed sets a high standard that is difficult to beat.
Pixlr is a powerful photo editor with nice collaging tools. However, PicsArt’s collage is more flexible and versatile, and Snapseed is a more intuitive and responsive editor.
Prisma is a one-trick pony: applying art styles to photos. PicsArt’s Magic Effects, which does the same thing, provides more creative control.
VSCO X is a paid version of VSCO Camera that’s costly ($19.95 a year) without adding enough value to justify the cost. The company plans to turn it into an educational platform for photography and imaging, and when they have more lessons online, we'll take another look at it to see if it makes the cut.
The field of photo-related apps is very crowded and competitive. So when one app comes up with a popular feature, others quickly jump on the bandwagon. For example, Snapchat’s success with its highly personal photo and video messages that quickly disappear has generated copycats.
Instagram and Facebook’s app (both owned by the same company) have recently introduced modules that are direct rip-offs of Snapchat. PicsArt’s Remix photo- collaborating feature was also undoubtedly influenced by Snapchat. But then Snapchat itself now has New World Lenses (such as animated cartoon seeds that sprout flowers that can be added to photos) that are similar to Pokemon Go’s 3D augmented reality (AR).
Facebook has announced it plans to make its apps’ cameras the centerpiece of its software. In addition, it is developing what it claims will be more powerful and diverse use of 3D augmented reality. We’ll keep an eye on this space to report how this affects our Best Of choices. For the time being, given Facebook’s reputation for invasive advertising (which we expect will invade their AR worlds, too), Snapchat may still have an edge by keeping things personal.