Aviary has been around forever as a Web-based suite of creative graphics tools. But they’ve recently made their first foray onto iOS and Android, with the new Aviary Photo Editor app.
We announced it when it came out, and today I’m here to take the Android version for a thorough spin and see what it can really do. An image editor for smartphones comes with its own set of challenges. Let’s see how Aviary for Android stacks up with its set of features.
It’s Not a Social Network
In a scene littered with Instagram-like “me-too” social photography network, Aviary’s dedicated image enhancement focus is a breath of fresh air. When you install Aviary, you will not be asked to open a new account, authenticate with your Google or Facebook account, or any other such nonsense. The only thing Aviary wants to do is help you edit your images – you’ll do the sharing on your own.
Basic Workflow And Optional In-App Purchases
When you first launch Aviary, it asks you to pick an image to edit. The main area of the window shows recently taken photos and lets you swipe through them. You can also take a new photo, or browse the gallery for a photo to edit. Since the Android gallery is well-integrated with Picasa Web albums, I was able to easily select an image I took on a trip to Canada – the image wasn’t even on my device when I picked it, but Aviary and Android downloaded it and instantly presented it for editing:
A smartphone image editor needs to provide access to many features and still remain touch-friendly and leave space enough for the image on-screen. Aviary deals with this conundrum by splitting editing functions into large buttons spread across a horizontally scrolling bar, with a homescreen-like scroll indicator on the bottom, so you get a clear sense of where you are in the workflow. Let’s look at the basic image enhancement controls:
Just four buttons, but tapping Auto made a noticeable difference for this photo, making the subject really pop out. Once you’re happy with the enhancement, tap Apply and move on. The next step is the ever-popular effects:
While one effects pack is bundled with Aviary, the dollar signs above the other three packs are a clear hint that not all Aviary functionality is free, so let’s break out that credit card:
Aviary currently lists three effect packs for a buck each, and offers a free sticker pack just to warm users to the idea of installing packs (I suspect). I’ll just go on a mad shopping spree and buy all three packs so I can demonstrate them.
Commercial Packs – Are They Worth The Money?
Once purchased, the effect pack download takes a few moments, indicating that actual content is being pushed to the device rather than just an unlock key for functionality that the app already contains.
Having completed my $3 spree, I am now free to demonstrate all three packs. Let’s start with the free one:
This part of the interface seems suspiciously similar to Instagram: Each effect has an artsy name and a little preview. Disappointingly, effects don’t have individual controls, so you can’t dial them down for a more delicate look.
Next, the Viewfinder pack:
This commercial pack contains a bunch of silly viewfinder-like overlays. This means you get a frame, as well as markings overlaying the photo itself, which are supposed to make it look like you’re looking through a periscope or another camera. If you ask me, this pack really isn’t worth the money. Let’s hope the other ones are better:
The obligatory Grunge pack contains effects with names like Kurt and Eddie (I’ll let you make the connection). These are nice, but are very heavy. Why can’t I dial them down, just a bit? As I’ll show you later on, Aviary features a gorgeous mechanism for selectively applying other effects – I can only wish it was enabled for the filters as well. Swallowing my disappointment for now, let me quickly walk you through the remaining commercial pack:
The Nostalgia pack contains six effects, all quite nice, and all very heavy. Not much else to say about it, really. So, if you had to decide whether or not to buy these packs, my recommendation would be don’t buy – wait until there’s a simple way to dial down the effect, control the frames, and so on.
More Free Functionality
Now that we got the in-app purchases out of the way, let’s look at what else you can do for free:
That’s right – you can apply silly stickers to your photos! Just drag a stick over to wherever you want it. You can also rotate and scale the stickers using a single, intuitive gripper. They don’t work well when you zoom into the photo, so it’s best to try and adjust them when fully zoomed out.
And now, that brilliant adjustment mechanism I’ve promised you:
This beautiful wheel is used to adjust basic parameters such as brightness, saturation, sharpness, and more. It’s the best part of the entire Aviary experience. Large and fluid, the wheel makes the device buzz in a quick vibration whenever you turn it by a notch or two. This makes for a very tactile and sensitive editing experience which allows for careful adjustments. A well thought-out control, and Aviary’s crown jewel, in my opinion.
Aviary also allows for blemish correction, red eye removal, teeth whitening, and other things the feline in the picture doesn’t really need.
Finally: There Is No Undo!
Sharp readers may have noticed something odd: The cat looks exactly the same in all of the screenshots! Where are those funky effects? Good catch: I didn’t apply any of them! And the reason for that is that Aviary won’t let me gradually undo operations – I can only reset the whole photo to its original state. So if I apply four effects and decide I want to roll two of them back, I’m stuck. To me, this, and the fact that you can’t control how forcefully to apply filters, are two of Aviary’s greatest weaknesses.
Notwithstanding those weaknesses, Aviary for Android offers a solid image editing experience for a nice price tag, especially if you avoid the paid filters now that I’ve shown you they’re not worth so much. I am confident it would only get better with time, and may eventually even make it into our Best Android Apps page – who knows?