One of the major draws to iOS devices is Instagram, the wildly popular free photo app that allows you to snap a picture, apply a retro filter, and share it on social networks. iPhone users have enjoyed this platform-exclusive luxury for a long time while Android fans haven’t had anything with quite the same usability, charm or community.
Most app makers’ attempts to create something similar have been met with lukewarm responses, but there’s now a strong contender that could be just what Android users have been waiting for. It’s called Lightbox.
Lightbox allows you to share your photos with the world effortlessly. The app fits in your workflow between taking a picture and sharing it online, allowing you to edit and choose where you want to show off your latest masterpiece. You also get a free photoblog that shares all your pictures elegantly.
The Lightbox Home Tab and a single image view
Lightbox is a free app that lets you share pictures from your phone the way you want. It also packs basic editing tools and a number of filters you can apply to add some zing to your photos. When you’re done sprucing them up, you can share them on social networks and even your own photoblog. Lightbox users are also part of a community of shutterbugs and photography enthusiasts where you can explore a world of images and connect with others.
After you’ve installed Lightbox, you’ll need to sign up for an account which creates an identity for you on the service and scores you a free photoblog as well. You can then connect your various social network accounts (Lightbox currently supports Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Flickr and Foursquare) to post photos and also follow your friends’ pictures.
You’ll also notice that the installation has added two icons to your applications folder – the main Lightbox app as well as a shortcut called Camera + Lightbox, which launches first your default camera app and then sends you along to Lightbox after you’ve taken a picture. The latter is great for adding to your home screen. Lightbox allows you to set (and re-set at any time) the default camera app to use for shooting.
Lightbox sports a very well-designed tabbed interface that focuses on helping you interact with the Lightbox community. At the top of the screen you’ll see three tabs. The first one, labeled Lightbox shows you activity from users you’re following, as well as your own. You can scroll endlessly through the Home sub-tab which shows pictures submitted by other users, and like or share them with a tap of the screen.
The Just Me sub-tab shows pictures that you’ve taken and uploaded with Lightbox. The app keeps track of all the pictures you’ve liked and shows them all at once in the Liked sub-tab. Finally, the notification sub-tab displays likes, comments and people who’re following you from the community.
Viewing activity and exploring the Lightbox community
The second main tab is the My Photos tab, which shows you all the pictures you’ve taken. Here, you can import photos from your phone memory to apply effects and share, even if they’ve not been taken using Lightbox. The last tab, labeled Explore, shows you pictures from the community outside your immediate network. Here you can see featured work in various categories. There are also tools to help you find your friends from social networks or follow suggested Lightbox users.
You can add social network tabs which will pull in photos from all your friends’ accounts. You can view these and like/retweet them from within the app or share them via the Android sharing system (or a great alternative called Andmade Share). The last tab is actually a button with a camera icon which launches your default camera app to shoot a picture.
Following Lightbox users; Viewing my Twitter friends' photos
When you take (or import) a photo through Lightbox, it’ll first allow you to apply a filter to spice up your shot. There are presently 17 filters available, of various types, which can tweak the color balance, age the shot with color washes and cross processing and even give it that HDR look. I’m partial to the Instafix, Ansel, Georgia and Sahara filters – all of which add some character to pictures without going overboard. You can also crop, flip and rotate your images at this point.
Lightbox does a great job of sharing your photos with its own community as well as your preferred social networks. After you’re done editing your shot, you can give it a title, geotag it, set privacy options and choose which connected social networks you want to share it to. This screen is really well designed, from the logical layout to the icons, as you can see below.
Editing, saving and sharing a photo
Tag your images with hashtags in the title – doing so while sharing consistently good photos can get you featured.
When you share an image, you can control who sees it by setting privacy options. Set these to Private and they’ll be viewable only by you via the app or when you’re logged into the web app; set them to Unlisted so they’re viewable only via a link you share (which you’ll have to retrieve from the web app); set them to Public to allow them to viewed by anybody on Lightbox and your photoblog.
Speaking of the photoblog, that’s probably my favorite feature of all: publishing your photos as Public puts them together in an elegant photoblog that you can point your friends and family to. There’s nothing to configure except for the URL; photos auto-arrange into neat groups and can be shared online easily.
A personalized Lightbox photoblog
Images shared on Lightbox as Public can be viewed by everyone using the mobile app or exploring via the web app. If you find a picture you enjoy, you can like it by clicking the heart icon at the top left of it. You can also comment on pictures to let users know what you think of their shots.
Comments on an image
Lightbox = Instagram for Android?
Instagram’s Android app is actually going to launch very soon and is already 27 million users strong, so it’s a good thing Lightbox has been around for a bit. After using Lightbox for a while, I can’t see myself taking pictures without it. Prior to installing this app, I’d share photos only once in a while because it was cumbersome to do so from my phone, especially with different audiences on each social network. Lightbox makes it easy to share the way I want to.
Then there’s the community. Lightbox has a lot of great content to explore and many talented photographers to discover. Since you can view featured images by category, there’ll always be something to pique your specific interests. A lot of artists also share their non-photographic work here so you don’t have to only look at retro-style photos (which is a good thing, in my opinion). It’s easy to get lost in the sea of beautiful pictures from the community.
Discovering great work on Lightbox; following users in a category
Since both apps offer similar functionality, it seems like the major deciding factors as to which one will win more over Android fans will be the community and content. As of now, there’s lots to like on Lightbox and the app works really well. Only time will tell. However, you don’t really need to wait for the dust to settle in this battle of photo-sharing apps; try out Lightbox today and share your pictures with the world – I highly recommend it. Happy shooting!