Photo Editing: 5 mobile apps are put to the test

Photo Editing: 5 mobile apps are put to the test

What’s the best photo editing app for Android and iOS? If you had to chose one, which would it be?

Choosing a winner out of the hundreds of photo editing apps available on the App Store and Google Play isn’t easy. When it comes to photos, the end result is important, but the user experience shouldn’t be overlooked.

After rummaging through dozens of apps, I came up with a list of multiplatform solutions to consider:

Instagram: Android | iOS

Snapseed: Android | iOS

VSCO Cam: Android | iOS

Aviary: Android | iOS

Pixlr Express: Android | iOS

These apps will be assessed for four different criteria:

  1. Ease of use
  2. The number and quality of filters
  3. The different editing options
  4. Backup capabilities and exporting the final product

Let’s see which of these popular apps will rank as the best photo editing app for iOS and Android.

Easy to use: An important aspect to consider


The app is a long way from being a full mobile photography studio. On the main screen, your feed is displayed with pictures of people you follow. Once a photograph is taken or imported, different filters can be applied. To access more editing options, you need to press on the wrench.

Even though the different operations are conveniently linked together, not everything is optimized for editing photos. The interface is consistent, but it rushes the user into quickly posting photos with a filter.


Snapseed pushes the boundaries by offering unconventional touch gestures. In order to manipulate various editing options, you’ll need to use all your fingers. Swipe up or down to select an option, and left or right to increase or decrease the intensity.


VSCO Cam is not an easy app to use. It serves as a social network, editing studio, and photo gallery all at the same time. It’s difficult to understand at first, and you’ll need several days to understand what each button does. “Elitist” is the adjective that best describes VSCO Cam, Although navigating through the app’s menus is not necessarily a bad thing as it generally offer quality options.


The process of modifying a photograph taken with a smartphone can be split into three stages: taking photos or importing media, editing, and exporting. The Aviary editors seem to have  understood this, because the app has three main screens, one for each stage. The options are presented in a dropdown menu at the bottom of the screen.

Pixlr Express

To avoid overloading the Pixlr Express interface, the developer opted for small rectangular icons, allowing them to offer a full range of features. Unfortunately, I noticed that despite the small size of the buttons, some transparency effects cover the preview of the final product. Overall, Pixlr Express’ interface isn’t bad, although it certainly isn’t one of the app’s strong points either.


Without compromising on the available features, Aviary offers the most user-friendly experience, regardless of your level of expertise.

Aviary interface

Aviary’s interface is the easiest to use

Filters: one of the main features


Instagram popularized vintage photo filters. After capturing a shot, you can chose from 19 different filters. Black and White, Sepia, or Toaster are a few of the more popular ones, although personally, I’m still waiting for a Polaroid filter. You can adjust the intensity of the filter by double tapping the icon.

Instagram’s filters are varied, customizable, and of good quality. They completely fulfill their purpose, which is to improve the rendering of a photo, regardless of its initial quality.


Snapseed is a photo editing app that’s a bit more specialized. It wasn’t designed for people to just add simple filters. In fact, they aren’t even classified as such.

There are nine effects that can be combined with each other. Vintage, for example, is one of them. Each effect is comprised of several fully customizable options, as opposed to a single adjustable intensity level. With Snapseed, you need to dive into the app a little bit in order to get the best results.


The people at VSCO Cam prefer to talk about presets rather than filters. VSCO Cam pays tribute to photography with most of its filters by being inspired by existing film or camera lenses. There are ten default settings available. You can download more, either for free or through in-app purchases.

Once selected, you can adjust the intensity of the filter. VSCO Cam filters are typically more subtle. In some cases, the proposed layers perfectly complement your photo, but you can’t magnify low quality photos with a single preset.


This app features 12 very unique filters. All of them can be found in the Effects menu. Some, such as the Dean filter, are particularly pronounced and strongly distort the original shot. They are designed primarily for photos taken with a low-quality cameras.

Fortunately, you’re given the option of adjusting the intensity for all filters. When it comes down to it, only a few of the filters are really useful.

Pixlr Express

In terms of filters, Pixlr Express covers a much wider range than its competitors. It offers over 100 free filters, all with adjustable intensities. How does the app not get overloaded? The filters are downloaded in the form of add-ons. As a result, you get a number of possibilities and some really excellent filters.


It’s very difficult to pick out a clear winner, but it’s important to distinguish between two types of users: beginners who want to customize their photos without too much work, and photophiles that place a lot of importance on photographic composition. The first should opt for Pixlr Express or Instagram, while the latter should try VSCO Cam.

Filters VSCO Cam Instagram Pixlr ExpressVSCO Cam, Pixlr Express, and Instagram filters, respectively

Editing options: one step to a mobile photo studio


Filters have always been the backbone of the app, but Instagram has also added some additional editing options. Brightness now has its own button, and other features are can be found by selecting the wrench icon. This is where you can adjust contrast, saturation, image rotation, and more.

Each option is easy to add and has a real effect on the final photo. Unfortunately, the number of tools available is less than what you’d expect. Some of Instagram’s limitations include not being able to add text or stickers to the picture, and the ability to only create images in square format.


If you prefer not to go into detail when it comes to editing your photos, Snapseed offers automatic enhancement of your photos. Photos can be customized even more using touch gestures.

Even though Snapseed isn’t designed for beginners, the app has plenty of options that cater to amateur and semi-professional photographers. The number of settings and sub-options should be enough to satisfy most people.


In VSCO Cam, you can find the most common picture editing options. Exposure, temperature, resizing, contrast, or saturation: the range of features is fairly decent. The Shadow tint option is a particularly cool effect that can be finely tuned to produce excellent results.

Unfortunately, a few basic features are missing from the app. VSCO Cam is the only app that doesn’t offer a blur feature. There’s no option to add text either. It’s simply not enough to compete with the likes of Pixlr Express.


Frames, stickers, adding text, creating memes: Aviary is rather full of editing options. Add in an easy-to-use interface and you get a great app for turning mediocre photos into social network posts.  In short, Aviary is a fun app that breaks away from the norms of photography.

Pixlr Express

In terms of editing options, Pixlr Express is top of its class. To start off with, all the standard image editing options are available in the Adjustment tab. Pixlr also allows you to edit your photos using overlays with adjustments like lighting effects. These options can be found under the Overlay tab. To complete the picture, you can add text, stickers, and frames.


Pixlr Express succeeds in offering a variety of options without adding unecessary options. Looking for a well made app that can crop your photos, add text, optimize the format, or even radically alter the original shot? Look no further: Pixlr Express is the one for you.

Pixlr Express editing options

Pixlr Express offers a string of original editing features

Export: an option that’s overlooked


Instagram offers five different export options: its own social network, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Flickr. After applying the changes, in order to save a copy on your device, you are required to post the photograph. It’s a serious limitation compared with the alternatives.

Also missing is the option to change the file size of the final product. Like I said earlier: Instagram is designed to quickly post snapshots.


With Snapseed, you’re able to save, post, and upload your shot wherever you want. Everything can be found under the Export tab in the top right hand corner of the screen. By choosing Open With, you’re able to open the photo and then post it in any compatible apps installed on your phone.


Once you’ve saved your changes, go back to your photo grid. Then, select the photo or photos you want to export and press the export icon, the square with an arrow in the top right hand corner.

VSCO Cam doesn’t directly export the photos to your smartphone’s album, so don’t forget to select the Save to Camera Roll option. In terms of online sharing, VSCO Cam offers a number of decent options. Instagram and Facebook are available, but so are Twitter and Google+. Tumblr is the only one that’s missing.


Aviary is often better than its competitors. Why? The publisher doesn’t feel the need to add their own social network, and so pictures taken have to be be released on other platforms.

In use, the app has some great little features, like automatic backups after you’ve applied changes. You can share your shots wherever you want; the range of possibilities offered by Aviary is great.

Pixlr Express

Pixlr Express offers a somewhat different approach. When you export the photo, you can adjust the quality of the final file. It’s even possible to manually enter the file size before you save or post it. Although this little feature can be useful for gaining a few extra megabytes of memory, Pixlr Express is held back with only letting you share on Facebook and Twitter. This simply isn’t enough for a top-rated photo app.


With no clear winner, it’s once again a toss-up between Aviary and Pixlr Express.

Aviary Pixlr Express export

Resize your photos with Pixlr Express; share them everywhere with Aviary

And our winner is … Pixlr Express!


Pixlr Express provides a good balance between advanced editing options, a suitable interface and good-quality final rendering.

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Originally written on Softonic FR by Baptiste Brassart.

Follow me on Twitter: @bbrassart

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