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Adobe finally released its somewhat long-awaited Android version of Lightroom mobile, a suite of image-editing tools designed to supplement its desktop product, Lightroom 5.7 or later. The apps are a feature-equivalent version of the iPad app, with an interface unsurprisingly translated for the small-screen experience.
Like the iPad version, it requires both a Creative Cloud account and the most recent version of Lightroom desktop. Given those two things, it's free. If you have the perpetual-license version of Lightroom you're out of luck and will have to shell out at least $10/month (£8.57, AU$10). If you're looking for a standalone photo editing app, there are tons of more full-featured apps: this is really a supplement to Lightroom.
The apps have previously been available in versions for the iPad as well as the iPhone running iOS 7 or later, and now Android phones running versions 4.1.x or later of the operating system. An Android tablet app is still further down the road, as is support for the raw files produced by Android 5.0.
How it works
It operates similarly to the iPad app. You must first log in with the desktop version of Lightroom, enable syncing and then designate specific collections to sync. It can sync only static collections, not folders or Smart Collections. For each photo, it automatically generates the necessary raw proxy images -- 1.7MB DNG files limited to 2,560 pixels on the long edge, which Adobe dubs "Smart Previews" -- though it doesn't indicate within LR desktop that there's a Smart Preview in the usual spot beneath the histogram.
As long as you're connected to a network, the selected collections and any operations you perform on the images on any platform are automatically synced among any logged in device. You can set the app to sync only over Wi-Fi as well. If you want to be able to work on photos while disconnected, you must enable offline editing on that device for the entire collection; you can't pick photos and just cache those. Otherwise, it dynamically downloads each image to your device as you open it and caches it temporarily.
You can only sync a single catalog at a time, and switching catalogs or a unsyncing a collection wipes them from the device. There's no catalog manager on the devices; it's all controlled via the desktop. That incredibly annoying if you work with multiple catalogs. At the very least, I want to be able to log in and select which catalog to work with on my phone or iPad. Furthermore, when you switch catalogs you have to sign out and sign in again, then re-specify which collections to sync; it doesn't remember. You can't sync peer-to-peer (from the desktop to a mobile device) in the absence of a network, either.
If you import photos from your phone, it creates a collection of them which it then syncs back to the desktop catalog.
Synced collections don't appear in your regular Creative Cloud file view. Instead, you can view or share links to them them via a private lightroom.adobe.com site. However, the site only shows the currently synced collections, which means the links you share are ephemeral; if you unsync a collection or switch catalogs, anyone you've sent the link to will get a page-not-found error. People can comment on the photos, and the comments will sync back -- iOS only for now.
The app looks almost identical on iOS and Android, and like a compressed version of its bigger sibling. I have to give kudos to Adobe's designers for making it quite easy to learn and use, but keeping it within the same conventions of the desktop version.
It loads into a screen of all the currently synced collections. Tapping on a collection presents you with a typical tile view of all the photos in it.
Tapping on a photo opens it for editing. To quickly rate and flag images, you swipe up or down on the image, then swipe left or right to move from image to image. The metadata view in this view is a lot better, but you can't choose which metadata to view, and it syncs only the most basic information. It really needs to be able to read and display extended information.
At the bottom of the screen are the three editing modes: retouching adjustments, effects, and cropping. All of the adjustments and effects are the presets that ship with the desktop application in the Quick Develop panel of the Library view. The apps still don't support custom presets, so the best you can do to automate is to apply either the basic tones or all settings from the previous image. You can reset the adjustments to everything but the basic tone changes, everything, to when you opened the file, and revert to the original version -- a nice set of options.
However, I miss the ability to create a virtual copy; there doesn't seem to be a way to save the original plus an adjusted version. True, all the changes you make are nondestructive, but sometimes you want both the original and a cropped, differently adjusted version. It does sync virtual copies created on the desktop, but there's no indication that it's a copy.