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Adobe Photoshop Express (Windows Phone) review: Not perfect, but more than good enough on Windows Phone

Adobe's Photoshop Express skates past its largely unpolished photography app competition on Windows Phone.

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Nate Ralph
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Nate Ralph

Associate Editor

Associate Editor Nate Ralph is an aspiring wordsmith, covering mobile software and hardware for CNET Reviews. His hobbies include dismantling gadgets, waxing poetic about obscure ASCII games, and wandering through airports.

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The arrival of Adobe's Photoshop Express to Microsoft's beleaguered mobile phone OS is notable development. It's a recognizable brand that's seen some success on Android and iOS, and brings some needed photo editing life to the desert that is the Windows Phone App store.

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8.0

Adobe Photoshop Express (Windows Phone)

The Good

Nearly identical to its iOS and Android variants, Adobe Photoshop Express for Windows Phone offers fast, powerful tools in a streamlined app.

The Bad

The app still lags behind competitors on other platforms, which offer far more tools and features, free of charge.

The Bottom Line

Though Photoshop Express is hardly a photo-editing power tool, it stands out from a unpolished, scattered crowd on Windows Phone.

Fortunately, Adobe hasn't phoned this one in. With the exception of subtle changes to the interface, Windows Phone users will be getting the same experience as their Android and iOS-toting comrades. And while I did run into a few quirky issues, the asking price -- free -- makes it well worth checking out.

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Snap, Crop, and slap on a filter -- it's all here. Nate Ralph/CNET

Tools of the trade

Windows Phone certainly doesn't lack for random photo tweaking tools, though they're largely relegated to creating collages or slapping filters onto pics you've taken. Adobe Photoshop Express isn't all that different: snap a pic or pluck one from your camera roll, and you'll be presented with one of five categories of tools to choose from.

Red Eye is the simplest, as it removes red eye from photos, automatically. Crop lets you straighten or skew a photo, rotate it in 90-degree increments, flip the orientation, and change the aspect ratio to match your device or a number of preset options. Borders let add you faux-frames, funky vignetting effects, or a myriad of other designs. And no photography app these days is complete without filters -- you'll find these in the app's Looks category, and an in-app purchase for $2.99 unlocks a few more.

Things start to get interesting in the Adjustments section of the app. Here you'll be able to make some more advanced changes, tweaking things like exposure and contrast, adjusting highlights and shadows, and futzing with the color temperature, among other things. A noise reduction tool is available as an in-app purchase for $4.99 -- I'd recommend just learning your smartphone camera's low-light limitations instead. There's also an automatic optimization button, if you fancy letting the app take a stab at making adjustments for you. Don't worry -- you can take a peek at the original image and undo your changes at any time. All told this isn't a bad lineup; certainly no Lightroom Mobile , but you're still getting fairly powerful tools, free of charge.

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The Windows Phone version (left) is largely identical to its iOS and Android (right) counterparts. Screenshot by Nate Ralph/CNET

Sharing is caring

Once you're done making your changes, you can share the images you've worked on to all of the usual suspects: apps on your device, OneDrive or OneNote, and any social networks you may have connected. Adobe offers one more option: upload it to Revel.

Adobe Revel sounds great on paper: the service is available on the Web, and as a standalone app for Android, iOS, Mac and Windows 8. It works a bit like a semi-private photo locker: upload photos to Adobe's servers from any device, and you can share them with whomever you'd like. People invited to view your library of photos can comment on them, download files, and you can even send images off to Walgreens and have them printed.

But while Revel is free to use, you're limited to 2GB of images. Unlimited storage will only set you back $5.99 a month -- a pittance really. But between Google+, Flickr, Instagram, Dropbox, Facebook, iCloud and a slew of other services, there's a good chance you'll find some way of sharing all of your photos with friends and family that won't cost you a dime. And most likely they won't even have to sign up for anything either.

A seller's market

You can take photos from within Adobe Photoshop Express, but it uses its own camera that may offer fewer features than your own device -- I found myself taking photos with the Nokia Lumia 925's stock camera and then just opening the images later on. The app could also be a bit sluggish at times, lagging behind my swipes and taps as I made adjustments to color temperature or exposure. And the most confusing grievance of all: you can only use the app in portrait mode. This one boggles the mind -- landscape works just fine on both the iOS and Android versions of the app, but on Windows Phone, no dice. I'm hoping that gets fixed soon.

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The interface is streamlined, if limited. Screenshot by Nate Ralph/CNET

I'll be honest: Adobe Photoshop Express pales in comparison to tools like Pixlr Express or Aviary, which offer so much more. And I wouldn't hesitate to recommend those over Photoshop Express on iOS or Android -- not that there's anything expressly wrong with Adobe's efforts here.

But Windows Phone users have decidedly fewer options. I'd argue that the closest, most well-polished match is Camera 360, another multiplatform app that's pretty popular . I find it a bit too cluttered and flashy for my liking, and it's primarily focused on filters and effects. Adobe Photoshop Express, by contrast, is nice and streamlined: I take a few shots (with the phone's stock camera), pull them into Photoshop Express to tone down the highlights or bump up the contrast, send them to OneDrive and go about my business. Nice and easy.

Conclusion

The appearance of Adobe Photoshop Express on Windows Phone is good for the platform, if only as a potential sign of increased interest from the proverbial major players. And it helps that Adobe has worked to keep parity with other platforms -- Pinterest, Vine , and Instagram have all recently joined Windows Phone with versions that lag behind their iOS and Android counterparts, which has proven to be a real bummer for those of us interested in seeing Microsoft's decidedly different smartphone OS take off.

And this makes Adobe Photoshop Express a winner on Windows Phone. It outperforms the (largely non-existent) competition, and delivers the exact same experience you'll find on non-Windows Phone devices. Not exactly high praise, to be sure, but until more developers start putting time into developing for Windows Phone, "good enough" is exactly that.

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8.0

Adobe Photoshop Express (Windows Phone)

Score Breakdown

Features 7Interface 9Performance 8