Adobe Photoshop Mix review: Photoshop Mix earns mixed marks

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The Good A mostly well-designed interface and an excellent cut-out tool makes Photoshop Mix good for creating two-layer collages. And it integrates smoothly with other Creative Cloud tools.

The Bad Aspects of the interface, like undo and redo, can be frustrating, and it's quite short on features. Plus the "premium" features don't really seem worth paying extra for.

The Bottom Line Photoshop Mix feels like a version 1.0 product -- albeit a very slick one -- and is mostly worth trying for the curiosity factor.

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7.4 Overall
  • Setup 8
  • Features 7
  • Interface 7
  • Performance 8

Editors' note, June 19, 2014: Updated with additional information from Adobe.

Adobe takes a new tack with its latest attempt to bring Photoshop to mobile. Photoshop Mix has the more modern, less cluttered interface we expect from an iPad app in 2014, along with a more streamlined, focused toolset than we've seen in previous outings like Photoshop Touch.

While free, and available via the App Store -- in contrast to most of Adobe's other new apps, which are usually only available from the Creative Cloud site -- it still requires at least a free Creative Cloud subscription.

The coolest new features of the app, powered by the company's new software development kit (the Creative SDK), are only available on a trial basis, however: as a splash screen warns you, "Upright, Shake Reduction and Content-Aware Fill are premium features. They are free for a limited time." That means using them will require a subscription; in other words, you'll have to pay at least $10 per month for the Photography plan -- the cheapest available -- if you don't already subscribe.

Log-in is required. If you're not logged in and you go offline, this is as far as you'll get. Lori Grunin/CNET

Adobe says Photoshop Touch will remain available because it has a different set of tools: they're far more powerful in most ways, including support for text and highlight/midtone/shadow adjustments. Plus it remains part of the company's small foothold on Android.

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Mix's capabilities are both more basic and more sophisticated than Touch's. It's based on Compositions, an indicator of its slant toward compositing (collages) rather than straight retouching; the company is increasingly pushing folks toward Lightroom for more photographic-related endeavors.

To begin, you initiate a new composition. The app prompts you to load an image. Your source options are from your iPad photos; snapping a photo using the iPad's camera; accessing your Creative Cloud files; retrieving an image from your Lightroom mobile catalog (if you have one); or pulling photos from your personal Facebook account. The latter comes in exchange for giving up your friend list, and I suppose Adobe deserves credit for telling you that, at least.

One surprising omission -- especially given that a former Adobe executive, key to its Photoshop and mobile product strategies, is now working on imaging at Google -- is a lack of support for Google Drive or Google+ photos. You can generally work around a lack of direct support by saving to the Camera Roll.

When you create a new composition, you're presented with a host of image sources to pull from. The icon in the upper right corner switches between grid and image view. Lori Grunin/CNET

Once you've selected your image, Mix drops you into the main screen. On top are thumbnails indicating one of two layers you toggle between when creating the collage. Touching one either selects that image layer for adjustments or brings up the screen to replace it with a different image.

Toward the side is the ever-present share icon, which allows you to save your composition to Creative Cloud as a Photoshop PSD file, save it to the Camera Roll, post to the portfolio site Behance or bring up iOS's sharing services.

When loading a PSD file, you can pull in an individual layer -- you scribble on the area and Mix identifies which layer that area belongs to -- or a merged version. It doesn't understand blend modes or opacity, however, and even within the app you can't control the opacity of a given layer. According to Adobe, you're limited to files with a maximum dimension of 5,000 pixels. It saves for Facebook and locally at 2,000 pixels in its longest dimension or full resolution when you save to Photoshop/.PSD to Creative Cloud .

Along the bottom of the screen are your tools: enhance, looks, cut out, crop, and more edits. Lori Grunin/CNET

Enhance includes exposure, contrast, clarity and saturation sliders in addition to full auto. And they work well, as you'd expect from a company with mature retouching algorithms. Once done, your choices are to cancel or apply.

One of my biggest frustrations throughout the app is the undo/redo. In theory, a two-finger swipe in either direction performs those functions. But even after rotating my hand awkwardly 90 degrees to swipe as indicated in the tutorial video, I found the swipes more often ended up moving the image or applying a selection stroke rather than undoing or redoing. I dub this feature "screamworthy."

You can also apply preset adjustments -- called "Looks" -- which range from standard punch-ups like vivid and brighten to vaguer options like "instant" and "sweet." Lori Grunin/CNET