CNET logo Why You Can Trust CNET

Our expert, award-winning staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and tests our top picks. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. Reviews ethics statement

iLife '09 review: iLife '09

iLife '09

Nicole Lee

Nicole Lee

Former Editor

Nicole Lee is a senior associate editor for CNET, covering cell phones, Bluetooth headsets, and all things mobile. She's also a fan of comic books, video games, and of course, shiny gadgets.

See full bio
14 min read


iLife '09

The Good

Apple iLife '09 sees several improvements over iLife '08: iPhoto now has face recognition, geotagging, and social network integration; iMovie regains a few advanced tools; and music lessons come to GarageBand.

The Bad

iPhoto's face detection isn't perfect, and the social network integration needs some work; iMovie's great for simple editing, but advanced users might find it lacking.

The Bottom Line

Apple iLife '09 is a great application suite for simple media organizing and editing, and the addition of features like face recognition, geotagging, and music lessons makes it worth the update.

Apple's iLife '09 may be just an evolutionary upgrade from iLife '08, but oh, what an evolution. iPhoto gets some major new features with face recognition, geotagging, and social networking integration; iMovie sees a return of advanced features that went away with '08; GarageBand gets some major star power with music lessons from genuine recording artists; and iWeb makes it that much easier to design your own personal Web site. If you care about face recognition and basic music lessons at all, iLife '09 is a must-have upgrade. And for $79, it's not a bad deal, plus it's free with a purchase of a new Mac.

System requirements are as follows: an Intel-based Mac, a Mac PowerPC G5, or a Mac PowerPC G4. Older Macs require at least a 2GHz processor. If you don't want either iMovie '09 or iMovie '08, you can still get iMovie HD (or the '06 version), and that one will be able to run a slower machine. Our iLife '09 installation took around 15 minutes.

iPhoto '09
iPhoto has traditionally been the headliner in the iLife suite, and it's no different in the iLife '09 package. While iPhoto '08 introduced Events, which let you group photos based on the dates that they were taken, iPhoto '09 introduced three new features that got the Mac community buzzing: facial recognition, geotagging, and social network support. For the facial recognition, you don't have to tag every single photo you have with a name and a face; the idea is that iPhoto '09 will be smart enough to do the facial recognition for you. But that happens only after you do the necessary legwork.

Assuming you don't have photos in your iPhoto library already, you'll have to import them. We had around 3,500 photos sitting in our Aperture library, so it took some time to transfer all the photos over. After you're done importing your photos, you can immediately start identifying faces and names. Sometimes iPhoto will be smart enough to detect faces for you, and sometimes not. If it does detect a face for you, it'll display a square over what it thinks is a face, with a placeholder name "Unknown Face" underneath it. If it doesn't detect a face, you'll have to hit the "Add Missing Face" button on the bottom left, select the face, and add a name. Once you identify a face with a name, you can go to the Faces corkboard, select a face, and iPhoto '09 will scout out your entire library to find photos with a similar face. Then you select "Confirm Name" and it's up to you to go through the results to confirm or not confirm if the photos really do show that person. This is how the facial recognition training works.

The facial recognition is impressive, but it's by no means perfect. Detecting faces in the first place is the biggest hurdle. Not every photo is necessarily a perfect head-on style portrait, and iPhoto has trouble with such shots. What's weirder is that iPhoto often sees faces that aren't even there--any combination of shapes or shadows that sort of resemble a face gets picked up mistakenly. False positives are better than false negatives, but it can get a little tiresome in the beginning.

As for the actual face recognition itself, this will get better the more photos you have. For example, on our first attempt, almost every person who wore glasses was mistaken as the same person. Only when we started to really go through the photos, confirming and not confirming them, did the results get better. It's not ideal, but the facial recognition goes a long way in making photo organization that much easier. It's definitely better than going through each photo one-by-one, so the Faces feature gets thumbs-up.

If you click the "i" button on the lower right hand of the photos on the Faces corkboard, you will see more information about that person, like the number of photos you have of him or her. There are also two optional fields, where you can enter the person's full name and e-mail address. Since you can match a face with an e-mail address, it would be nice if iPhoto could incorporate the Faces feature into Address Book for photo ID.

The next big feature add-on in iPhoto '09 is Places, which lets you geotag your photos with a location. The feature is especially useful if you have a GPS-enabled camera or camera phone and can get a GPS signal, since iPhoto '09 will immediately detect the longitude and latitude of photos taken with those devices. Just note that if you're using the camera on the new iPhone 3G, you'll have to turn on location services in the phone's settings so the iPhone can detect the GPS information.

To start with Places, select the "i" icon at the bottom right of a photo for a pop-up information box. Click the "Enter photo location" field and select "New place" if this photo was taken at a place you've never recorded before. A map window will then pop up. If your camera is GPS-enabled, there'll already be a pin pointed at the photo's location. If you don't have a GPS device, you can enter in your location manually; just enter in something like "Disneyland, California" in the Google Search field, and Google will do the location work for you. Once you're satisfied that the pin is pointed at the right spot on the map, just select "Drop Pin" and name the place. Once finished, you can see a map with all of your photo pins.

Facebook and Flickr integration
Another major update to iPhoto '09 is the ability to upload your photos to Facebook, Flickr, or MobileMe. You also can e-mail them or add them to your iWeb folder for use on your iWeb's photo page or blog. For Facebook, if the names you assign to the faces are the same as your friend's Facebook ID, iPhoto will match them with that friend automatically once you upload them to your account. If a friend adds photo tags to the published photos on Facebook, the names will automatically sync to iPhoto as well.

As for the Flickr integration, you'll have to authorize the iPhoto Uploader on your Flickr account. From there, you can select the photo size you wish to upload (Web, Optimized, or Actual Size) and whether you want the photo to be viewed by anyone, only family and friends, or just you. If you want, you can also upload an entire album at once. If you matched those photos with a particular location in Places, that photo will appear on your Flickr map.

Once you upload them, iPhoto automatically creates a Flickr photo set for you, and the title of the photo set is based on the photo's Event name. Also, any changes you make to the titles or descriptions in iPhoto will sync with Flickr, and vice versa. Truth be told, we're a little annoyed that iPhoto creates a photo set every time we upload something to Flickr because we don't necessarily want that, especially if you're only uploading a single photo. (A whole photo set for one photo seems a bit silly.) What's more, there are no other Flickr settings in the iPhoto Uploader; you can't add the photos to non-iPhoto sets, add them to Flickr pools, or add tags to your photos. This severely reduces the functionality of the Flickr integration in iPhoto '09. We would recommend using Flickr's own Flickr Uploader instead.

Image editing
In addition to these three new features, iPhoto '09 has also made some improvements in its existing features. First, there are improved editing tools. There's now a "Smart Saturation" check box below the Saturation slider so that you can enhance the vibrancy of your photos while keeping natural-looking skin tones. In our tests, we found this to work as advertised.

Another image editing improvement is a better Enhance tool, which promises to improve a photo with a single click. As the one-click wonder of iPhoto '09, Enhance is designed to better adjust contrast, exposure, and color in the photos. Sliders in the Adjust window move automatically to detail the changes.

Other image editing enhancements include a new red-eye correction tool, a Definition slider to adjust clarity and sharpness, highlights and shadows, and an improved retouch brush. The red-eye correction tool now uses iPhoto's face detection so it automatically knows where the red eyes are. The Definition slider is just as it sounds; sort of an amateur version of Photoshop's Unsharp Mask for cleaning out blurry edges. Highlights and shadows is simply a way to adjust the light and dark areas in your photos--Aperture users might find this familiar, as it's the same technology from Apple's pro-level photo management software. Lastly, the improved retouch brush now detects edges, so it's easier to clean out stains, blemishes, or anything unsightly in the photo.

The last major update to iPhoto '09 is the revamped slide-show tool. It now has six themes: Ken Burns (pan-zoom effect), Classic, Scrapbook, Shatter, Sliding Panels, or Snapshots. Thanks to the new face detection in iPhoto '09, image cropping in the slide shows now centers on the person's face, which works really well in the pan and zoom effect in the Ken Burns. Of course, you can also add your own music to the slide show, and if you prefer, you can create your own custom slide-show theme. A nice bonus is the ability to export your slide show to iTunes for syncing to your iPod, iPhone, or Apple TV. Note that you can only do so after you exit the slide-show interface, and make sure you export it immediately after creating it; it's easier that way.

One final note to the new iPhoto '09 is that you can use it to create new printed albums or keepsake books complete with the maps you created using your location data in Places. You can even customize the map with notes, zoom in or out, and create route lines.

iMovie '09
When iMovie '08 first debuted, there was quite a substantial outcry in the Mac community. iMovie '08 was drastically different compared with its predecessors, without a lot of the depth and advanced features to which most Mac users have become accustomed. The outcry got so loud that Apple allowed users free downloads of iMovie '06 (also known as iMovie HD), which offered the lost functionality.

Fortunately, it appears that Apple has learned its lesson; iMovie '09 brings back many of the features that were missing from iMovie '08. These include dynamic themes, video effects like speed and reverse play, and plenty of new title animations. And of course, iMovie '09 has a couple of new offerings that help replace the missing timeline that was in iMovie HD.

Precision editor and advanced drag and drop
The most interesting addition is a new precision editor window. Right-click on one of your selected clips and choose "Precision Editor" to access it. The precision editor essentially lets you "zoom in" on your video clips, magnifying the transition between the selected video clip and the one preceding it. A grayed-out area will show where the clips overlap in transition, which will give you better control over the spot you want to cut.

You also have better control over the audio track, the title animation, and the sound effects. But we still would prefer a more precise manipulation. For example, we wanted to match up an exact part of a song to a specific point in a video clip. We could only do this after a lot of dragging and dropping and trial and error. If we had a timeline, lining them up would be a lot easier. For better transitions and edits, the precision editor works great, but we still miss the timeline.

iMovie '09 also features an advanced drag-and-drop tool. Now when you drag a clip on top of another clip on your project, you're presented with a few options: insert the clip, replace the clip, or just insert the audio. There are also a few ways you can replace the clip: Cutaway, which lets you replace the video but not the audio; Picture-in-Picture, which fills in the new clip in a tiny little window in the corner of the existing clip; and Green Screen, which lets you place the new clip in front or behind the other clip (provided you shot one of the video clips in front of an actual green screen).

Video stabilization
If you've ever had a problem with shaky videos, you'll like iMovie '09's video stabilization feature. Just select "Analyze for Stabilization" and iMovie will do its best to analyze every pixel to correct any jerky movements. Bear in mind, though, that if you're using a low-quality camera, it can't fix the blurriness inherent in the hardware. iMovie '09 does promise to stabilize most photos, even the ones taken in a car or a boat. If you want, you can adjust the amount of stabilization in case you want the video to look shakier.

Themes and transitions
As we mentioned earlier, themes are back in iMovie '09. Themes are basically video templates that let iMovie add titles and transitions automatically to your project. You can go back and manually add theme elements like titles and theme transitions. iMovie '09 has six different themes: Photo Album, Bulletin Board, Comic Book, Scrapbook, Filmstrip, and plain.

Other video effects include Cartoon, Aged Film, Film Grain, Vignette, and more. These effects give your videos a nice professional finish, without a lot of work. There are also more than 32 title animations, like Lens Flare and Pixie Dust. You can combine the title animations with animated backgrounds or green screen effects. Lastly, you can speed up or slow down a clip with the speed change slider.

Maps are a big feature of iMovie '09 as well. You can choose from a variety of animated maps to show your location, or if you're shooting a travel video, you can create a map that animates your journey and make your own mini travel documentary.

Edit music
The last addition to the iMovie '09 application is the ability to edit to music, especially when you're making a music video or something that's music-focused. You drop beat markers in a music track, and iMovie '09 will attempt to match the video clip durations to match the markers. Of course if you want fine-tuning, you can use the precision editor.

GarageBand '09
GarageBand '09 may quite possibly be the sleeper hit in the iLife '09 package, owed simply to its new music lessons feature. Yes, you get the same GarageBand controls as before; you can create layered songs with multiple edit points, create podcasts in a snap, make your iPhone ringtones, and jam in a virtual band. But the new "Learn to Play" feature is the main reason to get GarageBand '09.

Indeed, instead of just targeting those who already have some musical know-how, GarageBand's Basic Lessons are for those who have little to no musical ability at all. GarageBand '09 comes with basic lessons for both guitar and piano, and, through a series of instructional videos, will teach you everything from how to hold the guitar to learning a whole song.

Basic lessons
The step-by-step instruction videos are divided into the Learn section and the Play section. Learning is where you just watch the instructor give the lesson. In this stage, you can customize the view of the video to include a close-up of the instrument or musical notations, and you can slow the playback speed down in case you're having trouble keeping up. The instruction videos are really clear and easy to understand, too.

When it comes time to play, you're actually requested to play along with an accompanying band or music track. You can record your lesson with a microphone or an audio input so you can listen back to it. There's a mixer for adjusting the volume of your instructor's instrument, the accompanying music, or just your instrument. GarageBand has a metronome to help you keep the correct tempo, plus a guitar tuner to help you tune your guitar. Finally, you can cycle sections repeatedly if you really want to practice a particular lesson over and over again.

Artist lessons
But perhaps the key attraction to GarageBand '09 is Artist Lessons taught by, well, actual artists. And we're not talking just any old glee club here; these artists are internationally renown. They include Sting, Norah Jones, Ben Folds, and more. These lessons aren't free, though--you'll have to cough up $4.99 for each one. Each lesson only teaches you one song, and the song's difficulty isn't variable; if you buy a medium difficulty piano lesson, you can't really upgrade or downgrade unless you want to buy a whole different lesson.

So what do you get for $4.99? Not only do you get the artist teaching you how to play his or her hit single, you also get to learn the story behind the song. It's a nice touch, especially if you're a fan of the artist. You also get lyrics and musical notation, and, like the Basic Lessons, you can practice and mix the songs, and slow down any part you might find confusing. We really love that Apple is offering this since it's great to have the musician talk you through a song, but $4.99 is still a bit on the steep side.

Other additions to GarageBand '09 include a new guitar experience--you get new amps and stompbox effects--plus an improved Magic GarageBand jam. Magic GarageBand, like with GarageBand '08, is a virtual band that lets you jam with other instruments. The latest version now has a full-screen view, and you can create custom mixes, skip through sections of a song, swap out instruments, and record your song right there in GarageBand.

iWeb '09
iWeb is Apple's easy Web site builder, and iWeb '09 isn't too different from iWeb '08, save for a few important upgrades. First, you get drag-and-drop widgets that you can just place anywhere on your Web page. The widgets include a Countdown clock, iSight photo or iSight movie, a YouTube widget, and an RSS feed widget that lets you draw in feeds from other sources (like Flickr or Twitter, for example). You can resize the widgets as well.

Also, now it's possible to transfer your iWeb files directly to any host that supports FTP, so you don't need a MobileMe account to use iWeb. You could do this before, but FTP is now built right into the iWeb interface. There have been reports that iWeb doesn't play so nice with non-MobileMe sites, though, so be aware of that. You can also manage multiple sites thanks to the Site Organizer panel. Last but not least, you can link iWeb to your Facebook account so your friends will know whenever you've updated your site.

Last but not least is iDVD. There are no new significant changes to iDVD '09--we didn't run into any glitches while burning a DVD, anyway. Some of the ready-made visual themes include Cinema and Sunflower.

Help and support
Like with the previous iLife suite, iLife '09 has very good tutorials bundled with the program. We especially like the video tutorials that teach you how to use an application very clearly with step-by-step instructions. iLife buyers receive 90 days of unlimited free telephone support for installation, launch, or reinstallation. Three years of telephone support is offered through AppleCare, a separate support plan available for a fee. Users can also seek help at the Genius Bars of Apple stores or attend free workshops offered by stores.

If you're completely new to the iLife suite, you'll take to iLife '09 in no time. It's a great way for everyday consumers to organize photos, edit video, and create songs and podcasts. The biggest updates in iLife '09 are in iPhoto's Faces and Places, GarageBand's Learn to Play music lessons, and the addition of advanced features to iMovie '09, though we still prefer the more precise tools in iMovie HD. Even if you don't care about most of the updates, we think the face recognition and music lessons alone make iLife '09 worth the money.


iLife '09

Score Breakdown

Setup 8Features 8Performance 8Support 8
Shopping laptop image
Get the best price on everything
Shop your favorite products and we’ll find the best deal with a single click. Designed to make shopping easier.
Add CNET Shopping