Layout for iOS (free), recently released by Facebook-owned Instagram, gives users an elegant and easy way to create quick collages.
Collage apps have been around since the inception of the App Store, and CNET's Jason Parker did a recent comparison to show that some apps have better features than Layout. But even without many extras, the app is so easy to use that it's hard not to recommend it for collage-making fans.
The first launch of Layout walks you through a brief tutorial going over the various controls for selecting then inserting a photo, and how to resize or move pictures around. A few swipes later, you're placed at the main screen of the app.
It's important to note you don't need to have an Instagram account to use Layout. It's for everyone and you can create collages for any social network.
Once you grant the app permission to access your Camera Roll, you get a better feel for the interface. Photos are placed at the bottom two-thirds of your screen, with example layouts placed in the top third once you begin selecting photos.
Creating a collage
Overall, I found navigating Layout to be very intuitive. Tapping on a photo places it atop your gallery into a Layout. You can add up to nine photos per layout, with each addition causing the thumbnail layouts atop the screen to readjust to make room for new photos.
Scrolling through the various layouts is done by swiping across your screen to the left, and when you've found one you want to customize you tap on it.
Along the bottom of the screen is an option to view all of your photos, a Faces section and a Recents section.
The Faces page analyzes your photo library, then pulls out photos which have a face and displays them. This is a great feature, especially if you want to combine a bunch of photos from a recent party or trip with a friend. The app is not perfect at identifying faces, but it does well enough that you can put together a collage of a friend quickly.
One anomaly during my testing was that it kept identifying a face within a screenshot of a text conversation. I only point this out so that you remember to double check that the app is grabbing the photos you want.
The Recents section places your most recent photos at the top, so you don't have to scroll through your entire Camera Roll.
Framing without borders
After tapping on the layout that's filled with your photos, you can customize it. Selecting a photo places a blue outline around the photo to let you know it has been selected. On at least two sides of the photo, you'll find a larger line, resembling a handle. The handles allow you to enlarge or shrink a photo's spot in the Layout, causing other photos to adjust to make room.
You can swap photos between spots with a long press on one photo, then drag it to its new location. You also can use pinch-to-zoom and adjust the position of a photo within its dedicated spot.
One apparent difference between Layout and other collage-type apps is the lack of any borders between photos. Each photo ends where the next photo begins. This can lead to some creative combinations. For one test, I selected the same photo for both the top and bottom frames, then flipped the top one over and lined the photos up to provide the mirror effect. If a border of any size was there, this combination would not have been possible. And that's the point of Layout; take your existing photos, then mix and match them in a creative manner outside of borders and frames.
Where's my Undo button?
When creating various layouts, I would sometimes randomly adjust the size of a photo when I meant to zoom in on it. Naturally I looked for an Undo button, but it was no where to be found. I tried shaking my iPhone (a common, yet hidden, undo gesture), and alas, it didn't work. In fact, shaking my phone brought up a "Report a Problem" dialogue.
This is a big miss for Layout because an undo button is a useful staple of any photo-editing app.
Sitting just above your photos when you have the All tab selected is a button to launch the app's Photo Booth.
Tap on the Photo Booth text to launch an impromptu funny face session. The Photo Booth screen holds a shutter button, with a count icon to the right of it. The count indicates how many photos will be captured once you press the shutter button.
There's a roughly 1-second delay between photos, leaving you little time to strike a new pose. An adjustable timer would go a long way toward improving the feature. Right now, it's fun to use for a quick photo session with your friend, but needs more settings to be really useful.
Layout gives you the tools to create collages in only a couple of steps. By doing away with the extra fluff and controls, it makes creating collages easy and fun.
While Layout's minimalist approach works, it's not going to be for everyone. You won't find any filters, effects, custom borders or other extras. The app would also benefit from an undo feature, and perhaps an adjustable timer for the Photo Booth. But overall, it's a quality collage app worth keeping around simply because it's so easy to use.