Mylio photo manager shows promise, but it's still a bit raw (hands on)

While the underlying architecture shows promise, the implementation feels a bit raw.

Lori Grunin Senior Editor / Advice
I've been reviewing hardware and software, devising testing methodology and handed out buying advice for what seems like forever; I'm currently absorbed by computers and gaming hardware, but previously spent many years concentrating on cameras. I've also volunteered with a cat rescue for over 15 years doing adoptions, designing marketing materials, managing volunteers and, of course, photographing cats.
Expertise Photography, PCs and laptops, gaming and gaming accessories
Lori Grunin
5 min read

Mylio's interface looks like a typical photo management application. Lori Grunin/CNET

In conjunction with this year's PhotoPlus Expo in New York, Mylio -- a company with an eponymously named subscription service for photo management -- launched with a big marketing splash. It claims a pretty broad set of capabilities for a new product, but while the idea is solid the implementation still needs some work.

Essentially, the Mylio system consists of a desktop client (Windows, ) and apps (-only for now) which offer nondestructive photo editing, cross-device video, photo and photo-edit syncing, on-the-fly cloud backup, and photo and video management. The apps function almost identically to the desktop application, albeit with a slightly more crammed interface.

Intentionally missing from that list is photo sharing. While you can export and send via email or directly upload to Facebook or Flickr, there's no Mylio website where you can direct people to see your images.

The company has a two-pronged business model, though both prongs require subscriptions. First, the company will be selling directly to consumers, priced as follows (the UK and Australian prices are conversions from US, since it's currently only available direct via Mylio's site):

Plan Cost Includes
Trial free Up to 1,000 files on three devices
(starting December 2014)
$50 | £31 | AU$57
JPEG files, simple editing, three devices, up to 50,000 images
Standard $100 | £62 | AU$113
JPEG and raw files, full editing, five devices, up to 100,000 images
Advanced $250 | £155 | AU$283
Peer-to-peer Wi-Fi with offline file protection, workflow, 10 Devices, up to 500,000 images

These prices seem pretty steep, especially given how unfinished the program feels at the moment. For one, it seems like the people who would be willing to shell out for the Advanced plan need a lot more than a 500,000-image limit. My current drive which holds test files since April 2013 already has over 100,000 files on it, and it doesn't even include terabytes of personal files -- and I'm low-volume compared to many commercial photographers. (Note that you can add NAS or USB storage and they don't count towards your device total.)

On the other hand, compared to Adobe's Photography subscription for Creative Cloud (much less the more expensive options), it's cheap: that one will run you $120 (£105/AU$120) a year and only includes 2GB of storage.

The other way you'll be able to get Mylio is via photo retailers; they license it from Mylio and sell it to you with (hopefully) some value-added services and for different prices.

One of the most important aspects of Mylio is that unlike many other systems, which import files and save all changes to a central database, it can work with files that live in any location you choose. If you've used Lightroom, the import process will be quite familiar. You can choose to copy files to a specific folder or import them in place, as well as copy or move an existing folder, copy albums from Facebook or Flickr, or add a folder of images that exist in a Lightroom catalog in order to sync changes with Lightroom.

Unfortunately, importing isn't a background process. Nor can you filter out files from an import. On my , in addition to photos I have screen captures and random art from apps like ArtRage and tons of repetitive shots from some lens testing. There's no way to specify just the photos or just particular photos. A similar problem holds for importing a Lightroom folder -- you can't flag or select only the images you want.

Just to download your albums from Facebook you have to give away all this information.

I didn't test the Facebook download because it wasn't worth giving up my friends' data. This practice is becoming increasingly common, but you're already paying Mylio for the privilege of using the software.

Designed by engineers. Screenshot by Lori Grunin/CNET

You can rename files on import with powerful variable syntax -- a not uncommon feature. But the implementation is also a typical example of why Mylio feels like a version 0.9 rather than 1.0. The interaction of the too-small, fixed-size dialog box which forces you to scroll through the variable reference could have been designed in the last century. And it doesn't offer a sample preview of what your rename settings will produce.

Once imported, you can manually keyword, caption and assign people to photos. This process is no easier than most software (in fact it's a little harder). Desktop software like Photoshop Elements and iPhoto can automatically perform face detection, for example. Furthermore, Mylio doesn't show you the list of keywords you've used; unless they're consistent, keywords are useless. If you use Lightroom, you'll want to do all this stuff there and sync it back to Mylio.

Once imported, you can search on any keywords, ratings, people and so on, as well as metadata. Once again, the search interface is relatively powerful, but a bit obscure -- for instance, you'll never figure out how to perform a fairly common search, limited to just within a folder, without searching the help system. As an example, to find the photo mysocks.jpg in the current folder (named "clothes") you have to type "folder:clothes mysocks." No dropdown lists here.

Mylio's sync controls are one of the highlights of the program. Screenshot by Lori Grunin/CNET

The real strength of Mylio is the syncing architecture, which lets you specify which size photos should be replicated to every device while seamlessly handling the sync, including backup to either the cloud or a desktop computer. It's not typical backup, though; the files are just there as long as you've assigned it to sync. To remove them from the Mylio catalog, you just unsync them.

There are still more aspects of Mylio that make it feel unfinished, though. The company does its own raw file handling, which occasionally results in artifacts like that below. And it doesn't tell you that it can't handle a raw format until it's done importing all the JPEGs.

Mylio also has some hiccups interpreting some raw files. This is how it interprets wide-angle shots from the Canon PowerShot G1 X Mark II. And it doesn't seem to handle Fujifilm RAF files at all. Lori Grunin/CNET

I'm also unimpressed with the editing tools. They look and operate like those in Lightroom, but they don't behave nearly as well. Exposure seems to increase or decrease linearly, attempts to pull back highlights produce desaturated brown casts (even from cameras with broad tonal ranges), there's no one-click white balance, and there's no noise reduction for when you bring up shadows. These are all rookie mistakes.

The answer, of course, is to use Lightroom -- or any other editor which stores edits in a sidecar XMP file, the way Mylio does. But even that doesn't seem to work the way it should.

While the procedure isn't seamless it's still pretty straightforward. If you make changes in Lightroom, you save them and then in Mylio go to the image and read in the metadata from the XMP file, which applies the adjustments. But Mylio seems to interpret the values in the XMP file differently than Lightroom, or at least fails to render the image properly for display, as shown below.

Mylio syncs edits with Lightroom...sort of. The Mylio interpretation of the XMP data (left) looks nothing like Lightroom's (right). Lori Grunin/CNET

Mylio shows a lot of promise for photographers who need a lot of their photos everywhere, but unless it fills a critical hole in your workflow there are still too many kinks to fix before I can recommend shelling out the high subscription price. To be fair, it's a complicated product. But the current state it screams "we need introductory pricing!"