Android Camera Apps

What’s the Best Android Camera App

One of the things I like to do most with my smart phone is take pictures. I’ve been through more than my share of camera apps, and probably purchased more than I needed to. Here’s a run-down of what I’ve discovered along the way.

Samsung Camera UI

Samsung Camera UI

Update 1: I’ve made some discoveries regarding Snap Camera and A Better Camera that improve the review. I’d also like to highlight some developers who’ve been very responsive.

Obviously there were issues with the camera app that came with my Samsung Galaxy S3 that made me start looking for an alternative. The most egregious problem was that the camera app kept losing its settings, especially my selection of short-cuts, if I was storing photos on the phone (as opposed to the SD card). The other issues were the interface and functionality was pretty basic, and when launching the camera from the Cover lock screen I couldn’t switch to the video camera.

Two elements I’ve included in the review are whether you can specify the storage location for your pictures (and videos). Some of the apps only let you choose between phone/device and SD card while other let you specify the full path to the storage location. This may be an issue if and when your device is on Android 4.4 Kit Kat since it changes how the external SD Card is accessed and used. Personally I can’t believe that Google would make such a breaking change without any mitigation path so I suspect that as people come to better understand the changes in 4.4 they will re-implement whatever needs to be done and everything will be just perfect!

I’ve also indicated whether you can take still pictures while shooting video. This is a great little feature allows you to capture the whole event as well as the little moments along the way. Not all the apps were capable of this, in fact some couldn’t even take videos! The Samsung Camera allows you specify the general storage location (phone or SD card) and grab stills while shooting video.

One thing none of the cameras featured was a document mode for scanning pages. I know apps like Evernote and Handy Scanner both have these features, but I would find it convenient to have them in a generic camera app rather than a component of another app.

Cover Camera Selection

Cover Camera Selection

The issue with camera apps is they’re notoriously finicky. Each phone, even from the same manufacturer, uses different hardware for their camera. Some camera’s are really unique – like those from HTC, and then there’s Samsung’s line of Android powered point-and-shoot cameras. An app that works perfectly for me might not work properly, or even launch, on your phone.

The list of camera apps I tried includes Camera KK (and it’s predecessor Camera JB+), Nexus Camera: KitKat Camera, Focal, Camera FV-5, Open Camera, Snap Camera, and A Better Camera. A few other things to note are that I prefer QuickPic as my gallery app and Aviary as my photo editor; and I also use the Cover lock screen replacement which features quick-access to the camera that by-passes the security.

Camera KK

CameraKK UI

CameraKK UI

This camera from Moblynx is built on Google’s camera source code, but fine tunes and adds a few features. I started with the predecessor, Camera JB+ (which included a gallery app), and used this camera exclusively until I ran into some lag issues when taking pictures – especially when using the flash. The interface is pretty clean and, apart from the lag, all the functions work very well. You can specify the general storage location with this app; and you can take stills while shooting a video. One of the things I really appreciated was that this camera did NOT come bundled with another gallery app since I prefer QuickPic. The developer is very responsive to e-mails.

Nexus Camera: KitKat Camera

Nexus Camera UI

Nexus Camera UI

Following the lag issues I was experiencing with Camera KK I decided to give this camera app a try. It is also built from the same code base as the Nexus camera like Camera KK. However this app sticks closer to the original and doesn’t add any features or do any fine-tuning. You can’t specify the storage location at all, but you can take stills while shooting video. And unfortunately it also suffered from a frustratingly long lag when taking pictures. I assume the lag is either because the source target’s Nexus cameras or because it’s so generic it doesn’t handle specific interactions with the Galaxy S3 camera.

Focal

Focal UI

Focal UI

I was really looking forward to this camera since it came from CyanogenMod. It has a unique interface that could be quite powerful, but there are some features that just don’t work yet (it is in beta). Most annoying is missing EXIF data like orientation (portrait/landscape) and geo-location. One of the coolest features is PicSphere mode for taking 360-degree photos. Another cool feature is being able to pin open the configurations you change most often so you can quickly access them; and quickly changing modes using the outside edge of the shutter button. You can’t specify the storage location at all, and in theory you can grab stills while shooting video but neither worked very well for me during my testing. Although I can launch this camera from Cover it doesn’t by-pass the security screen. The developer is active on the project’s XDA Developers thread.

Camera FV-5

Camera FV-5 UI

Camera FV-5 UI

This is the camera app to use if you want a DSLR in your phone. Everything possible is adjustable, there’s no fancy icons of snowman wearing party hats at night; just the controls you would expect to find on a real camera. Granted on a phone, with it’s tiny little capture element and feeble LED flash there’s only so much the settings can accomplish. But for some phones, and for Android cameras, this is a great app to have. I used it a lot to take a series of bracketed photos for Google+ to make an HDR photo from – automagically!!! For the storage location you can choose from suggested paths or specify your own, and this is only a still camera – no video! This app does NOT integrate with Cover though.

Open Camera

Open Camera UI

Open Camera UI

This app is a whole new design effort that re-imagines the camera interface on a touch screen. It definitely has the most unique interface, but I have to admit I wasn’t too crazy about it as it involved a lot of cycling through choices and waiting for the choice to take effect rather than being able to directly choose the option I wanted. This app is still under heavy development though so hopefully this is something that will change. The camera interface also displays some very useful information, like a horizon line, compass direction, and angle. You can’t specify the storage location at all, and not only does it not take stills while capturing video the video I did capture was mostly green static! This app does NOT integrate with Cover. The developer is very responsive on the project’s Source Forge site.

Snap Camera

Snap Camera UI

Snap Camera UI

The interface of this camera comes back to the one found in Google’s Nexus camera app, but the camera itself works differently and has a lot of other features. One of the most interesting features is the camera shutter and the video shutter are on-screen together, so there’s no switching modes – both are always available. My biggest issue is with navigating the menus actually. You can specify the full path to the storage location, and although the camera shutter button is always visible during video capture you can’t capture any stills unless the option is activated! This camera app also comes with a gallery app and video player (neither of which I would choose to use since I have QuickPic).

A Better Camera

A Better Camera UI

A Better Camera UI

The author of this app has a prolific collection of photography apps that are brought together into this one app. You could always install only the specific app you want, but the fun thing with ABC is there’s also a widget that let’s you open the camera directly into the mode you want. It also features DRO, Dynamic Range Optimization, to enhance your photos as you take them. The interface is quite powerful and really takes advantage of the touch screen interface, making all the functionality easily accessible. With ABC you can choose between phone or SD Card presets or specify your own path to the storage location; unfortunately though you can’t grab any stills while shooting a video. Although I can launch this camera from Cover it doesn’t by-pass the security screen. The developer is very responsive in the Google+ community.

Conclusion

Unfortunately there’s no perfect camera app in this list. Either they can’t be launched from Cover (which is essential for me), or I can’t grab stills while shooting video (with two kids multi-tasking is a requirement), or it suffers from some incompatibility with my phone (broken video, excessive lag, etc.). I’m going to keep Camera FV-5 around for those times when I really need to geek-out with my photos, but for my day-to-day camera I feel like I’m stuck with the average performing but generally functional Samsung camera app.

Another interesting observation is that half the cameras listed here use the same interface design (not the same options though) coming from the Google Nexus camera interface. It’s an interesting interface with a lot of sliding left/right and up/down to access options and make choices. But I found it a bit difficult to work with since the icons are small (i.e.: hard to press) and you end-up wandering all over your screen as you move through the menus.

Cross-posted on 2FatDads

Evernote vs. Springpad

As you know from reading my last post, Arc the Herald Angels Sing, Glory to the Sony Ericsson! I’m still looking for a good note taking and task management application.

I figured I’d be using Evernote since that’s what everyone else is using. But a comment from a co-worker made me take a second look at their terms of service and what else is out there. Thankfully there’s nothing in the terms of service to make me rip the internet connection off the wall. Both Evernote and Springpad assure users early on that the data belongs to the user – always has and always will. Although they both muddy that up later in their TOS it remains certain they’re not trying to steal your data.

So the TOS aside, which one should I choose to organize my life? Both allow you to take notes, create to-do lists, add pictures and images. Apart from the Android app both have web apps to access your content from any web browser, and even hosted Chrome apps to launch in a special tab in your Chrome browser.

Evernote

The Evernote logo reflects their app very well: a big monolithic grey elephant because everything in Evernote is a note. Pictures, drawings, rough drafts of blog posts, shopping lists, everything, even a task list is just another note containing tasks (albeit with a special mark-up so there’s actually check boxes and special search operators to find incomplete tasks.

Evernote also has a thick client for Windows and Mac, but not Linux. It has an API and there is a third party client called NixNote (written in Java) but obviously it’s not the official client.

Springpad

Springpad is much more colourful. There are notes, but there’s also plenty of other types of objects, from tasks to recipes to check lists to favourite restaurants. To each object you can also add other notes, links, photos, videos, and files. The things you store in Springpad are structured with fields to identify certain types of information. So a recipe will have ingredients, directions, cook time, and servings. But at this point you can’t add things like nutritional information for example (well, you could as an attachment in a note for example). Having this structure inspires you ask for more; so it would be great if Springpad allowed the user to add arbitrary fields to any object (besides un-structured Notes). Springpad also has an API so there’s the possibility of third-party extensions.

I’ve had some issues with the Springpad app though. When I created a shopping list on my Android phone I could edit items until after I save the list and re-opened it to edit it. There are other quirks like this too here and there.

There’s also some pretty cool features, like built-in barcode scanner and product look ups, automated alerts that integrate with your Google Calendar.

One thing that I couldn’t believe about Springpad though is there’s no way to share with other Springpad users. You can share the link to a note so others can view it, and there’s even buttons to share on Facebook, Twitter, by e-mail, and anything else support by Add This!

In Conclusion

I can see how Evernote is the ideal solution during a meeting or brainstorming session when you want to capture things quickly and throw in the occasional task. Evernote is also the more popular tool so there’s a much larger eco-system, things like xobni and IFTTT integrate directly Evernote but not Springpad.

And I see how Springpad is great once you’re sitting down and can get things organized. So when you want to impress with the perfect wine you can quickly look-up your favourite wine list and the restaurant to go drink it at.

I like all the different objects in Springpad and how they structure their information, and the built-in barcode scanner and other integrations is pretty cool. Aside from some of the quirks I’ve run into I have to admit I find Tasks in Springpad to be narrowly constrained – each one is a separate object and you can a lot of information to one task but you can’t create a series of linked tasks.

Evernote can obviously do everything I want, but without the structure of Springpad there’s always the risk of having a lot of messy notes that aren’t really useful.

So the jury is still out, but we’ll see which ones helps me through my Christmas shopping the best! Unless of course Google revives their Notebook project – in which case I know exactly what I’ll be using!

Cross-posted to 2FatDads.com at Evernote vs. Springpad