Polarr, a Mobile Editing Alternative - Part 2

A look under the hood - including a few surprises

By babywriter in Articles and Tips on Mar 21, 2018
Polarr, a Mobile Editing Alternative - Part 2

In Part One, we did a quick walk around of the Polarr app. This photo editing software, available for virtually every major computing platform, promises a full-featured experience, even on mobile devices. But does it deliver on that promise? Let’s go under the hood and find out.

First impressions are important, especially with mobile software. We expect apps to be discoverable, with a layout and visual language that encourages the user to experiment. Polarr reflects that expectation. Opening the app provides a blank screen with icons around the borders, and two large center buttons. These invite user to open a photo to edit, or to practice on a sample photo. Bringing a photo into the app begins your editing session.

Polarr interface - annotated

In the corners are icons for importing and exporting. On Mac and Windows, you can import multiple photos, and there’s a Lightroom-style filmstrip at the bottom. You can also batch-export finished photos. Neither of those features are available on mobile phones, or on an iPad.

Tool icons are stacked in groups, and vary in location depending upon operating system and device. They are:

A text/shape tool (Polarr Pro only). These items overlay your photo and are editable. Functionality here is rudimentary; shape choices are limited (no lines or arrows, for example) and text and shapes cannot be rotated. Some features, like the text presets, are too cutesy by half, but for the Snapchat crowd, it’s a nice addition.

A filter palette. These are similar to Lightroom’s presets. A slider allows you to adjust the strength of the filters, and you can tweak the individual adjustments to your heart’s content.

Undo and history tools. Polarr provides an infinite number of undo actions, with a caveat. The undo tool works as expected; click it once, and the previous action is reversed. Keep clicking, and Polarr works back through them in order. The history tool goes one step further, providing a viewable list of all actions taken. Here’s the caveat: history actions can only be undone and redone in order, and undoing an early edit undoes everything that follows, too.

A guides tool. This is where Polarr’s in-app wizards are. Also included are links to the Polarr Wiki - which is the best place to get acquainted with Polarr - and YouTube instructional videos. 

An adjustment palette. This is where you’ll spend most of your time in Polarr. All of the major editing tools are here - temperature, tint, vibrance, saturation, clarity, sharpening - plus several others. Tools that “denoise” an image are available in the Pro version only, but they do work as advertised.

A masks tool (Polarr Pro only). You can set local adjustments using a specific color, a virtual brush, or a radial or gradient selection. Multiple masks may be established and edited separately. While not full-bore Photoshop, it’s a useful addition.

A crop and rotate tool.

A retouch palette. This includes a spot removal function - which is roughly equivalent, in effectiveness and function, to the spot removal tool in Lightroom 4 (circa 2012). I found this, frankly, disappointing. There are also tools to adjust facial tones and to generate warping and funhouse-mirror effects.

Conclusion and Surprises

So, is Polarr worth a second look? For a mobile editing solution, I’d offer a qualified yes. The user interface is ideal for touch editing, and most adjustment tools range from serviceable to excellent. A few (spot removal, I’m looking at you) don’t quite measure up, and DNG raw file handling is noticeably uneven. However, the app is fast and responsive, and JPEG results are consistently good.

In the “surprise and delight” category, I’d give a gold star to:


Curves for individual color adjustment. I know - being able to edit curves isn’t world-shaking. But Polarr’s implementation is notable. You can do tonal changes but also red, green or blue specifically. A diagonal line appears at the lower right of the photo. As you drag points on the line, the colors change in real time. I found this very intuitive.

Split toning

Split-toning. I never thought I’d call split-toning a picture fun, until I found this interface. For both highlights and shadows, you have an eight-color palette for quick effects - or, if you’re the finicky type, there’s a field where you can pick any tone you want. Changes apply instantly, and you can drag the spot-select around and see changes in real time. You can even balance the two tonal selections with a slider, like a DJ switching between records. It’s a hoot.

Copy and paste

Copying and pasting edits with a keystroke. Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve never liked Lightroom’s method of copying and pasting adjustments from one photo to another. Yes, the process provides a lot of control, and that’s helpful. But it’s fiddly and unintuitive - once you’ve set what you want to do, why can’t you just Control (or Command)-V it to whatever photo you want? In Polarr, you can. Control-C copies the settings. Control-V pastes them onto the next photo.

As with any software, the best way to determine whether it fits your editing style and personal preferences is to give it a try. Polarr is available from all major app stores in a free-to-use version. However, with the introduction of version 5 in April, the paid “Pro” version of Polarr will be moving to a subscription-only model. Until then, a $20 fee unlocks everything, on all platforms, forever.




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