The prevalence and compactness of high quality photographic equipment today is fantastic. The always-there, always-on nature of the smartphone makes missing a photo opportunity a rare occurrence. We’ve always captured parties, weddings, births and graduations, but we’re now able to fill in the gaps between these big events by recording everyday happenings, which are often just as precious, and are usually a great deal more intimate. These life-documenting images are stored as digital files, so they are memories which we will forever have access to.
Well, it should be forever. But ever since digital photography became the norm, we’ve all shared one problem – what do you do with all those images? As a committed DSLR photographer, I’ve filled hard drives with my camera’s output alone, so the increased photographic output made possible by my phone is a serious problem. Sure, you can back up online, but most options are worrisome or expensive, or a combination of the two.
Both Google and Apple have, in recent times, sought to address this issue. Google+ and Photostream both provide automatic cloud backups, and both also provide later access to your images online. A new service called Loom (still in private beta) thinks it can do better still. It provides automatic backup, 5GB of free space, Mac and iOS apps, as well as a web interface. But does it provide a compelling alternative to the built-in OS backup systems?
Of course, Loom isn’t as convenient as a system built in to an OS. It comes a close second, though.
Getting started is really just a case of setting up an account (only your name, an email address and a password are required) and downloading the apps. Whilst the latter is optional — you can, instead, simply upload photos manually via Loom’s web interface — to get the best out of Loom, going native is recommended.
Currently, iOS and OSX are the two platforms supported, so Android users (for the time being, at least) will need to look elsewhere for phoneographic backups. Although, obviously, pictures from any device can be backed up via a desktop machine.
Something that is instantly notable is Loom’s visual consistency. Every interface Loom offers has that same clean, understated design. The stream of your backed-up photos dominates the UI, with images grouped by date in a dynamic, unequal grid. The left-hand sidebar — a drag-out menu on iOS — contains a list of your albums, your devices and incoming messages from fellow Loom users. And other than that, there’s not much else to see. Which leads me nicely into…
For me, simplicity is the key attribute of any backup system. I shouldn’t have to fiddle with settings or navigate menus just to keep things in sync. I’m glad to say that the makers of Loom seem to be on a similar wavelength.
In fact, I would describe Loom as a paragon of simplicity no matter which platform you access it from. With the apps installed, you simply log in, respond in the affirmative to Loom’s request to back up your pictures, and then go and find something else to do.
At least, it’s nearly that simple on iOS. Loom will happily back up your images in the background, even when you put your device to sleep, but this isn’t the default setting. Looks like some fiddling is required after all…
Aside from this minuscule grumble, however, the uploading of images is essentially hands- and hassle-free.
Browsing and Organizing
Complaining about over-simplicity isn’t something that comes naturally to me, but I’m going to attempt it here.
Although Loom’s timeline is gloriously uncomplicated, it is also rather unsophisticated. There are no sorting options provided (aside from the chronological default), there’s no tagging on offer, nor is there any metadata.
Yes, you can manually create albums, but your input stretches no further than typing in a name and selecting the photos you wish to include. But that’s not the kind of simplicity I’m looking for. I’d like my photo library to be easy to use in the way that an autopilot is, rather than easy to use in the sense of, say, a coffee cup — one is simple because it’s clever, the other is just simple. However, given that Loom is still in an early-ish stage of development, I can’t be too harsh. The intelligence I’m looking for may materialize, in time, too.
When you do eventually find the photos you’re looking for, Loom presents them nicely, and loads them quickly. The social sharing options included are limited, but if you’re just looking for the cloud equivalent of a photo album, Loom does the job nicely.
As with its more high-profile competitors, Loom also provides a sharing service between its users. As mentioned above, when folks share their photos with you, the groups of pictures they send become available in the sidebar menu, under the Inbox heading. Although it merely mirrors the equivalent functionality found in other services, it undoubtedly remains a great way of sharing pictures with your loved ones.
All Loom accounts come with 5GB of free storage. Upgrades are available, however, and are very reasonably priced. For instance, you can expand your allowance to 50GB for $3.99 per month, or $39.99 per year, and the maximum capacity of 250GB can be purchased for $9.99 per month.
I kind of feel sorry for Loom. Despite all the effort that has gone into getting it to the beta we see today, it looks a little weak in comparison to the in-built offerings of Apple- and Google-run phones. In addition, even other third party services, such as MyShoebox, offer more storage and are better equipped.
Not that I want to denigrate Loom — far from it. I think it is beautifully presented, and it works seamlessly. Equally, it is still in private beta, so there’s a long way to go before it becomes a fully fledged platform.
In total, I think that Loom currently does a fine job of backing up your photos, and providing you with later access to them. In fact, it is a perfectly good option, full stop. But if it can just step up its game a fraction before coming to market, then I think it will give the competition a run for its money. Given what the Loom team have so far achieved, I think that’s a likely scenario.