PicsEngine: Simple & Sexy Galleries

There are quite a few online photo management and gallery options out there, as we’ve covered in the Top 20 Photo Storage and Sharing Sites. It’s also hard for newcomers to compete with some of the heavyweights as shown in our Flickr, Picasa and SmugMug Shootout. Today, however, we’ll take a look at a promising new contender in the photo management field.

PicsEngine sports a sexy interface that also makes great use of today’s newer web technologies. It also takes a different approach to pricing, which may be refreshing to those looking for a new option for managing their photos. Read on for an in-depth look at this promising new web app.

Overview

PicsEngine has a nice interface design that’s a mix between web 2.0 and Mac styles, giving it a very appealing and modern interface. Giving the interface an even better experience, the app makes heavy use of newer web technologies that aren’t as resource draining as Flash but still give a desktop app-like experience.

PicsEngine Home

PicsEngine Home

I appreciate that a video tour is available and covers more than just a peek at the application. I really don’t think enough web app developers take advantage of what a video tour can offer potential customers.

Sign Up

I generally stay away from covering the sign up process of apps these days because they’re all essentially the same. PicsEngine, however, takes a much simpler approach that skips all the annoying bits and lets you get straight into uploading photos and managing galleries.

Sign Up

Sign Up

Click the sign up button at PicsEngine.com and you’ll be taken straight to the dashboard interface with basic email and password signup. You’ll start with the 30 day free trial, with the option to go paid if you’d like to continue using PicsEngine.

Pricing

Pricing options are pretty limited, although it seems they’re meant to be simplified. There’s one available pricing plan and that’s 5€ per month for 50€ per year. That comes out to almost $7 per month for those of us in the states.

Pricing

Pricing

Payment is processed through Paypal, which also allows you to use a credit or debit card.

You’re given 10 GB of monthly data traffic and unlimited storage space for your photos. For those of you with large libraries, this might be a welcome plan. If you need more monthly bandwidth you’ll have to contact the PicsEngine team to discuss custom pricing options. At least custom pricing options are available!

Interface Design & Usability

Right off the bat I’ll tell you I really like the interface design. It actually reminds me a lot of Apple’s MobileMe design style, which I also really liked. Upon sign up you’ll be viewing your empty photo library, ready for you to jump right in. In fact, the app looks just like an iPad app running in your desktop browser or a revamped version of OS X’s Finder specifically for photos.

Photo Library

Photo Library

PicsEngine is compatible with the iPad and iPhone, with an Android app coming eventually.

One reason I like the interface design so much, aside from the actual element styles, is that it is designed like an actual desktop application rather than a website like so many other web apps. Web apps should look and feel like desktop apps rather than just another website.

Usability

PicsEngine’s interface usability is great; it’s simple, clean and functions very well. The interface, as mentioned before, takes advantage of newer web technologies to make tasks and navigation easy. Uploading and rearranging photos is a simple drag and drop, changing settings is done without page refreshes thanks to AJAX, etc.

AJAX Updates

AJAX Updates

Uploaded photos even appear as the rest are being uploaded. They can even be edited and rearranged while the others are still uploading.

The overall layout of navigational elements isn’t confusing and makes using the app a pleasure with the particular layout they chose to go with; photos in the middle, library navigation on the right, search and tags at the top and settings and viewing options at the bottom.

Bottom Settings and Viewing Options

Bottom Settings and Viewing Options

The left sidebar, which contains the library navigation elements such as albums and galleries, can be adjusted to the desired width. The right sidebar, which contains photo information and metadata, can be hidden entirely to give you more space to view your photos.

Overall the interface is quite smooth for a web app but not quite what you’d expect from a desktop app. That being said, I was very happy with how smoothly everything functioned.

Uploading Photos

Uploading photos is super simple with the easy drag & drop action or even the optional old school uploader. As uploaded photos finish processing, they show up in your library immediately and are ready for editing (info) or rearranging.

Uploading Photos

Uploading Photos

I was a little disappointed to see the lack of upload speed display within the app but the app didn’t have a problem taking full advantage of my upload connection.

I wasn’t able to find information on whether or not uploaded photos are compressed, a list of all the accepted image formats or even the maximum allowed file size. I assume that because each image has to be processed, they’re being compressed to some degree, but it’s possible the processing is simply for thumbnail creation and to pull information from the photos for display (name and metadata).

I was able to upload photos exceeding 24 MB (the limit for Flickr and SmugMug), but PicsEngine seemed to hang in the processing stage. Strangely, the photos did eventually show up in my library after I refreshed the app. Unfortunately, out of the 26 photos I uploaded, 2 of them had to be re-uploaded in order for them to be added to my library. This is a sign PicsEngine isn’t built for heavyweight use, especially since you have no way of knowing which photos failed to be added to your library.

Gallery & Album Display

PicsEngine’s gallery and album display looks really great. This is probably one of the most enticing aspects of this app for me.

Album Display

Album Display

Individual photo display shows information such as geo-location, metadata, etc. and a convenient strip of photos at the bottom of the window.

Photo Display

Photo Display

Downloading Photos

For many people, online photo management apps like Flickr, SmugMug and Picasa will be their final storage location. These days everyone is shooting photos with their phones and point & shoot cameras then uploading directly to their online galleries to share them with friends and family right away.

But what happens when you want to move to a different photo service? If you can’t download your photos you’re going to be in a world of pain or simply loose thousands of your cherished memories. PicsEngine doesn’t appear to provide any form of photo exporting except for when viewing each photo individually (which is also really slow), so keep this in mind should you choose to use this app.

App Integration

If you’re an iPhoto, Aperture, Lightroom or other desktop photo management app user, you’re out of luck because PicsEngine doesn’t currently have any integration with other apps. This might change in the future but for now you’ll have to live with drag and drop uploading.

Sharing & Embedding

One of the most important aspects of photo gallery apps these days is their ability to share your photos and connect with social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. PicsEngine offers no direct integration with any of these applications, although it does allow you to specify URL information for these networks in your gallery settings, which is then displayed on the gallery About page (if enabled).

Networks

Networks

On the upside, you can easily embed your photos in your website with the provided JavaScript embed code.

Security and Backup

Your uploaded photos are stored on Amazon’s S3 infrastructure and the PicsEngine application itself is run with Heroku, which is also hosted on Amazon’s servers. So it should be a pretty stable application as far as hosting is concerned. As far as the security of your photos? Well, you can password protect your galleries but I couldn’t find any information regarding the security technology used.

Password Protect Gallery

Password Protect Gallery

Your account itself is, of course, password protected but I also couldn’t find any information on the level of security your overall account is provided.

Final Thoughts

PicsEngine is a simple, clean and sexy photo gallery app but aside from its design appeal, it lacks features in to many areas to be able to compete with more popular options. PicsEngine needs social media integration, better large file handling, desktop photo management application integration, more photo download options and possibly some form of design customization or API.

The app looks and works (for the most part) great, but isn’t a viable option for those more serious about photography or sharing their photos easily. That being said, I do think the app has a lot of potential to develop into something really fantastic. I would definitely encourage you, if you’re in the market for a simple photo gallery app, to give PicsEngine a try.


Summary

PicsEngine is an easy way to manage your photos online. It offers unlimited space storage and an easy-to-use interface to organize and access your photos wherever you are.

7