Stick with us on this one because, while Fotor might not initially blow your mind, it could well become one of your most-used apps. It's two things: a tooled-up replacement for your phone's default camera app and a cracking photo editor.
Fotor is free for iOS, Android and Windows Phone but the features you get vary depending on your platform. This review is based on the iPhone version. Scroll down for details of the Android and Windows Phone editions.
What makes Fotor stand out from the mountain of photo apps is its combination of genuinely useful camera features and the range and quality of its quick-fix and enhancement filters. Oh, and because it doesn't demand that you sign up to yet another "service" in order to use it.
For a free app it dishes out a lot with no strings attached, and it won't lead you down a path before telling you it's time to shell out in order to unlock a feature. It's all refreshingly upfront about how it works and what you get. There are some in-app purchases but they're clearly flagged and there's no need to splash out right from the start.
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We would be almost as enthusiastic about the Android version of Fotor but in our tests the current version of the app crashed on more devices than it worked on. If it works for you, you'll get just about everything that the iPhone edition offers with the addition of some banner adverts. Right now the Android version doesn't include the collage, text and sticker features. With improved stability, the Android edition of Fotor could also be a 5-star app.
Fotor boots into a start screen that offers you Edit, Collage, Camera and PhotoBox options. Our advice is to go into app's settings and tell it to start up in camera mode - that way you're more likely to use it when you need to capture a fleeting moment.
Once you're into the camera section you'll find a load of handy photography tools, including a flash mode that keeps the LED switched on rather than flashing it, three types of grid overlays to help compose your photos, a "Big button" mode which shoots when you touch anywhere on the preview screen, Burst mode (we got around 4.2fps on an iPhone 5C), a timer, square format option and an image stabiliser (not that it seems to have much effect).
You can overlay a zoom slider too. By the way, Fotor is entirely concerned with stills photography, so for video you'll still have to use your phone's default camera app or another of your chosing.
Quick fixes and filters
Once you've taken your shot you can choose from a huge selection of enhancements and arty filters. First up is a three-stage auto enhance which pulls out detail from the shadows and generally livens things up. Next are the scene modes, which you'd normally select before you shoot on a compact camera. These post-processes make intelligent adjustments for sunsets, landscapes, portraits, flourescent lighting and so on.
If you know what you're doing you can make manual adjustments too, with sliders for contrast, brightness, temperature, saturation, sharpness, tint, shadows and highlights. All of the tweaks and effects can be used on existing pictures from your Camera Roll too, or any you've imported to your phone.
Yes, there's a version of Fotor for Windows Phone! It's entirely free, so there are no in-app purchases. As with the iPhone edition it's rammed with processing options and includes the collage feature but the text and sticker overlays are missing. While it can take photos, the camera mode is very basic, without the tricks of the iPhone's snapper section.
Sharing the fun
Fan of retro colour effects? Fotor is full of them. Along with the regular colour shifts and cross-processing simulations there are also some faux light leaks and light painting overlays. Of course this is nothing new, but here as with the rest of the app, it's the huge array of alterations that makes Fotor remarkable.
Stickers and text overlays can be slapped across your more happy-go-lucky snaps, which is fab for jazzing up a snap and adding a bit of humour before sending it off to a friend. You want more? OK, how about adding some borders, or using the tilt shift feature to miniaturise your scene?
The sharing options are pretty comprehensive, with the ability to push your pictures out through Instagram, Facebook, What's App, Twitter, Flickr, WeChat, SMS, email or printed postcards.
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As a bonus you also get the ability to make up collages from snaps on your phone.
This is like an app within an app. It does refuse to play ball with panoramas (they exceed the app's size limit) but aside from that it's brilliant. You can choose from templates accommodating up to nine images, push and pull the grid around, drop and swap pictures, add curved corners, fatten up the borders and choose from lots of different background patterns and styles.
Fotor review summary
Fotor would be a fantastic app even if it wasn't free. The fact that it is makes it unmissable. Perhaps your iPhone's ability to launch into its own camera from the lock screen will hold Fotor at arm's length, but otherwise it's hard to see a good reason for not using it any time you take out your phone to fire off a photo.
Review by Tony Horgan.