Photo editing apps might be a dime a dozen, but that doesn't mean there isn't a reason to download a powerful one—especially if you're a professional or aspiring photographer. For many users, Adobe's name is synonymous with photo editing, with both Photoshop and, to a lesser extent, Lightroom being some of the most well-known photo editors on Windows and MacOS. If you dabble in photography, you've probably used one or both of those apps before, with the former used primarily to make quick visual fixes, and the latter used for processing RAW photos taken by DSLRs and, in some cases, phones with powerful cameras. Lightroom is available as a mobile app on Android, and if you know what you're doing when it comes to professional photos, you'll really appreciate the tools and abilities of Adobe Photoshop Lightroom (or, from here on out, Lightroom).
First, let's look at Lightroom's design. Adobe's Creative apps—which we'll come back to in a moment—have a fairly-unified design structure behind them, with similar fonts, layouts, and icons included in each app. Most of the newer Creative apps—along with their extensive suite of mobile products—have a flat design to them, though none of them adhere to the standards of material design laid out by Google for Android apps. In this case, that's okay—these apps have a lot going on in them, and it would be difficult, if not impossible, to design the app with those standards in place while maintaining a sensical design in-app. Lightroom's main display is rather basic, with folders and photos added from your gallery displayed to be manipulated and edited, along with any photos taken with the built-in camera—more on that later. The Lightroom icon in the top-left corner slides out a menu similar to a material-esque hamburger menu, though it does look and act a bit differently. Here you'll find settings and your account information, including the ability to sync your photos to Adobe's Cloud service over Wi-Fi, an option for SD card usage, and a toggle to collect user data—enabled by default. Additional settings, fill the menu below, though we'll get to those further in this review. At the bottom of the display, you'll find the option to open your galley and the camera mentioned above, and the top-right corner has an option to add new Collections, essentially functioning as folders for Lightroom.
Once you load your photos into Lightroom, the true power of Adobe's photo editing tool shows. Sure, Lightroom for Android isn't nearly as mobile as its PC-equivalent, but it doesn't matter—if you're trying to get a professional suite of editing tools for your phone's photos right on your actual device, Lightroom is about the best you can do. When you select a photo to edit, you'll find a multitude of tools at your disposal that makes the included editing software in Google Photos look like Baby's First Photo Editor. It's that serious. Lightroom gives you the standard editing abilities we've seen from apps like Photos, including crop, rotate, auto-straighten, and included preset filters for your photo. The similarities end there though, because Lightroom is far, far more capable than almost any other photo editor on Android. You can change the aspect ratio of any image on your phone, enable sliders and tone curves for editing brightness and saturation. You can digitally modify your white balance and your exposure, apply split tones to the shadows and highlights of your photo, utilize vignettes, and so much more. Lightroom even includes a lens correction module in the app, taken right from the desktop version of the app, that can fix any distortion applied to your photo by wide-angle and other strange lens choices implemented by smartphone manufacturers. By no means are we professional photographers, and we found the app to more than meet our expectations for what we'd want a photo editor to accomplish. Even those preset filters we mentioned above go far beyond what's included in Google Photos or Instagram, with categories for Creative, Color, Black and White, and even Samsung-specific (on our test Galaxy S7 edge) filters.
At this point, you've probably made up your mind on whether or not this app for you, though we're sure some professionals aren't quite sold on the app itself. After all, there's no way a phone—or even a tablet—can replace the control and complexity of a mouse and keyboard. Well, while we aren't here to say you're wrong, Adobe has built a bunch of gestures, shortcuts, and smart options into the app to quickly and easily show you additional information and revisions while you're editing. The app, unfortunately, does not go out of its way to tell you some of the abilities it hides and contains, but through enough practice and play, you can easily figure your way out around the app. Some of the helpful shortcuts we found while testing the app: holding three fingers on the photo currently being edited will display the original copy for comparison, tapping on an image will hide the control interface, and double-tapping or pinching will allow you to zoom in and out of a photograph on your device. Perhaps one of the most useful shortcuts we found involves tapping on the display once with two fingers, which will toggle three display settings: picture and file information (name, camera, etc), a histogram displaying color and light information for your photo, and a clear image display. One more tool, controlled in the lower-left corner of your display, activates Speed Review. The Flag icon, when active, will allow you to slide your finger up and down your photo to select, unflag (standard), or reject the image as needed. The star, meanwhile, allows you to slide your finger on the display to assign the photo a star rating. This allows you to rank and review images on the go, without having to sit in front of a laptop or desktop rating and select from a range of images.
At this point, it's probably time to talk about price. If you're a content creator, you've probably dabbled in Creative Cloud (or Creative Suite, in earlier releases) at least once or twice. For those not in the know, Creative Cloud is Adobe's full software suite, purchased with an annually-charged subscription. This might sound like a bust, but plenty of people are big fans of Adobe's newer pricing scheme. While we won't cover every subscription model and application Adobe offers, you should know that, for photographers, there's a $9.99/month (charged annually) subscription that includes desktop versions of Lightroom and Photoshop, along with all the extra bonuses in the mobile versions of each app. You don't need to pay a subscription to use Lightroom on Android, but it's worth noting you do gain a few extra features, including your photos and edited projects backed up to the cloud to access on every device, and most notably, the ability to edit RAW files right on your mobile device.
That said, you might want to consider signing up for that Cloud Photography plan just for the RAW support inside of the app. In addition to being able to edit and access raw files right from your phone, Lightroom is capable of capturing photos in DNG (digital negative) format, a completely-lossless file system that can produce a portrait more in line with the kind of photography professionals are used to working with. Not only that, but that built-in camera—which, by the way, has a clean interface that we ended up liking very much—can shoot in raw HDR, something we haven't seen in any of the other apps looked at for this review. It's seriously impressive stuff, though you will need a specific phone model to be able to take advantage of the format. Currently, raw HDR shoots are supported by Samsung's 2016 and 2017 flagship phones (the Galaxy S7 and S7 edge, along with the S8 and S8+), and Google's Pixel and Pixel XL. These phones are home to some of the best cameras on any mobile device, rivaled perhaps only by the iPhone 7, so it's unsurprising to see support extend to those specific phones. We do hope to see Adobe roll out support for phones like the LG G6 or HTC U11, which both contain cameras that can more than hold their own against the competition, but with no specific plans announced, we'll just have to keep our eyes on the situation moving forward.
In our eyes, Lightroom is perfect for creators serious about their photos, whether they're shooting on a DSLR (as Lightroom supports USB OTG cables), or right on the phones themselves. For anyone who wants to edit on the go, it's a hell of an app, packed with enough software tools to make it our runner-up as the best photography app for Android. The amount of functionality and ability built into Lightroom—with most of it available for free—is astonishing, and a great place to start for blossoming young photographers to learn how to edit and compose professional photos.