One reader asked if I’d seen books by Picaboo. I hadn’t so I took a look at their site.
I hesitated for two reasons: first was that their app runs only in XP, which means I’d have to run it in Parallels on my mac. Philosophically, I’d rather run an app in the native OS. But the bigger problem was pricing and sizes. There’s a landscape hardcover (11 x 8.5″ / 30 x 21.5cm) and medium soft- or hard- cover (8 x 6″ /20 x 15cm). The hardcover is US $30 for 20 pages, and the small softcover is $10, which seems pretty normal for a small sized book. Additional pages however, are $2 for the large hardcover and $1 for the small softcover, which is outrageously expensive.
For additional hardcover pages, Apple charges $1, for softcover $0.69. Blurb has a fixed price from 20-40 pages, and Viovio charges $0.25 per page (plus $5 setup) on their softcovers, and +$10 on their hardcovers.
A non-native app with expensive pricing. Didn’t sound like a winning combination, but I thought I’d try it anyway – at $10, a small softcover would be reasonable for a test. It didn’t turn out well. The app is the worst I’ve seen, and in the end froze Parallels and my mac requiring me to reboot. It appears to be an effort to have as many options as possible while combining the worst features of other apps.
I searched the Picaboo site, but wasn’t able to find information on color profiles to use, image sizes, or suggested DPIs, so I just exported 300dpi images from Aperture, then downloaded the installer.
Normally, I expect questions about what’s being done, and what’s being put where, but there was nothing asked here. After installation, there were icons on my desktop and an icon in my system try, apparently having something to do with “the Picaboo network.” Once installed the app requests you to “Click finish to run Picaboo.” It’s then necessary to create a Picaboo account, and then the app starts.
First time it runs, it loads themes. I would think this kind of setup could have been done during installation, but I did get a chance to see what I could choose from … baby, baby boy, birthday, catalog, cookbook, kids, travel, wedding, etc.
There’s an option to play music while making the book. I’d think you’d just use your existing music app to play music, rather than using a book-making app to play music.
The app has non-standard windows, though they act like regular XP windows (e.g. minimze, maximize, close, resize), and the process of making a book is essentially the same as the other apps: import images, place in to image holders on pages, buy.
➝ Create a book or view others. Pretty straightforward: click the button. With the emphasis on networking (You are connected to the Picaboo network reads the status line at the bottom) and “pals” it seems that Picaboo is more about sharing photos than about just making books.
➝ Choose a theme. Themes took several minutes to load when installing the app (a one-time event). There are quite a few, and while I didn’t review them all, it seemed that there were just too many which were likely the same, or very similar. I elected “no theme” since I was making a book I’ve already made several times.
➝ Import files. Another window opens from which you can select files to import. Rather than a normal file selection window, this one has previews with checkboxes, and a button to select all of them. It would have been faster if picaboo didn’t have to generate previews for each of the photos.
➝ The front cover shows the image of a book, and you can drag a photo onto it as with other apps. There’s a drop-shadow here; I’m not sure if the image will have a drop-shadow when the book is printed. Oddly, the font was not smooth. I’m not sure if this was an issue with XP, or whether Picaboo just wasn’t displaying it properly.
➝ Page numbering starts with the front cover (1), then continue to the inside cover (2) which is always blank, then the first actual photo page (3). I don’t find this helpful, as the cover and inside cover are not included in the 20 page minimum (if you’re on page 20, you’re actually on page 18 of photos). The inital image holders are a bit to jaunty for a “no theme” book, but you can click the ‘page layouts’ button in the upper left to see an absolutely huge slection of layouts (judge from the slider bar). The further down in the list, however, the less-useful they become, ending with options which look like someone scattered tiny pictures on a page. Most would be completely unusable on a smaller book.
➝ There are some more reasonble options mid-way through the list. But these highlight a bigger problem: there’s just no way to modify image placeholders, or to add text anywhere on a page. You’re required to use one of Picaboo’s layouts, as is. This is same as Mypublisher and Blurb, but not Apple Aperture which allows for any modifications, or Viovio which allows PDFs to be uploaded. I’ve not seen any application which allows the same level of customization as does Aperture. I think it’s much easier to be able to customize from small number of templates than to have to choose from a large number of them.
➝ The minimum number of pages is 20. I might expect the book would start with 20 pages, as with all other apps I’ve tested, but it doesn’t. You must click “insert page” 19 times (at least), and choose a layout for each (unless you want the default single image). There’s no way to copy a page (so you don’t have to go through the huge layout list again), or even to insert several pages with a certain layout.
➝ As with layouts, there are quite a few backgrounds and borders which can be added.
➝ Image placement options are limited. Other apps have options such as “fit full image, centered” or “left justified”, but Picaboo offers no such conveniences. Instead, it requires images to be manually aligned with directional buttons on the left of the window, rather then just dragging them with the mouse. It’s also not possible to change the image holders to a certain proportion (e.g. my D80 produces 3:2 images, and I normally keep that ratio when cropping).
There were some other issues as well:
• When placing vertical images in horizontal placeholders, the placeholders switched to vertical format. Other apps left them as horizontal, which is what I wanted, so I could zoom into the image and effectively make it horizontal. With Picaboo, I would instead have to edit the images in another app, then reimport them. Strangely, square image holders remained square when vertical photos were dropped into them.
• Dragging a placed photo onto another placed photo removed the second photo from the book (but left it in the image pool). Other apps would switch the two images, which seems to make more sense.
• No two-page full bleed option (which only Apple offered, and Viovio when uploading a PDF)
When I finished placing my images, I moved onto to uploading, wandered off and came back to find that Picaboo had frozen Parallels (which I use to run XP in OS X), and OS X as well, requiring a reboot. I decided it wasn’t worth the effort to print the book, as I can’t imagine using this app again.
In summary: it runs only on XP, has limited book-size options, is over-priced for additional pages and has a low-grade application with lots of fluff but limited features. I certainly couldn’t recommend using it.