Review of MPIX book-making app.

A reader asked if I’d tried MPIX. I hadn’t, so I thought I’d make book #11 or 12 or whatever.

Summary: The application is OK – similar to others but with slightly different benefits and problems. It does allow free-form text and photo placement (like aperture), but the alignment and sizing tools are very primitive. The book produced is also just OK, with photos a bit too light, and worst of all: binding with staples. A book review will follow in a few days but Apple and Viovio remain my top choices.

MPIX does run natively on a Mac. They provide a .sitx file to download which when decompressed left the application sitting on the desktop, which I then moved into the Applications folder. Normally, I’d expect a .dmg file from which I could drag the app into the Applications folder.

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➝ I opened the app, and an alert-style window popped up to ask , “What would you like to do: cancel, open saved book, create new book.” Cancel is so rarely the first action I take when running an app, but it’s the first option listed. I would normally poke around the menus to see what the features are, but here I was forced to take an action.

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➝ I selected ‘create’ and was then presented with a list of book sizes and maximum pages. I then had to select a book size and cover type from a drop-down. Once I clicked on that, the window went away, and I had to figure out what to do on my own. I might have expected that it would have popped open a file-selection window for me immediate, or at least shown a folder-tree window somewhere on the screen.

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➝ Adding images (exported jpegs from Aperture, full size, 300dpi) was a challenge. There were tiny icons with incomprehensible pictures, including one with just an asterisk. I finally found the way to add files, or so I thought. It was instead a folder selection window, so I thought perhaps I could load all the images in a folder. That was not the case. It did have a multi-column folder display, but the columns could not be expanded making long file names unreadable. The “select folder” window also had a “create folder” button. I wasn’t sure what that was for.

I selected a folder and clicked load folder. Nothing happened. No hourglass, no spinning beach ball, nothing. I guessed — correctly — that nothing was happening. I found there was a “select file” button along with a “select folder button”, and hoped I’d not have to select and load each file individually.

For amusement, I clicked on the “*” button, and that started loading the images from the folder I’d earlier selected. Each image took rather longer than I expected to load, but the were loaded in the background, so at least I could poke around the app.

I remain perplexed as to why there wasn’t a simple “file -> load images” option which presented a standard OS X file-selection window, from which I could select any files in a folder. It’s a more familiar interface, and I’d think it would be easier to implement.

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➝ Once the images loaded, in one of several strips accessed via tabs, across the bottom. The strip was too short to show the thumbnail fully, and there was no way to adjust the height. The other tabs were for backgrounds, borders and layouts.

Like all the other apps, the MPIX app allows you to drag images onto pages to place them. The front and back cover appeared to take only one image which wrapped around, which is not what I wanted. Upon a bit more reflection, I realize that it might have been taken as the background, and I might instead have been able to place a image frame on the cover and place an image in that.

I thought it was annoying to switch between tabs to view photos and layouts. It would have been better to have the photos in a separate panel, so you could look at the photos when choosing a page layout.

One of the great thing about the MPIX app is that image frames and text can be placed anywhere on a page, as with Aperture. Blurb, Mypublisher and Picaboo all required you to use fixed formats. However, unlike Aperture, MPIX lacks good alignment tools. There’s a “snap to grid” feature, but I didn’t see a way to change the grid spacing. And snapping only snapped the left side of an image.

It seemed impossible to align an image by snapping the right side. In contrast, Aperture has a dynamic set of alignment points based on the page, but also on the images on the page, e.g. centered with the image above; left sides aligned, right sides aligned, etc. There also didn’t seem to be a way to maintain a proportion (e.g. 3:2) on an image frame.

It also seemed impossible to copy or move frames across pages, so once I’d laboriously gotten my frames manually aligned on one page, there was no easy way to reproduce that arrangement on another page. Aperture allows you to “duplicate current page”, and the other apps don’t allow for page modifications.

I had been adding images to pages and found I wasn’t able to adjust their size, alignment or orientation. I finally realized that I was setting them as the background, and that adjustments could be made if I instead placed them within image frames. That was fine for smaller images, but it still would have been nice to adjust the backgrounds.

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➝ Two page spreads were possible… but only if the image was used as the background. It was not possible to make a 2-page image holder, thus it was not possible to adjust the 2-page image.

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➝ Context menus were a bit odd; if I’d selected an image, it seemed that I had to click off of it first, then right-click to get the context menu. And the menu looked strange – not the normal OS X (or windows) format.

Once I was done placing the images, I clicked the button “Order with MPIX press” and waited. After a few seconds an alert window popped up to tell me “There are no problems”, with an OK button. I clicked OK, and another window popped up to tell me “printing in progress” with a cancel button. I wasn’t quite sure what this meant since I had I had no printer.

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➝ It printed to a PDF file, which I could review before uploading. It then offered to upload, providing an estimated time based on a 56.6k connection, which seemed a bit silly. Once I clicked OK, another window popped up, titled “Progress” and having a progress bar labeled “in progress”, but without any indication of what was progressing (e.g. which page was being uploaded)

And then it was a matter of providing credit card details, and various addresses, and then I patiently awaited the book to arrive.

Overall, the app was tolerable, with the what seem to be the inevitable set of quirks and oddities of all of the book-making apps (thankfully few in Aperture). I get the impression that these apps were developed fairly quickly to provide a certain set of functionality, but were not really very well thought out or tested. And as with the rest, it’s worth using as a compliment to Apple and Aperture if the final product is as good.

And we’ll see the comparison with the Apple book in the next post 🙂

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