Photo Book Test: YoPhoto

One thing I noted when I first reviewed photo books back in 2006 was that most vendors were based overseas, resulting in quick printing times but a protracted and expensive delivery process. This was true of Apple (both times), MyPublisher and Printing-1. The one company that I tried that were UK based, PhotoBox, was let down by its browser-based interface that was less flexible that the native applications of the other vendors.

I was therefore quite intrigued when YoPhoto asked me to take a look at their brand of photo book as they seemed to offer the best of both worlds.

This review will take a similar form as the previous ones. Today’s piece will concentrate on the ordering process, and the next will be all about the finished results. The order was placed on 8th March 2008.

So let’s get started. As regular readers will know I tend to use a Macintosh, so I was pleased to see that YoPhoto acknowledged that it’s not an entirely Microsoft-centric world. Unfortunately they seem to expect their Apple-using customers to be professional photographers and the like since they assume that they have £1000 worth of software.

Given the wording of that last sentence you can safely assume that I do not.

Of course there are likely to be cheaper ways to generate multi-page PDFs with at least 2mm of bleed and crop marks, but given that there is a £20 set-up fee for submitting a book in this format (for a book that costs £30) I didn’t feel terribly inclined to experiment.

I switched to a Windows XP based laptop and continued.

In the Microsoft world they provide some of their own software for the task. It’s a 22Mb download and the process of getting it installed on your computer is entirely uneventful — a good thing!

yophoto splash screenThe installer finishes by starting the application. Up pops a splash screen asking whether you want to create a new product or open an existing one. I select ‘new product.’

The next screen wonders what product you want. They offer mainly books, of varying sizes and finishes, but there are also a couple of calendars. The interface makes it clear how much each option costs which is a nice touch. I decide on the medium size linen book. There seems to be no option to choose the colour of the cover of the book which is odd as they do mention this on their website.

The next step is to enter a name for your new creation and decide whether to manually populate your book or use their “autofill” feature. It is looking for exactly 78 pictures. I have way more than that, and I’m not exactly sure which ones I’ll use at this stage. Also I figure I’ll probably need more than the standard number of pages but cannot see a way of adding any. I go for the manual process.

yophoto main screenIt quickly zips through my folder and generates thumbnails for all the pictures. Before I’ve had the chance to look at the main window properly, it notes that this is the first time that I’ve used the software and asks whether I’d like some help. It shows me a nice step-by-step guide, in pictures, of what I should be looking to do next.

Maybe it’s my experience with making the other photo books but the guide didn’t add much to an already fairly intuitive process. It’s mainly drag-and-drop. On the right side of the screen you can select the format of each page. You select the number of images on the page from a drop-down list. Beneath that a number of pre-defined templates appear and you can drag these onto the page. The templates tend to make pretty good use of the available space. Some have text widgets which can be removed if you don’t need them.

Next you move to the left side of the screen where there is a list of available pictures. You can also drag-and-drop these onto the page. The templates seem to only act as a guide, meaning that if you “miss” any of the template slots you end up with another picture on that page. Of the easy to use solutions that I’ve come across, this is by far the most powerful.

The slots in the templates are the wrong aspect ratio for the images coming straight out of my SLR, but, luckily, there are fairly extensive editing facilities built-in. Sure, it’s not going to have Adobe worried but it’s on a par with iPhoto, and includes red-eye correction, exposure compensation and some effects, some more useful that others, including sepia, grey-scale and water-colour. I stuck to Photoshop for my (minor) effects.

I spend quite some time playing around with the book, adding and removing pictures, changing the order, editing the number of pictures on each page and fine-tuning the whole thing. Throughout of the whole process I didn’t experience any glitches, hangs or crashes.

Once everything looks about right I click the “Order” button on the tool bar at the top of the screen. It immediately objects, telling me that I have not entered a valid email address yet. But continuing the thoughtful nature of the interface it allows me to enter one immediately without having to back out and play around with the options screen.

I’m surprised that it only asks me for my name and email address. I was expecting to have to enter the billing and delivery address.

The next few screens pass by quickly. The first asks me to check the product, making sure it is exactly as desired — no doubt the result of complaints from previous customers who didn’t get exactly what they were expecting! An unusual option in this age of almost ubiquitous broadband is the ability to send the order in on CD. I stick with my cable internet connection and select upload.

The next few stages require a cup of tea while they execute: first preparing the book, followed by compressing and finally uploading. The “while” is not unreasonable or unexpected, just a consequence of the size of a typical photo book.

The final stage of the process is entering the delivery address and, finally, the colour of the cover of the book. I check the various details and complete the process. An email arrives shortly afterwards suggesting that they plan to dispatch the finished product in three working days.

I’m impressed so far. The process has been quick and intuitive. Their program works as described and has a surprising level of sophistication. Let’s hope that the book lives up to these standards. Part two will follow when the book arrives.