We know, we know. Our digital photos and videos should be backed up in multiple places — in the cloud, on hard drives, and in distant caves protected by fire-breathing dragons.
But it can be a real feat to gather all of these photos in one place to look at them together, as a holistic collection from one’s life, going back years.
This week, I tested two free apps that say they’ll do just that — with caveats. I’ve been using Lyve and Kwilt. (In the world of consumer technology, it’s no fun to spell things the right way.) Both services grab your photos from various sources and display them on your smartphone or tablet in a layout that’s easy and enjoyable to skim through. In the apps, you can delete unwanted photos or instantly share them out to friends in text messages, emails or social network updates.
I found myself flicking through two-year-old photos of me and my husband — pre-baby, when we used to get a lot more sleep every night — while waiting in line for coffee. I smiled nostalgically when I found a photo of my grandmother playing cards in Florida in 2012. And I laughed out loud at a shot of my son dancing on a family trip two weeks ago.
Yet, in a head-to-head comparison, the recently-launched Kwilt is much less polished than Lyve. Lyve offers storage options and hardware devices for backup, so you can safely store photos and videos. And it works on iOS, Android, Kindle Fire, Macs, Windows PCs and other platforms. Lyve also plays well with others, including Chromecast, Vizio and Dish Network, giving your digital content more flexibility.
A variety of other companies offer similar services, and I’ve reviewed some of them, including ThisLife, which has since been acquired by Shutterfly.
I started with Lyve, downloading the free app for iOS and allowing it access to my phone’s photos. I also installed Lyve software on my Mac desktop. And I set up a Lyve Home device, which costs $299.
Lyve Home is a small, rectangular device with an LCD touchscreen. It connects to your Wi-Fi and stores two terabytes of data. I set it up in seconds by entering my Lyve username and password, and it eventually pulled about 6,000 photos and videos onto it. When not in use, Lyve Home becomes a digital frame, displaying a slow roll of your photos on the screen, like movie credits.
If you don’t want to see your photos, a $199 device called Lyve Studio offers a 500 gigabyte drive without a viewing screen. (It’s currently out of stock but will be available later this month.) Alternatively, you can plug any 500GB (or larger) Seagate drive into your computer and use Lyve Drive, a backup solution for all of the photos and videos that you’ve pulled into the Mac or PC software.
Let’s say you’re just using the free Lyve app on iOS or Android. It does a nice job of displaying your photos and video thumbnails in a beautiful layout, with plenty of white space and dates that clearly label each batch of photos. Frames of various colors give the app some added zest.
At the very top of the app, Lyve surfaces scrolling images from the same date one year ago today (or this week a year ago, or this date two or three years ago, depending when and if you took photos back then). I loved this feature, and would often open my app just to look at photos from a year ago.
We take so many photos on our smartphones that we often forget about them. This Lyve app brings them back to life.
Another useful feature of the app is a small, black handle on the right side of the screen. When tapped and held, it lets you scroll through time to jump back months or years.
The Kwilt app has a stylish, playful look. It pulls photos in and displays them on a quilt-like (get it?) background. These can come from social networks, including Instagram, Google+, Flickr and Facebook. But Kwilt is limited to photos — not videos — and only works on iOS, not on Android, computers or storage devices like Lyve Home. The company is working on an Android version of the app for later this year, and plans a solution for streaming photos via one’s home router.
I liked the editing options in Kwilt, which included the traditional one-tap edits, like cropping and enhancing, as well as a teeth-whitener — ding! A meme-creating tool even lets you write white-font titles above your photos, which comes in handy if you have cats that play the piano.
But the more I used Kwilt, the more I felt that it suffered from an overload of features. Navigating the app was more confusing than it should be, and I found myself wishing it had a cleaner format, like Lyve’s.
Kwilt plans to add more features that it hopes will improve the app; I just hope it also considers a smarter, cleaner layout.
For now, Lyve is the way to go if you’re aiming to quickly access old photos. If Lyve integrated photos and videos from social networks, it would be more useful. Lucky for me, the company plans to do more of that later this year.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.