My smartphone camera roll is like a digital graveyard. It’s littered with photos that I snap and never see again, aside from the few I deem worthy enough to share on social media.
I recently tested two iOS and Android apps that offer at least one solution to this, by sending small books filled with photos from your phone. And they only take a few minutes to make.
If you value quantity over quality, don’t mind waiting for weeks to get your finished product, and like having photo printouts to send to friends or relatives, you can try GrooveBook. But if you’re willing to pay roughly 10 times more for a better-quality book that will get to your door in four days or less, make a Mosaic.
Neither app is bogged down by high costs or editing overload — two big reasons that people abandon their coffee-table photo-book projects.
About four years ago, Shutterfly tried to solve book-making headaches with its Simple Path and Custom Path — algorithms that would do a lot of the book-assembly work for you. (I reviewed them here.) But even that was too time-consuming for people who wanted to do as little work as possible.
GrooveBook and Mosaic let people make books in a few minutes rather than a few weeks, thanks to their book formats that have one photo per page. And unlike bigger coffee-table books, like Apple’s iPhoto and MyPublisher, the book price — including shipping — doesn’t go up as you add pages and photos. It stays the same no matter what: $2.99 for a GrooveBook with 100 photos, or $30 for 20 pics in a Mosaic.
If you stopped reading there, you’d wonder why anyone wouldn’t want a GrooveBook. I thought the same thing until I created two of them for myself.
I made my first GrooveBook on Jan. 30, and as of Feb. 17, I still haven’t received it. Luckily, I was able to get my second GrooveBook handled with super-fast shipping so I’d have it in time for this review.
GrooveBook operates on a monthly subscription model, so after you enter your credit-card information the first time you use this app, books with 100 photos each are made for you every month. If you haven’t added at least 40 photos to your GrooveBook one week before the “close date” of your book, you get an email nag telling you to do so.
Even though I’m the mom of a toddler, and I generally take lots of smartphone photos, finding 100 photos to print in a book each month was a bit of a challenge. If you don’t fill your book with at least 40 pics a month, your credit card will still get charged $2.99.
To stop your subscription, you’re supposed to email firstname.lastname@example.org — but you have to do it at least two business days before your next book’s close date.
As its name suggests, GrooveBook is designed with a groove in its spine, which makes it flexible enough to ship with inexpensive U.S. Postal Service bulk mail. But book production takes two to three days, and shipping takes an additional 10 to 14 days. So there’s a good chance you’ll wait close to three weeks for this thing.
This kind of a wait is like eons to a spoiled Amazon Prime user.
When I finally got my GrooveBook, the build-up to that moment had me expecting great things from this little $3 book. I was so disappointed that I actually uttered a bummed-out “Oh” when I first thumbed through the book.
This 4.5 x 6.5-inch book resembled a thick book of postcards that you might buy on a trip. The quality of most GrooveBook photos, including some shots taken by a professional photographer, was poor, with washed-out, foggy colors. And though every photo in the book has a perforated edge so you can quickly tear it out and hand or mail it to someone as a gift, the photo paper felt thin and cheap. My parents were visiting, and I gave them a few printouts, but they weren’t impressed, either.
The photos that I print at my local CVS feel sturdier than GrooveBook’s torn-out prints.
Mosaic takes a different tack. Though its $30 books are pricier and have fewer photos in them, they feel and look better. They are seven-inch square hardback books with peek-through front covers, which show tiny images of every photo in the book, kind of like a stained-glass window.
The Mosaic app is more thoughtfully designed than GrooveBook’s bare-bones app. It pulls from various sources, including all photos on your phone’s camera roll; albums on your phone; and photos in several other apps including Instagram and Facebook — your own albums and friends’ albums in which your image was tagged. (GrooveBook currently only pulls images from your phone’s camera roll.)
Since Mosaic books have fewer photos and a more artistic layout, you can drag your 20 photos around to get the right order and change the page background color to white or black. But that’s where editing ends—so people won’t get stuck in layout-editing land and give up on making a book.
The turnaround time for Mosaic was much faster than GrooveBook: I made two books with Mosaic, and received each of them within four business days — the norm for these books. Best of all, Mosaic communicated a lot, sending me app notifications and emails to let me know when my book order was received, when the book shipped, and when the book was about to be received. I even got an email after I got each of my books, asking me how I liked the experience.
Each Mosaic arrives looking like a special gift. Its box is held closed with a paper piece that looks like the book’s peek-through front cover. And a fitted square well holds the book, which you take out by tugging on a turquoise silk ribbon. This may all seem like pointless presentation, but details like this really give the book a polish and quality that make it special.
My Mosaic book’s photos looked better, all around, with brighter colors and less-flimsy paper. Its pages aren’t perforated for tearing out photos, like GrooveBooks. But Mosaic was a more professional-feeling keepsake.
In my experience, GrooveBook is the lesser of these two services. Shutterfly expects to take over full manufacturing of GrooveBook later this spring, and says it plans to improve the app and the printed books.
But the overall Mosaic experience — from creation to receiving it on my doorstep — was a lot more satisfying, and worth the extra cost. I’d be more inclined to give someone a Mosaic as a gift rather than a GrooveBook.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.