Though I remain a fan of Windows 10's default Photos app, there are several things it can't do. To address those gaps, you could go to the extreme of installing Photoshop or even Lightroom, but if you don't need that much control and power in your photo-editing software, another good option is the Polarr Windows app. It's surprisingly powerful, yet beautifully simple. It's not surprising that the iOS version was picked by Apple as a Best of the Year app in 2015. The Windows version is just about the same, and just as likable, though it still lacks a few basics when it comes to organization and sharing.
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Getting It and Getting Going
Polarr Pro is $19.99 in the Windows app store. The non-Pro version of Polarr is free and offers most of the editing tools in the paid app, but it limits the number of filters you can use. Polarr is a very lightweight 4MB installation—refreshing in this day of gigabyte-plus software. For this review, I installed the Pro edition on my touchscreen all-in-one Asus Zen AiO Pro Z240IC PC running 64-bit Windows 10 Home.
When you first run Polarr, it takes you through a live in-app tutorial using a sample photo that offers a terrific introduction to how to use its image correction tools. It shows you the interface pieces, how to import, and how to get a hazy landscape looking crisp.
There's also a really helpful Adjustments Guide that shows every type of adjustment with three images—the original in the center, the adjustment at -80 on the left, and +80 on the right. It's a great way to see exactly what each tool does.
I had no trouble importing .CR2 raw camera files from the fairly recent Canon EOS M10, and it converted the raw files admirably. The app lets you open files by simply tapping its up-arrow icon, or you can associate photo files with it as the default app.
The app lacks strong organizational features—there's no tagging or even picking and rejecting. This is a weakness that Polarr shares with Adobe Photoshop Express and the default Windows Photos app, but the last-named at least lets you see more metadata for the photo with a right-click. That said, Polarr displays a photo's f-stop, shutter speed, focal length, and ISO along the top, but Photos goes a bit farther, even showing a map for geotagged images.
Photos also lets you build Albums and even creates automatic albums for you, while Polarr offers no such collections. Of course, all of the mobile Windows apps are lacking in organization tools when compared with Lightroom or Photoshop Elements, which offer keyword tagging, ratings, and people and location tools.
Like the Windows 10 Photos app, Polarr offers basic cropping, lighting, and color correction tools. But it goes well beyond those with a nifty histogram editor, curve adjustments, and sharpening and clarity tools. It even offers lens corrections for geometric and fringing distortion, but let's be honest: Those tools aren't as powerful as the ones offered in DxO Optics Pro and Lightroom, since they're not based on profiles for the equipment used. Instead, they simply let you eyeball the results. In fact, I could only add fringing in Polarr, not remove it automatically as the two mentioned programs can.
The interface responded well to touch on my touch-screen PC, and the controls were finger friendly, though not quite as touch-optimized as the default Photos app or even Adobe Photoshop Express. Fortunately, Polarr's interface worked well with the computer's 4K screen. SnagIt and some other apps show teeny icons on such hi-res displays.
The Dynamics tools such as Shadows and Highlights have a greater range than you get in Photos. That is, you can increase Shadows to a greater degree. But one tool missing in Polarr that you find in most photo apps is an auto-enhance tool. These are never perfect, but they can offer a starting point for your own corrections.
There's a much larger selection of filters than you get in the Windows Photos app, and even than in Adobe Photoshop Express, though the latter's are pretty fun and more drastic. Many of the Polarr filters are disabled in the free version, and getting the paid Pro version adds the ability to create your own filters based on edits using all the other tools in the app.
The gradient mask and radial mask tools let you add some lighting and color adjustments to selected areas of an image. They're more than you get in Photoshop Express, but I wish they also offered blur for bokeh and tilt-shift effects, as Windows Photos does. That app also includes a cool color-pop function.
For whatever editing you do, a very welcome feature is Polarr's infinite undo and history panel. Photos also lets you undo as much as you like, but it's nice seeing a Photoshop-like history window showing all the past actions you performed by name.
Sharing and Output
When you're satisfied with your edits, Polarr lets you save the image, export it, or batch export. Unfortunately, the app doesn't make use of Windows 10's share sidebar, as the default Photos app does. That means it can't take advantage of sharing easily to email, Facebook, or Twitter.
Exporting in the app lets you save in either .JPEG or .PNG format, and you can choose a pixel size and image quality percentage. That's a feature not possible in Photos or Photoshop Express.
Polarr is an impressive photo app for those who want more editing than Windows' default Photos app offers, but don't want to spring for more-expensive programs, such as Photoshop Elements or Lightroom. In some ways, Polarr gives you near-Lightroom control over images, but it's weak in organization tools and its limited sharing capabilities hold it back from getting a higher rating. For a much fuller consumer photo editor, check out Editors' Choice Photoshop Elements.