A First Look at On1 Mobile and 360 Sync

When I jumped from Adobe Lightroom one of the things I struggled with most was my change in workflow. For several years I’d been able to travel without my MacBook and external hard drive, because I would load and edit my photos into Lr Mobile and rely on Adobe’s sync platform to bring them into my main library when I returned home. I enjoyed this workflow so much, in fact, that Lr Mobile became my primary way to bring all my photos off my camera. Developing photos on my iPad was a joy.

Still, I had a nagging fear Adobe would opt to jack up the photography plan’s price at some point, and when they did their $19.99 “price test” I knew I had to move on. I landed in On1 Photo Raw.

I found On1 Photo Raw 2019 to be more than adequate for my needs, though it ran rather slow on my 2014 Retina MacBook Pro. When the 2020 version came out the speed jumped by several magnitudes, and in my experience was a fast as Lightroom has ever been on my computer. On1 Photo Raw also has features which Adobe lacks, like layers and masks, and their presence has made me pleased with my choice.

But I missed using my iPad as my intake device, because the tactile experience of developing photos on my iPad was wonderful. To my delight, however, in late 2019 On1 Announced they were working on both a new mobile development/camera app and a sync platform. They were open about the need to charge for the sync platform, which I understand. And they remain committed to providing both a subscription which includes both their sync platform and software, as well as a stand alone version of the application. I’m shying away from subscription software more and more, but I’m comfortable with how On1 is handling this new service, which they call “On1 360.” It was released into the wild last week.

It’s a step in the right direction, but not quite where I want it to be. Let’s talk features.

A nice inclusion in the On1 Mobile app is a camera which unlocks an iPhone’s RAW capabilities 1. The controls are good, and rather intuitive, which is something I’ve struggled with in other “professional” camera apps. It also has an option to enable clipping while framing a photo—revealing where true blacks and true whites will be in the final shot 2. The pictures it takes are pretty good, but I don’t have a multi-lens iPhone so I can’t explore how it makes use of those features—if at all. I would also like to see a level and rule of thirds grid included as options and, at present, hitting the volume rocker does not take a photograph. This last point is something which will throw most iPhone photographers for a loop.

Delaware River, taken and developed with the On1 Mobile App
The On1 Mobile app does a nice job both capturing and developing photos.

Developing photos taken with the camera is also a good experience, but it could use a bit more polish. The controls are much like the desktop counterpart, and they are responsive—there is no applying a setting and waiting for it to show up on the displayed photo. I have found the, for lack of a better term, “hit box” for the control sliders can be rather unforgiving. There were a number of times when I thought I was adjusting a setting and the slider stayed put. I’ve not noticed this in other apps on either my iPhone or iPad, so I’m sure this is something that can be tweaked.

Developing photos is straight-forward, though this initial release has a much reduced feature set. The basic tools to control Crop, Tone, Color, and Details are present—but diminished somewhat 3. Under color, for example, there are no white balance presets. Nor is there a way to sample a white balance from from the photo. This is something something I’m sure is coming down the pike, but it’s a big hole at the moment. Tone controls are well-done, but there’s no way to toggle clipping while editing a photo. I find this odd as clipping is already baked into the application. Noise reduction works very well, and is fast, which I believe is a sign toward where this application can go. While there is no side-by-side comparison of the original photo with the edited version, a long press on the screen will reveal the the original—and in some ways I like this better. There are also some effects in the app, including a very nice Split Tone implementation and a well-crafted Color Adjustment panel. These are most welcome. I do wish Curves had been part of the app from the start, because that’s an effect I use as a regular part of my workflow. All told, the development engine is very good. Clipping needs to be added ASAP, and I want to see curves included very soon. But I’ve been pleased with my results.

On1 Mobile Developing UI on iPad
The controls for On1 Mobile are straight-forward, but need a bit of tweaking.

Importing photos from an external source also works well, and organizing these photos into albums is a snap 4. I would, however, like to see any album which is shared with 360 get moved to that section of the app, that way photos residing on any connected mobile device could be added to an album. Right now, it’s impossible to add photos from another mobile device while using the On1 Mobile App. It would be a nice improvement. While albums aren’t my favorite way to organize photos, in the desktop album any album synced with 360 does have a fantastic icon which indicates it is connected via the cloud. That’s a small detail many applications might overlook.

Editing the photos from my Panasonic G7, however, was a bit buggy. Photos still loaded fine, and as I made adjustments the results showed up without much lag. But, pinch zooming on these photos suffered from severe lag, and resulted in more than one crash. I’ll need to capture some photos with my Nikon to determine if this is just an issue with Panasonic’s RAW format, but given the combination of relatively small file size of my Panasonic’s RAW 5 and my iPad Pro’s typical speed when dealing large photos, I have a feeling it’s just “early version lag.” Something’s not quite optimized yet, but On1 will figure out a way to get there. One thing I must have, however, is the ability to sync edits. I had my camera out on July 4 and took some photos of Bump. The light was all the same, so I picked my favorite photo and developed it. When I went to copy/paste or sync those edits, I found that couldn’t be done. That is a deal-breaker for me right now, it just adds too much time to my workflow.

I do have to give props to On1 for their culling mechanism. To give a photo a star rating, you just swipe up or down on the left side of the image. To favorite, neutral, or reject an image you swipe up or down on the right side of the image. This is intuitive and fast, I like it—but there are no color labels as far as I can tell, nor is there a way to filter photos after they’ve been culled. It would be nice, for example, to filter for rejected photos and then delete them. Nor do the hot-keys work to cull images 6. It would be nice to just hit a number key to give an image a rating.

My last critique for photo editing is the inability to edit metadata. Titles, descriptions, and keywords can’t be changed, and EXIF data can’t be viewed. This is an odd oversight, which I hope will be corrected soon.

I signed up for a month of the On1 Sync service so I could put it through its paces for this review. I had some issues with bugs out of the box, but these were sorted out as I worked. My initial sync speed was slow, and even when I was given a “sync complete” most of the photos I set to sync remained blurred—an indication they were “in process.” I could open the glitched photos for editing in the desktop application, but the adjustments weren’t carried over from my iPad. And even after opening the images for editing On1 still refused to display a proper preview the photo. On either my iPad or my iPhone I couldn’t even get to the editing step, getting a cryptic “error 1002” message 7. I did end up finding a solution to this problem, so there is a way out of limbo. The photos synced if I made a new adjustment to the image. As soon as I did that the photo showed up on all my devices as advertised, and the speed ended up being very good. The one thing I can think caused this glitch was that these photos were on my devices before I signed up for 360, which could have been a use-case that never came up in beta. Not a terrific first impression, but it did improve. I’ll try throwing some more photos at it to see what happens.

So will I opt for a yearly On1 360 subscription at present? If I were travelling this Summer, I probably would have already subscribed. Yes, there are limitations but the app is already more usable than Adobe Lr Mobile was when I began using that app as part of my workflow. Since I’m staying put this Summer, however, I’ll probably wait until the “post On1 360” roadmap comes out and the mobile app develops a bit more. On1 360 will become part of my workflow at some point. Whether or not it’s as an occasional monthly subscription of the sync service or a annual subscription is something I’m still pondering 8. I am very glad On1 moved into this space, and I have high hopes for their future. I can’t wait to see how the mobile app improves and the sync service is expanded.

  1. Why Apple doesn’t make this an option in the default camera app is something I don’t understand. 
  2. Though it’s hidden behind a menu. I’d like to see it on screen as a toggle. 
  3. And some of the icons are less than helpful. Color looks like a boolean operation from a graphic design program and I’m not certain what details is supposed to be. It’s a minor critique, but I wanted to bring it up. 
  4. I tend to not use albums in my desktop library, opting instead for a folder setup. This works in my favor, as photos I have in albums will almost always be photos working their way through the cloud. 
  5. It’s a 16mp sensor. 
  6. This seems to be an omission across the app. It’s so touch focused there is zero keyboard support. 
  7. Windos 3.1 wants their error messages back. 
  8. Probably the former, it’s less expensive over all since I’m more likely than not to upgrade every year anyway. But if I ever don’t want 360 I can still opt for the stand alone application, which I appreciate.