Walter S. Mossberg and Katherine Boehret

A New and Simple Way To Share Digital Photos

Digital photos can be shared with friends and family from around the world in various ways. By now, even the most technically challenged computer users have figured out how to send photos using an Internet sharing service like Shutterfly or Kodak EasyShare Gallery — or at least they’ve received photos on such a service.

This week, we tested a new way of sharing digital photos, using a new service from Smilebox Inc. The real difference between Smilebox and most other sharing services is its emphasis on two things: design and ease of use. It offers templates for creating attractive virtual scrapbooks, slideshows, photobooks, postcards and greetings using your photos, which automatically load into blank image space holders. Once finished, a simple step lets you email a Web link of your Smilebox creation to anyone.

We spent this week making various themed photo collages commemorating everything from baseball-game photos to pictures of a family pet to vacations, and we sent them to friends and family. Everyone enjoyed the Smileboxes, and the creative formats — including photos, text, background music and background designs — were attractive and unique.

Smilebox comes in Basic and Premium versions. The Basic version is free, but includes ads. Premium is ad-free but costs 99 cents or $1.99 a design, depending on the format. The paid version also lets you view the design in full-screen view and lets you, or the recipient, print the entire project; neither can be done with the Basic version.

Though still in beta, or prerelease mode, Smilebox worked for us with just a couple of glitches. It is due to be launched officially on June 1, and the company continues to add about 10 new designs weekly to its current 144 different designs; the total will be up to 190 by June 1, according to the company.

Smilebox’s logo is a cute box with a giant smile on its front and a jack-in-the-box-like crank. On the Web site, this box is used to illustrate how Smilebox works — photos drop into the top of the smiley box while the crank turns, spitting out a finished product. The service was, surprisingly, almost that simple.

smilebox
Smilebox ( www.smilebox.com) uses a simple interface and assembles your photos in attractive projects, such as the Best Friends Forever scrapbook.

We downloaded Smilebox software free from www.smilebox.com, and got started. (For now, the software only works on Windows PCs, but a Macintosh version is in the works.) Its clean interface was refreshing — the familiar smiling box logo sits in the top left corner and a vertical panel running down the left of the screen serves as the area where your photos are held. Three simple categories are listed across the top: Design Catalog, My Designs and My Creations.

A handful of our Windows PC’s digital photos were already loaded into the photo panel — Smilebox says your most recently added images autoload, but in our tests, we found a handful of older digital photos in our photo panel. However, we could easily select Get Photos or Remove All to add or delete the images that were automatically added to our photo tray.

Every template within the Design Catalog section of Smilebox is organized into different category types within the larger categories of Scrapbooks, Slideshows, Photobooks, Postcards and Greetings. We started with a scrapbook that was appropriately titled “Cherished Memories.”

Before loading your images into a design, you can see a screen shot of the design. By selecting Show Me, you can see a mock-up of the entire design, as it would look when you emailed it to someone. Both the screen shot and mock sample use images loaded by Smilebox, but they give you a good idea of what a finished product looks like. After we selected Personalize, the design loaded into our My Designs category, and after a few seconds, the photos in our tray automatically loaded into the image spaces.

The four-page Cherished Memories scrapbook gave off the old vibe of one that was homemade. Images of tiny clothing buttons and fabric bordered each page, along with words like “Remember” and “Legacy” written in artsy print. Eleven photos can fit into this particular scrapbook, and space labeled Add Your Text Here was available beside many of the pictures for adding personal notes.

Each image could be moved, rotated or zoomed in or out to fit the page’s layout — and all of these adjustments were made right on the page. At any time, the project can be saved and closed, or previewed in Basic or Premium modes. After tweaking to our scrapbooking heart’s content and selecting “Upbeat” music to accompany the album, we pressed Send at the top of the page, entered multiple email addresses and waited a few seconds while our design was uploaded to the Smilebox server, making it viewable for our recipients.

First-time users must enter an email address and create a password, and if you opt for the Premium version you must enter credit-card information before buying. But all of this was done within the Smilebox software, so we never felt like we left the program. Every time you email a project, a copy is sent to your email account, and a receipt for Premium purchases is also emailed.

We tried Smilebox’s postcards (one-screen shot); photobooks (a mock book designed to show two pages at a time with a crease down the middle); a slideshow titled Whizzy (20 animated photos whizzed in and out of view); and a greeting titled Spring (moving words and a beautiful cherry blossom border around a photo).

Once or twice an image or a text box didn’t show up in our final product; instead, a white box showed where the photo or description should have been. Smilebox says this will be ironed out in the June final release. We also noted that Smilebox doesn’t offer editing options, such as removing red eye in shots, like many online photo-sharing services do. But for now, the simple method of just loading photos with minimal editing seems to work.

The final release will give recipients the ability to download the photos so they can save them individually. Smilebox also plans to offer a $4.99 monthly subscription for unlimited premium designs.

We found Smilebox simply enjoyable. It jazzed up our photos with fun designs, gave us the ability to see the final product during any stage of our creating process, and didn’t take long to use. If you’re looking for a new way to share digital photos, this company’s Web site is well worth a look.


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