SketchBook Mobile from AutoDesk accomplishes what I believe many apps fail to do: provide a simple yet powerful way to make drawings on Android. This app is well thought-out, designed, and built. This effort pays off as the app in the right hand can produce some amazing results. Check out theSketchBook Flickr group for some amazing showcases, and read on for my review of the app itself.
The interface is extremely minimal, only showing what’s needed – everywhere else on-screen is white paper, ready for you to draw on. As you can see from the below screenshot the canvas takes up your phone’s whole screen, minus the tiny options wheel!
SketchBook actually turns the whole screen into a canvas ready for drawing on, which is a very efficient usage of the screen. Access to the tools and to different settings is super quick too, and actually editing settings and changing between tools is easy and intuitive.
The interface uses gestures to great effect, allowing for fewer buttons onscreen, which helps in maximizing area for the sketchbook. This gestures also speed up how fast you can carry out common tasks such as undoing work.
With over 20 different types of brushes most people will be more than sorted for your drawings, although I’ve seen some more advanced users complain about a lack of a brush or two that they desired. Eight different “tools” are available from the options wheel, and each tool then has its own whole set of options, ranging from the simpler resizing of the tool to more advanced settings like the hardness of the pencil or spacing and angle. You’ve got access to powerful features like pen pressure and opacity, with more being added every so often.
SketchBook supports layers, which I found great when testing out different ideas, as it’s easy to swap out one layer with another. Layers will be a familiar concept to anyone who has ever edited images with desktop image editing software like Photoshop; they’re essentially images stacked on top of each other that can be hidden or rearranged. This allows you to perform edits to one element of the image without affecting any of the others. Images from your gallery or your camera can also be imported easily when adding a new layer.
The developers have been considerate enough to include an awesome Help section with guides covering a huge number of topics. I love when developers properly document how to use their software, and though they could add more I feel there’s a good amount there as it is.
For the Artists Out There
I’m definitely not an artist, though I do take pride in my ability to draw. Sadly, with SketchBook on my phone I wasn’t about to sketch with enough accuracy. This is through no fault of the app, but it does effect how much use you can get out of it.
The range of tools and settings is impressive for a mobile app, far exceeding anything else I’ve used on my Android. Despite this, SketchBook is really only that: a sketchbook. It’s for quickly getting ideas onto paper.
For people looking to make detailed drawings, it’ll definitely be possible on a small-scale, but with no way of scaling drawings they won’t be technical enough to be more than sketches – I believe this is outside the scope of this app though.
SketchBook contains its own Gallery section that allows you to quickly see recent images you’ve been working on. It’s also possible to import and export images in PNG, JPEG, and PSD formats.
I found it weird that a proper Preview option was missing from the gallery. You can open an image, or export it, but neither option works well for quickly showing the image to someone; opening it in the editor could cause changes, while exporting it means navigating through your phone looking for the image.
However, the app is at least great at exporting and sharing single images with other people via Android’s built-in sharing options. Unfortunately, images need to be shared or exported individually, which could be a pain after a long day of inspired drawing!
A recent update added a feature which the developers call “Anonymous Data Collection module”. (This can be turned off by deselecting “Approve collection of usage information”.) A lot of users are against this change; many complain about not knowing what information is shared with AutoDesk, the developers.
Based on their privacy terms, I’m happy enough to allow the information to be shared – but I don’t think this should be on by default. To be fair, many apps do this now and this is a problem more with software in general rather than this specific app.
I wouldn’t let this put you off using the app, though. Simply turn the option off if you’ve a problem with it.
SketchBook is one of the slickest apps I’ve seen on Android. It’s easy to use right off the bat, and with some effort (and after reading the instructions) you’ll be able to use it to put all your artistic skills to the test.
For anyone needing to quickly design on the go this is an extremely powerful and great value app. For those with tablets, SketchBook Pro is definitively worth a look, as it’s optimized for your larger screens.