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Google Picasa 3.9 review

Ben Pitt
9 Oct 2012
Our Rating 

Astoundingly quick, and well equipped to meet the needs of casual photographers

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Anyone who believes that you get what you pay for hasn't used Google's free photo management and editing software. It's incredibly quick, scrolling effortlessly through thumbnails of tens of thousands of photos. Search results appear literally before you've finished typing. For example, searching for 'Kirsty', it had found 6,000 matching photos by the time we'd typed the first four letters. Search results aren't just for tagged faces – filenames and extensions, containing folder names, even EXIF metadata such as camera model and ISO speed are all searchable too.

Google Picasa face detection

Picasa's face detection is spookily accurate

Picasa pioneered face detection for photo tagging, and it still amazes us with its accuracy. Someone might be gurning in a dark corner of a photo, wearing a hat and oversized sunglasses, and Picasa will still figure out who they are. Tagged faces sync automatically with Google+ rather than Facebook, which is fair enough seeing as this is a Google product, but it'll be a drawback for a lot of people.

On the upside, Google+ presents online photo albums attractively, and you can just email friends a link – they needn't have Google+ accounts. Picasa's mapping functions are nicely implemented, too, but only photos in the selected folder or album are shown on the map. It can't show all your geo-tagged photos on the map at the same time.

Google Picasa geo-tagging

Geo-tagging is straightforward and effective, but only the selected folder is shown on the map

Picasa's handling of video files isn't so impressive, relying mostly on third-party decoders that users must install separately, and with patchy support for the popular AVCHD format. Thumbnails for videos can take a long time to be created, and playback can be extremely slow to start. This can be particularly frustrating when viewing a slideshow of photos, only to be interrupted by an unresponsive video in the same folder.

We recently experienced a barrage of error messages, which we resolved by reinstalling the ffdshow plug-in, but then some files stopped playing altogether. This could be an isolated incident, but it highlighted the lack of support available for this free product. The online Help files have various frustrating omissions – this was one, and another is how to migrate a Picasa installation to a different PC.

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