Google Picasa 3.5 review

Google might not be the first name that you associate with advanced photo handling, but the latest Picasa 3.5 could well change your mind and win you over. And not just because the Google connection means that Picasa is free.

In fact, Google brings a great deal to Picasa starting with its search expertise. What this means in practice is that you can get pretty good organisational control over your photos without having to manually tag each one.

The key is to copy your photos to folders with a sensible naming strategy and, with Picasa 3.5’s reworked Import dialog, this is far easier thanks to the ability to select groups of photos to copy to their own custom folders. You can also star your best photos and reject the worst while they’re still on your card.

The new Import dialog also shows off another of Google’s great strengths – its web know-how. Now you can specify that your photos (all or starred) should be copied directly to your free online web albums as well as to your hard disk. Most users will still prefer to use Picasa’s various enhancement tools – straighten, crop, remove red eye, add fill-in flash and so on – before uploading, but the option highlights Picasa’s superb web sharing and its focus on productivity.

Google Picasa 3.5

So what else does Picasa 3.5 offer? The surprising answer, and the real focus of this 3.5 release, is tagging. However, Google gives the whole process a couple of brilliant and powerful twists and manages to turn what used to be a depressing chore into a stroll in the park.

Picasa 3.5’s new tagging capabilities are all accessed via a new collapsible sidebar running down the right of the screen. There are three tabs on offer: the first, Tags, lets you quickly add and apply tags by typing in the text entry box and selecting from the dropdown matches. There’s also a small Quick Tags section at the bottom of the panel where you can store ten commonly-used tags. It’s undoubtedly an efficient approach to hands-on text-based tagging but it’s still demanding work.

The second tab, Places, is where you can geo-reference your images. This is much simpler than before thanks to another of Google’s strengths: maps. Open the Places tab and a Google Map of the Earth appears in it; type in an address or postcode and your map relocates accordingly and you can simply drag-and-drop your images onto it. Select geo-referenced images in future and the map quickly updates accordingly.

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