smartfilming

Exploring the possibilities of video production with smartphones

#40 A whole new video editing experience on a phone! — 28. February 2021

#40 A whole new video editing experience on a phone!

Let’s be honest: Despite the fact that phone screens have become increasingly bigger over the last years, they are still rather small for doing some serious video editing on the go. No doubt, you CAN do video editing on your phone and achieve great results, particularly if you are using an app with a touch-friendly UI like KineMaster that was brilliantly designed for phone screens.  But I’m confident just about every mobile veditor would appreciate some more screen real estate. Sure, you can use a tablet for editing but tablets aren’t great devices for shooting and if you want to do everything on one device pretty much everyone would choose a phone, right? 

While phone makers like Samsung, Huawei and Motorola are currently pioneering devices with foldable screens, those are still extremely expensive (between 1500 and 2000 bucks!) and also have to cope with some teething problems. LG, while not particularly successful in terms of sales figures in the recent past, have proven to be an innovative force in smartphone development for some years now. Not everything they throw at the market sticks, but let’s not forget that for instance the now widely popular and extremely useful wide-angle auxiliary lens was first seen on the LG G5 (rear camera) and LG V10 (front camera). I would also hate to not have an amazing manual video mode in a native camera app like the V10 pioneered.

Instead of making a screen that folds, LG has introduced a series of phones that include (or at least have the option for) a dual screen case that has a second, separate screen – basically making it look like if you were holding two phones next to each other. So the concept is that of a foldable PHONE, not a foldable SCREEN! The actual phone is inserted into the Dual Screen case with a physical connection (initially pogo pins, then USB-C) establishing communication between the two devices. First came the V50 (April 2019), then the G8X (November 2019) and the V60 (March 2020) with the latest Dual Screen-compatible phone release being the LG Velvet (May 2020). As far as I know, the G8X (which I got new for just over 400‚ā¨) is the only of the bunch that comes with the Dual Screen included, for the other phones, the DS is an accessory that can be purchased separately or in a bundle with the phone. It’s important to note that the DS cases are all slightly different (LG refined the design over time) and only work with the phone they were designed for. It probably goes without saying that they don’t work with just any other Android phone – this is proprietary LG hardware. 

The user experience of a foldable screen phone like the Samsung Galaxy Fold is quite different from that of the Dual Screen foldable phone approach. While an expanded foldable screen can give you more screen real estate for one app, the DS is primarily designed for multi-tasking with two apps running at the same time, one on the phone’s main screen and one on the Dual Screen. The DS is not really meant to use an app in an expanded view over both screens as there’s obviously a big gap/hinge between the two screens which is quite distracting in most cases. If apps were specifically customized, integrating the gap into their UI, this could be much less of a problem but with LG being a rather small player in the smartphone market, this hasn’t really happened so far. LG seems to have been quite aware of this and so they natively only allow a handful of apps (a bunch of Google apps and the Naver Whale browser) to be run in a wide view mode that spans across both screens.

Now, while having an app run across two separate screens might not make a lot of sense for many apps, there is one type of app that could actually be a perfect fit: video editors. On desktop, lots of professional video editors (I’m talking about the persons doing the editing) use a dual monitor set-up to have more screen real estate to organize their virtual workspace. One classic use case is that you have your timeline, media pool etc. on one screen and a big preview window on the second screen. It’s exactly this scenario that can be mimicked on LG’s Dual Screen phones like the G8X – but only with a particular app.

Why only with a particular app? Because the app’s UI needs to fit the Dual Screen in just the right way and currently, the only app that does that is PowerDirector. It’s not a perfect fit (one of the most obvious imperfections is the split playback button) but that’s to be expected since the app has not been optimized in any way for LG’s Dual Screen phones – considering this, it’s truly amazing HOW well Power Director’s UI falls into place on the G8X. The joy of having a big preview window on the top screen with the timeline and tool bars having their own space on the bottom screen (using the phone in landscape orientation) can hardly be overestimated in my opinion. It really feels like a whole new mobile video editing experience, and an extremely pleasant one for sure! 

But wait! Didn’t I mention that LG’s wide view mode is only available for a couple of apps natively? Yes indeed, and that’s why you need a 3rd party helper app that lets you run just any app you want in wide mode. It’s called WideMode for LG and can be downloaded for free from the Google PlayStore. Once you have installed it, you can add a shortcut to the quick settings (accessible via the swipe down notification shade) and switch to wide view whenever you want to. The app works really well in general (don’t blame the app maker for the fact that virtually no app has been optimized for this view!), occasionally, certain navigational actions cause the wide mode to just quit but most of the time, you can pick up the pattern of when that happens. In the case of Power Director for instance, you should only activate wide mode once you have opened your project and can see the timeline. If you activate wide view before that and select a project, you will get thrown out of the wide view mode. Also, if you’re done with your editing and want to export the project, tapping the share/export button will quit wide view and push the UI back on just a single screen but that’s not really problematic in my opinion. Still I couldn’t help but daydream about how cool the app would be if Cyberlink decided to polish the UI for LG’s Dual Screen phones!

What about other video editing apps? KineMaster’s UI, while extremely good for single screen phones, is pretty terrible in wide view on the G8X. VN on the other hand works fairly well but can’t quite match Power Director. Interestingly, while VN doesn’t (yet) support landscape orientation in general, once you force it across both screens, it actually does work like that. The biggest annoyance is probably that the preview window is split between the two screen with the lower quarter on the bottom screen. If you use VN in portrait orientation with wide mode, the preview window is cut in half and so is the timeline area. The UI of CapCut is pretty similar to that of VN, so it’s basically the same here. Adobe Premiere Rush isn’t even available for any LG phones currently.

So is this the future of mobile video editing on smartphones? Yes and no. LG’s smartphone business has been struggling for a while and recent news from the Korean company indicate they might be looking for an exit strategy, selling their mobile branch. This also means however that you can currently get great deals on powerful LG phones so if you are on a budget but are really intrigued by this opportunity for mobile video editing then it might just be the perfect time. The way Power Director’s UI is layed out should also make it great for phones with a foldable screen like the Galaxy Fold series so if we assume that this type of phone will become more common and affordable in the near future, people doing a lot of video editing on the phone should definitely consider checking this out!

As always, if you have questions or comments, drop them here or hit me up on the Twitter @smartfilming. If you like this article, also consider subscribing to my free Telegram channel (t.me/smartfilming) to get notified about new blog posts and receive the monthly Ten Telegram Takeaways newsletter about important things that happened in the world of mobile video.

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#21 What’s the best free cross-platform mobile video editing app? — 22. April 2020

#21 What’s the best free cross-platform mobile video editing app?

I’m a big fan of advanced mobile video editing apps like ‘KineMaster’ (Android & iOS) or ‘LumaFusion’ (iOS-only) and I’m very supportive of the idea that one should pay for such powerful media creation tools. However, there might be instances when it’s just not possible for one reason or another to do that. So I have always kept an eye on mobile video editing apps that tick all the following boxes: 1) they should be free to download and use 2) if there are different versions the free version should not include a watermark 3) they should be fairly advanced (for instance include the ability to have a second video track) and user-friendly 4) they should be cross-platform (Android and iOS) and 5) they should handle/export at least 1080p resolution with 25/30fps. I eventually ditched one other prerequisite: that you don’t have to create an account to use the app. To be honest, if you want an app that really ticks all the boxes, there isn’t much around. Actually up until recently I would have only been able to point to a single one: ‘VlogIt’. And even that could have been considered a cheat under strict circumstances because while VlogIt doesn’t have a watermark on the exported video, it has a branded bumper outro. I’m not too much a fan of the app’s UI though and its limited to a 16:9 project aspect ratio. Another theoretical contender was the relatively new ‘Adobe Premiere Rush’ but the availability for Android devices is still extremely limited and you only get three free exports before you have to commit to a paid subscription. So things were looking pretty sobering until last week-end.

While routinely browsing the Google Play Store for new video editing apps, I came across an app named ‘VN’. The provided screen grabs looked somewhat promising and I downloaded the app. After launching it, I was greeted with a splash screen that prompted me to log in or create an account. I seriously considered deleting the app again. I’m at a point where I really don’t want to sign up for the 3478th service, particularly not before even being able to try out the app. Curiosity however got the better of me and in hindsight, I’m glad it did.

First things first: VN isn’t really new. It apparently has been around for about two years according to the release date in the PlayStore but the relatively low number of downloads compared to other popular free video editing apps indicates that not too many people seem to have noticed it. VN is integrated into a video sharing community (where you can post videos to their platform and follow other users) which can seem a bit annoying if you only want to use the app to save the finished project to the device and share it to your platform of choice. You don’t have to share the video to VN’s community though, it’s possible to only export it to the Gallery (Android) or Camera Roll (iOS) and save it locally on the device.

With that out of the way, I have to say I was very impressed with VN’s feature set after taking it out for a spin. While it’s not quite as advanced as LumaFusion or KineMaster, it comes surprisingly close for a free app, covering a wide range of dedicated functions for serious video editing while at the same time sporting a visually pleasing and generally user-friendly UI.

Main timeline UI of ‘VN’

VN has a classic video editor timeline layout and is able to handle multiple tracks of video (important for b-roll editing for instance), audio and other visual elements like titles, photos and graphics. In terms of graphics it’s also important to note that it supports png files with alpha channel (for instance to include brand logos). You can also record voice-over into the timeline as an audio track and for this external microphones are supported as well. Another big win for VN is the variety of project aspect ratios available: 21:9, 16:9, 4:3, 1:1, 3:4, 9:16 and even ‘Round’ which is basically a masked square format.

One area where VN really needs to be improved (at least on Android) is handling audio transitions between video clips. There a multiple ways to achieve this but none is included at the moment: 1) it’s not possible to detach the audio of a video clip to make J&L cuts 2) while visual elements can be keyframed, audio can’t – so no audio ducking / automation is possible 3) while quick fade in/out buttons are conveniently available for audio-only clips (music, voice-overs etc), this is not available for the integrated audio of video clips in the Android version (it is on iOS) 4) no audio-only cross-fade is included in the transitions. With all these critical points in combination it’s very hard to avoid rough audio transitions between video clips in the Android version at the moment, the iOS version is slightly better. I suppose the fade in/out buttons for video audio will be added to the Android version eventually.

Talking about audio, at least in the Android version voice-overs recorded within the app itself don’t sound very good (I tested on two devices so far), like they are recorded at a low audio bitrate or sample rate but I’m sure this can be fixed with an update. Also, you can’t boost the audio in the Android version while on iOS you can. A slightly annoying thing in both versions is the fact that just like many other video editors featuring video overlays, the added b-roll footage doesn’t fill the whole frame but is added in a slightly scaled down version so if you want to have it cover up the frame of the video clip on the primary track seamlessly, you have to manually scale it which is not only an extra step but also includes the risk of accidentally moving the image away from the center. I get that this default setting is useful if you want to use the overlay video as a picture-in-picture but it’s not the best for editing b-roll style. It would also be nice to have a visual audio level meter when playing back the timeline.

Other than that, VN continues to provide you with lots of useful editing options like speed-ramping, nice title templates, filters, basic grading and various visual effects. One very clever UI function is that when long-pressing a video clip in the timeline to rearrange the order of the clips, it automatically squeezes the clip into a compact square storyboard thumbnail and only transitions back to the original timeline view after releasing the clip into its new place. This makes it much easier to rearrange clips quickly. VN also gives you a variety of professional options on export, not only resolution but frame rate (24/25/30/50/60) and bitrate. And it’s watermark-free! And available for both Android and iOS! On iOS it even seems that you can use it without having to create an account first. I have only tested it for about a week now and it’s quite possible that I will come across (more) bugs or shortcomings but so far I can conclude that this is a fantastic app, both easy to use and powerful. So is it the best free-without-watermark cross-platform mobile video editing app?

A couple of days after discovering VN, I took a second look at another app, one that I tested about a year ago when it was still in beta but somehow lost track of it over the months. It’s called ‘Feelmatic’ and is available for both Android and iOS and similar to VN (at least when looking at the Android version), you have to create an account for their video sharing platform/community.

Main timeline UI of ‘Feelmatic’.

Feelmatic also covers a lot of important features for advanced mobile video editing. It’s a bit more basic than VN, lacking some of its “bells & whistles”, but depending on the job you need to get done, it might not be that much of a deal. One might even see it positively as a more focused approach with a toolbar that lets you see all elements at a glance without having to swipe and scroll around, going down the option rabbit hole. It might be easier to grasp for users who are completely new to video editing. When I first tested the app last year it didn’t have the ability to add a video overlay but it does now. Better yet and unlike VN, the video overlay fully covers up the clip in the primary track by default. Feelmatic lets you record voice-over within the app and supports the use of external mics for that. Just like with VN however creating a smooth audio mix can be a problem, as there’s no audio keyframing, audio-only transitions or fade in/out buttons etc. I consider this to be one of two crucial points to improve in Feelmatic. The other is the extremely limited number of available aspect ratios: 16:9 is all there is (unless I’ve missed something), no option for vertical or square. You can bring in footage in other aspect ratios but it will be fit into a 16:9 frame and exported as such.

Feelmatic also has two slightly special toolbar elements, one is called ‘Logo’ which basically invites you to add an alpha channel png file as a brand/broadcaster logo and gives you a choice of four common default positions within the frame. The other one is ‘Subtitle’ which adds text including a half-transparent background for better legibility at the bottom of the frame. This is great for actual subtitles/captions but as far as I could tell, there are no other title options like say for an intro. This is a bit too bare bones for my taste.

The UI is generally good and focused with one minor shortcoming: the toolbar is located in the middle of the screen which makes reaching it in one-hand operation a bit more difficult, at least on bigger phones. If the toolbar were located at the bottom beneath the timeline, accessibility would be better.

The process of getting your project out of the app is a bit more cumbersome than with VN (you have to select a category for your video even if you don’t want to publish it on the Feelmatic platform for instance) but it is possible. That being said, you do get a solid set of export settings including video and audio bitrate. The video bit rate however maxes out at 10 Mbit, the audio bit rate at 128 Kbit which isn’t exactly great. And there are even more limitations: resolution is limited to 1080p (no UHD/4K), fps to a maximum of 30fps. While on iOS this does at least include 25fps as well, the Android version only supports 24 and 30 which is disappointing because other editing apps on Android like KineMaster, VN or CuteCut don’t have a problem with exporting 25fps.

So while I think that Feelmatic is actually a pretty solid and interesting video editing app with great potential definitely worth checking out, VN is more powerful in terms of features and the export process is less cumbersome. You should definitely check out both apps if you are into mobile video editing unless you are worried about their business model. If you don’t mind a watermark on the exported video or paying for a subscription, KineMaster is still the best and most compatible option available for both major mobile platforms. Let me know what you think in the comments or on Twitter @smartfilming.

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Download ‘VN’ for Android or iOS.
Download ‘Feelmatic’ for Android or iOS.