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Unbound: A Photo Viewer for Dropbox

Unbound

Unbound

I’ve been keeping my photos in Dropbox for over a year now. I’ve remained loyal to a folder structure that organizes photos in years and months (Bradley would be proud of me) and I still use Hazel and CameraSync to upload my photos. While I’ve been happy with the uploading/organizing process of this photo backup workflow, the experience of browsing photos was never great. And I’d rather not talk about my brief, emotionally intense, and ultimately sad affair with Everpix.

Unbound by Pixite is a photo viewer for people who keep their photos in Dropbox. Unlike recent App Store trends, it comes as separate purchases for the iPhone and iPad priced at $2.99. The app is built for iOS 7, and it comes with viewing and sharing features that, right now, make it my best option to browse photos I’m storing on Dropbox.

Unbound gets Dropbox folders and sub-folders right: you point the app at a Dropbox folder where you have sub-folders for photos, and it’ll show those sub-folders as albums with cover photos and thumbnail previews. If two layers of sub-folders are recognized in the folder you point the app to, the one in the middle will be hidden from the browsing view: in my case, my Camera Uploads > Year > Month Folder setup leads to a view that shows cover photos for Month Folders.

Unlike the official Dropbox app and other clients, this is how I want to browse my collection of photos in folders. However, I do have some points and suggestions to make:

  • You can’t change the cover photo for folders;
  • You can’t point to multiple folders in Dropbox and unify sub-folders (as albums) in a single view;
  • You can’t group albums by parent folder.

The last point was especially tricky for me because it required me to tweak the way my folders are named in Dropbox. Before Unbound, I had this kind of structure:

2013 > 11 - November

But, because Unbound can’t show section headers for parent folders, it meant that I ended up with folders called “11 - November” for 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013. The app shows a small label with date information under an album’s cover photo, but that wasn’t enough to make it clear for me. Therefore, I switched to the following naming scheme:

2013 > 2013 - 11 - November

Which is a bit uglier, but that at least gives me clear and alphabetically-sorted albums in Unbound (and in other apps as well). It’s an acceptable compromise.

There’s a lot to like about Unbound’s viewing experience. When scrolling through folders and photos, thumbnails are cached locally (you can configure cache size in the Settings) so that the app will scroll smoothly and the next time you’ll open it the thumbnails will already be there; despite its Dropbox-connected nature, Unbound doesn’t feel like an app that’s constantly fetching data from the Internet with rough scrolling or performance; my suggestion is to keep cache enabled for a few hundred megabytes.

Unbound

Unbound

On the iPad, the app is reminiscent of Apple’s old Photos app with stacks of photos that you can pinch to open (thumbnails are loaded as you pinch). The app has a black background on the iPad, but it’s white on the iPhone; on both devices, the top toolbar has a subtle translucency that will show photo content underneath.

When viewing an album, you can upload photos into it, batch edit existing ones, and share or cache an entire album. Unbound comes with background uploading capabilities that use the popular background location update, but I haven’t tested them because they don’t come with the granular controls of CameraSync. When you tap an individual photo, Unbound will quickly fetch the full-res version and offer more sharing and view options.

Unbound

Unbound

Each photo can display associated EXIF information and a map view that uses embedded GPS coordinates to show where it was taken on an Apple Maps view. A photo can be sent to another app via Open In (useful for this), saved and shared, or used to create a collage, which is Unbound’s built-in, PDQ-like feature to create interesting photo layouts.[1] The Open In and Copy Link buttons are particularly useful for me and support for animated GIFs is the icing on the cake.

Unbound is the best Dropbox photo browser I’ve found and it already comes with a good feature set and welcome options for caching, sorting, and sharing, but I’m left wishing for more. In trying to optimize for folder-based systems, the app lacks smart organizational features seen in services like Everpix.

  • There is no unified Map View for all photos (something that Day One does);
  • You can’t sync only the “x most recent albums” – e.g. the past 2 months of photos in date-based folder structures;
  • There is no support for smart folders based on criteria like time filters, location, file name, or a combination of all of them. Something like Photowerks, but for Dropbox photos;
  • There’s no way to replicate Everpix’s “Flashback” feature in the app (I imagine a smart folder with a notification every morning could be an idea);
  • The sidebar could be used for more interesting stuff like bookmarks (see Boxie).

I understand that building more advanced features such as face recognition and content analysis may be asking too much from a $2.99 app, but enhancements to location browsing and smart folders should be considered – perhaps even as IAPs. It’s hard to build the perfect Photos app replacement, but, for Dropbox users, Unbound is solid and promising. It is the best app I’ve found to browse my Dropbox photos, and I’m looking forward to seeing how development will continue in the future.

Unbound is available at $2.99 for the iPhone and iPad.


  1. To unlock the collage option, you need to “Like” Unbound on Facebook, which isn’t a nice marketing technique for a paid app. Fortunately, you can tap Like then dismiss the Facebook web view and the feature will be unlocked anyway. ↩︎

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