Adobe’s new Photoshop-enhancing iPad apps look great in theory, but in practice still feel half-baked.About a month ago, Adobe sent me a copy of Adobe CS 5.5 Master Suite to test out. If you’ve spent any time around Photoshop over the past few years, very little on the surface will surprise you. In fact, the biggest draw of 5.5 for me wasn’t any new feature in Photoshop itself, but its ability to integrate with a new suite of iPad apps. A lot of students these days use Photoshop for their classes, internships and hobbies, and a growing number own iPads, so the apps hold a lot of potential for this (admittedly very specific) niche.

Adobe Nav

Adobe released three apps designed specifically to integrate with Photoshop 5.1. The first, Adobe Nav for Photoshop ($1.99) is simply a standard Photoshop toolbox pushed to your iPad’s screen. Nav allows you to change the currently-selected tool in Photoshop CS 5.5 on your computer using touch-friendly buttons on your iPad, but despite the simple premise, the app still falls short in a number of areas. There isn’t enough screen real estate to include all of your tools, but instead of nesting similar tools within the same button and accessible via a long press as in Photoshop proper, the iPad user must wade through an “edit” menu with a list of all available tools, place the tool in a slot on the 4×4 grid, expelling another tool in the process, and exit the edit menu to continue work. To add insult to injury, your primary and secondary colors are visible within the app, but you can only reverse their order or switch them to black and white, not actually change them. The iPad would be a perfect tool for selecting the right color, and you can’t do it within this app. The only redeeming feature here is a secondary mode that allows you to switch between open files using a thumbnail view that is unparalleled by anything offered in the actual Photoshop program. 

Adobe Eazel

The second app, Adobe Eazel (2.99) is an intriguing fingerpainting app with a unique control scheme and one-click integration with Photoshop. The app has the most unique UI I’ve encountered on the iPad, and it works beautifully after you get used to it. Simply place five fingers on the screen, and each finger will come to represent the undo/redo panel, size, color, opacity, and settings. Lift four fingers, keeping the one representing your desired tool on the screen, and that finger becomes a selection device to fine tune your brush. The actual painting on the app closely simulates watercolors, which feels arbitrarily limited when it could easily mimic crayons, markers, colored pencils, etc., but the effect is pretty convincing. Once you’ve finished finger-painting your masterpiece, one tap in the settings panel sends it to Photoshop on your computer for editing. Unfortunately, it doesn’t render each brushstroke as its own layer, but it does preserve transparency, which is handy. 

Adobe Color Lava

Remember how Adobe Nav didn’t let you edit your color swatches? Well that’s what Adobe Color Lava ($2.99) is for. Using your fingers to mix and dab on-screen “paint,” you can mix your own unique color blends to be used in Photoshop. Selecting a swatch in the app immediately zaps it to Photoshop as your primary color, which raises the question why this feature isn’t included in the Adobe Nav app. If it’s a matter of nickel and diming consumers, I’d rather pay $5 for a single app that can manipulate tools AND colors for Photoshop than pay $5 for two distinct apps that I can’t use use simultaneously. 

The Giveaway

While the iPad apps still have some work to do, Photoshop itself is still amazing, and the rest of the apps in the Creative Suite Master Collection 5.5 aren’t bad either. Since so many of you are budding creative professionals, I’ll be giving away the box set of CS 5.5 to one lucky reader (don’t worry, I didn’t use the license) via Twitter. Note that the software is MAC ONLY. Simply follow @HackCollege and tweet at us what school you go to and what you’ll use it for. Fitting that into 140 characters should be a fun challenge. Contest ends Sunday at noon ET, so get Tweeting!