Ember review: Mac digital scrapbooking made easy

Realmac Software on Tuesday released its newest Mac application, Ember. It's the successor to Realmac's screenshot-grabbing tool Littlesnapper, building upon that app's foundation but adding digital scrapbooking functions that make gathering digital images quick, easy and fun.

What Apple's iPhoto software does for digital photographs, Ember does for all the other digital imagery you may be interested in. If there are web sites or photo blogs that feature pictures you like, simply subscribe using their RSS or Atom feeds and Ember will keep you up to date on any new image additions.

If you're already familiar with Littlesnapper you'll instantly be comfortable with Ember; although the look and feel has been updated, the basic components are still there: a main library window with a sidebar organizing your digital images by source, along with screen capture tools that let you snap full screenshots, timed screenshots, areas and windows. Sure, those functions are built in to the Mac operating system, but Ember gives you a much easier way of cataloging, sorting and tagging them.

One other thing about Littlesnapper - Ember will import Littlesnapper libraries, as long as you're running a recent update to Littlesnapper.

In fact, if you're familiar with Realmac's offerings, you may remember that Ember already existed: It started life as a web service that Realmac shut down in 2011. With this app's full integration of content from the Web, and its prodigious cataloging tools, branding it as Ember makes a good deal of sense.

Ember subscriptions

You never know when inspiration will strike you when you view an image online, so Ember has built-in support for RSS and Atom feed subscriptions. It'll push an OS X notification to let you know whenever it's updated one of your subscriptions with new images.

Ember has other built-in tools to make the images you collect useful; you can crop and rotate images; annotate them with text or freehand markups; look at images full-screen; organize your images into collections, or build "Smart Collections" that can contain all images with certain tags, ratings, web URLs, and other criteria; and you can share your images with others by e-mail, AirDrop, Messages, Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, CloudApp or Tumblr. Ember will also read images on your iPad or iPhone.

Ember browser

Ember also has a built-in browser to grab images quickly from the web; cleverly, Realmac has made it possible to reset the width of the browser to meet iPad and iPhone dimensions. This is handy for web developers and others who might be capturing screenshots for clients, for example. However, the page is saved as an image, so the text embedded on that page isn't available to search on.

What's more, Realmac has developed extensions for both Safari and Chrome web browsers. With it installed, Safari adds a new toolbar button that lets you "snap" the web page and save it in the Ember library.

Some Littlesnapper customers are bound to be a bit peeved by Realmac's decision to launch Ember as a new app rather than offering it as an update. But software developers have to eat just like everyone else, and Apple offers no upgrade mechanism in the Mac App Store, so Realmac's left with little choice. This isn't just a rebranding, though: Ember has key new features that Littlesnapper didn't, making it a worthwhile investment for anyone who wants to organize and do more with digital images from disparate sources.

The Good

  • Simple to use and very familiar for Littlesnapper users
  • Lots of sharing options
  • Powerful tagging and sharing features
  • Library upgrade support for Littlesnapper

The Bad

  • Saved web pages aren't searchable
  • No upgrade path for Littlesnapper users
  • Steep price

The Bottom Line

Realmac has taken what was already good about Littlesnapper and transformed it into a more powerful and diverse cataloging tool that will help digital pros and others gather and catalog images from the web or wherever else they might derive inspiration from.

Peter Cohen