- Simple online editor and app
- Flawless social media import
- Contribution option
- Subscription-based service available
- Cost-friendly base prices and shipping
- 30-day money back guarantee
- Limited customization
- No page order editing in app
- Free shipping for subscribers only
Sharing your best photos to Facebook or Instagram has become a standard for modern life; it’s common to see people snapping away on the street, taking selfies or pictures of their food. It’s a fantastic feeling whenever anyone likes a photo on social media, but now that moment doesn’t have to be restricted to the digital world. A photo book can be the perfect way of highlighting your favorite moments to the world, but the time needed to customize the final product to your liking – not to mention the processing and shipping time – can be a real killjoy for an otherwise fun experience. Thankfully some photo book companies realized that certain customers don’t want to spend too much time with the creative process, but nor do they want to pay a fortune either. One such company is Chatbooks, founded in 2014 in Utah.
Chatbooks customers are in for a treat, since they have the luxury of choosing between two different approaches. You can either subscribe to a monthly service and let the company take care of everything or go for the traditional approach and make the book of your dreams manually. But regardless of the method or the platform used for building, your simple yet stylish books are created with utmost perfection for affordable cost-friendly prices.
A huge advantage of Chatbooks over its competitors is that you can access it from either a desktop browser, the Android or iPhone app, or from a mobile browser – although this is often subject to sudden crashes. And despite the fact that the service is mostly intended for mobile devices, it is Chatbooks’s desktop browser editor version that feels the most complete.
The biggest difference between the mobile and the desktop versions comes down to the way photo sources are handled. While the regular version can fetch photos from Facebook, Instagram or your computer, the app also allows you to connect to Google Photos or Camera Roll as well. Another minor difference is that the app can send out push notifications that remind you that the newest edition of your photo book is due to be ordered, or if you get a message from the support team. However, both versions include the biggest strength of Chatbooks, its contribution feature that allows others, albeit so long as they have an account, to make modifications on the would-be photo book.
As for the editing itself, once the pictures are auto-filled into the book (one per page) they can then be changed from the default chronological order by simply dragging and dropping them into different positions – a feature that is sadly unavailable in the app itself. Further picture customization options allow for the inclusion or exclusion of the date, location and personal caption of each image by checking the relevant boxes either across the entire book in the Settings menu or for each individual page.
Aside from their exclusion or deletion, images can also be altered to fit to the whole page or even cropped to cut out unwanted details. But don’t worry, the software will warn you of any low-resolution photos. However, the full-page feature automatically pushes captions under the selected photo to an additional, completely blank page – which isn’t always ideal.
Covers are edited in the same manner as full-page photos, but only if a picture from your selection is chosen and is properly cropped. Additionally, Chatbooks can replace the default photo cover with custom ones, but regardless of your choice you still have to manually enter the book’s title onto the cover in Book Settings.
Since Chatbooks’s main goal is to offer clients an option to create quality photo books without the time-consuming additional settings, there is little to discuss when it comes to the software’s designs. All pages have blank (white) backgrounds and photos are all aligned to the center of each page, with the only exception to this rule being the front cover. By default all Chatbooks photo books are printed with one of your pictures serving as the front cover, but this can be changed to a custom made one without paying extra. However, there is one major catch: only when choosing a Custom Book will you be able to pick from 51 colorful covers created by professionals. And in the case of the photo book series, your hands are pretty much tied: you can either stick to the default settings or add $2 to the total by letting Chatbooks surprise you with a mystery cover. Thankfully this option is not permanent, as it is possible to downgrade to the regular photo cover option at any time during the editing or before orders are placed.
Chatbooks photo books can be categorized into two types: the Photo Book Series or Custom Books. Sadly, the former operates within major restrictions to keep prices low: these 6×6 books are only available with a photo or surprise cover – alongside the option to upgrade to a hard cover – and the number of photos per book is fixed to 60. Additionally, these books can only be built from Facebook or Instagram photos.
Custom Books have a better variety. Although the default book also uses 6×6 dimensions with a soft photo cover, there are still 51 pre-designed covers instead of the default, plus there is also the option to upgrade to a hard cover. Custom Books can even be ordered with any amount of pages – ranging from 30 through to a respectable 366 – whether you choose to stick to the default size or create an 8×8 book. However, the book’s size needs to be decided upon before the editing process begins, since it cannot be changed later on without starting all over again.
Not only do all books come with a 30-day satisfaction guarantee and are prepared for shipping within 2-3 business days, but they also have very affordable prices. However, keep in mind that Photo Books Series is a subscription service with a fixed $10 per month fee, which has to be cancelled if you don’t want any more books to be ordered automatically after every 60 photos. Custom Books, on the other hand, can be ordered as you might with any photo book service, with a minimum 30-page long 6×6 books costing $15 and its 8×8 counterpart coming in at $25. With this option it is possible to add extra pages to your book, too, which costs $1 per six pages – a price that doubles should you order your book with the bigger dimensions. However, regardless of size and type, all Chatbooks products can be upgraded to a hard cover for $5.
Since the prices are kept as low as possible, Chatbooks has very few special offers and discounts. However, the permanent offers are interesting: there is the option to purchase a $10, $20, $50 or $200 gift voucher, or invite at least five friends into the service and enjoy a total of $240 in credit for five years should those friends become Photo Book Series subscribers.
Customer Support & Shipping
Although Chatbooks provides assistance via phone, it is only available for a very limited amount of time; therefore, the company recommends turning to the FAQ or, especially in cases of subscription cancellation, contacting the staff via email. Aside from these options, there are brief video tutorials on Chatbooks’ YouTube channel or various articles to read on the blog, most of which are properly advertised on the company’s regularly updated Facebook and Twitter accounts.
For the shipping policy there is one crucial thing that needs to be clarified: free “Turtle” shipping with no tracking is only available for subscription books ordered in the U.S. and is always delivered within 10-14 business days. Anything else can be shipped with the “Pony” option, which is $3 per product ($6 for 8×8 books) and delivers within 2-5 business days. Custom books can be shipped within 1-2 business days by choosing the $25 “Falcon” option. Chatbooks ships internationally, too: both “Turtle” and “Pony” cost $3 extra per book, but the latter option is only available for about a dozen countries.
Chatbooks is an exceptional photo book service, but the fact that it primarily focuses on avid social media users who want to their books as soon as possible is very clear; at once a positive and a negative. Aside from the size, cover type and general appearance of your photo book, customization is limited to the bare minimum – especially in the case of subscription-based books. And despite having a stellar iOS/Android app, Chatbooks still works best from desktop browsers, which is in contrast to the company’s emphasis on social media driven, mobile users.
That aside, the company easily compensates these flaws with plenty of creative solutions. By choosing the monthly subscription you’ll receive a photo book each month for ridiculously low prices, while the similarly cheap Custom Books deliver the quality you’d expect from a decent photo book company. And if we take into consideration the super-fast delivery time, the money back guarantee, and the availability of free shipping, Chatbooks is on the way to becoming one of the best photo book editors of all time.