The 8 Best Review and Approval Tools Compared
98% of creatives want to have more efficient feedback rounds.
Yeah, we don’t understand that remaining 2% either.
You probably clicked on this blog post because you’re not entirely happy with your current review workflow. Or you’re searching for an alternative tool for reviewing and approving. Either way, this article will answer the following questions:
- What are annotation and reviewing tools, and why you need them?
- What’s the difference between them?
Nowadays, the review process bottlenecks successful campaigns. It’s hard to effectively collaborate on visual content if collaborators or clients don’t work in the same office.
Almost automatically, people use email to review and approve files. In my experience, this tendency usually results in a long email ping-pong game— because the feedback isn’t accurate enough because people comment on outdated files, or simply because attachments are too large. So people have a hard time trying to collaborate about visual content via email.
At this point, collaboration tools to manage reviews and approvals come into play.
A professional review and approval tool can help you get feedback 10 times faster than email. On top of that, the feedback is precise and unequivocal.
There are great solutions out there. That’s why I chose to test the best tools on the market and share my findings.
Dropbox is one of the first tools that most people might think of when they want to share files with each other. And since it has a commenting function, it’s found its way onto our list of annotation tools.
Dropbox offers apps for all major platforms. Thus, it’s easy and convenient to work with Dropbox on your smartphone or tablet. It’s ideal to review PDF files and images on the platform, but it’s not suitable for revising video or audio.
There are two ways make comments on files: on the overall file, or on a specific part of it. However, the handling of the comment section could definitely be improved. The layout is untidy, and some features (such as sorting, filtering, or searching for comments) are also missing. You’re able to mark a comment as resolved, which is useful in many situations, but there’s no way to attach a file to a comment. So you’ll need to pass files in another way.
While the 2GB of free storage might seem like a lot for private usage, businesses would need the paid version to work with the tool properly. Their rates start at $15 for 3 collaborators.
In addition, users need to sign up to comment on a file, which will definitely slow down the revision process.
One feature that’s still missing is the approval information. Because the dashboard doesn’t display an overview of your approvals, there’s no way to track your feedback workflow.
The lack of customizing options for the tool is a disadvantage, since displaying your logo connects you with your reviewers (especially in a business environment) and makes the brand feel personal to them. Plus, showing your logo helps people keep in mind that this awesome project comes from your company. 😉
Overall, Dropbox is a great tool for sharing files. But for the purpose of approvals, it’s probably not the best choice.
Using Filestage, revisions are easy, efficient, and clearly documented. It’s valuable to note the traffic light system, which allows you to keep an overview of all files.
A key feature of Filestage is file sharing. You can either share your file via personal email invitation or share link. And here’s the best part: reviewers don’t need to sign up to access the file.
The adjustable email notifications are very convenient. You can turn them on and off, depending on your preference.
The billing page contains an invoice history, as well as the ability to upgrade plans and credit card information. With the updated pricing structure, it’s even easier to work together as a team.
What’s equally useful is the printable PDF for comments, including the timecode, comments, annotations, additional notes, and completion status.
With Filestage, it was actually fun to review files. The different file formats work smoothly, and the platform is super-easy to use. So everyone can enjoy working with it.
Wipster specializes in video collaboration.
This New Zealander startup provides several integrations for Adobe Premiere and After Effects. These panels come in handy when editing the video according to your reviewers’ wishes.
The app supports team-only notes and offers an inbox, within the app, for notifications. The video information is a helpful feature, which you can use to see who viewed, commented on, and approved the video. There’s also the option to archive projects that are no longer active.
Unfortunately, you’ll need to enter your credit card details to test the service. Moreover, there’s no free plan at Wipster, so if you’re not finished before you free 14-day trial is over, you’ll be put onto the paid plan you chose to try out. So be aware of that when testing the tool.
Due to a pricing update, Wipster is currently undergoing an overhaul, which especially impacts smaller businesses with a small amount of videos per month.
Wipster is the go-to platform if you’re are a professional videomaker with a lot of videos to review per month. Otherwise, you’re better off with another tool.
InVision’s prototype tool lets you create interactive wireframes and high-fidelity prototypes.
The New York based service offers a broad range of features, including versioning, draw on file, and a useful traffic light system to track the status of the review.
Within the app, you’re able to define different sections of your project, so you’ll be able to organize your project and keep a better overview.
Another helpful function is the workflow board, which displays the review status of each prototype. Plus, you’re able to change the review status by simply dragging and dropping the file into another column.
The live chat function is helpful, too. It allows you to talk to your collaborators in real time and share ideas with them onscreen.
InVision is an awesome tool for creating interactive wireframes and sharing them with your coworkers or clients. Since it’s limited to images, UX designers can get the most value for it.
Frame.io is yet another video collaboration tool.
This tool offers Adobe Premiere and After Effects, Final Cut X, and Slack integrations, which are useful if you work with those platforms on a regular basis.
Frame.io claims to handle all media file types, but in my testing, the handling of audio and PDF files was insufficient. In other words, it’s more of a video-collaboration tool than an all-around tool.
It’s the only tool that lets you compare versions with each other on one screen. A side-by-side comparison of two versions of a file is a big plus, which no other tested platform has. I found this option interesting when comparing two versions of a design.
Reviewers aren’t able to comment on a file without entering the email address. Hence, it’s not possible to comment as a guest.
During the test, I found the time it takes to fully understand and navigate the tool was notably long—since the tool is rather large, and the UI is complicated. If you and your clients are tech-savvy and fine with exploring features, that’s cool. But if you’re not experienced with certain technology, it might take some time to figure out how Frame.io works.
The review of videos and images works flawlessly, but the review of audios and PDF files is very limited. During my test, I wasn’t able to scroll through more than one PDF page, which makes Frame.io rather useless for PDF reviews.
The tool clearly focuses on video (and image) revision. As a matter of fact, the integrations and versioning are well-thought-out. When it comes to reviewing files other than videos, there are obstacles. Also, the long onboarding time makes this tool complicated for a lot of people out there.
Hightail is a tool you can use to share your files and folders with anyone. It allows you to review a whole bunch of different file formats, including videos, images, audios, and PDF files.
The UI makes it hard to keep an overview of all the different projects and files. Though approval requests are possible, it’s only available in the PRO plan.
Moreover, the service features an activity board, which shows your relevant data. It has nice visuals, but doesn’t do a lot for me.
The big downside of Hightail is that reviewers need to sign up to review your file, which takes some time and slows down the feedback process. Guest access and comments are only available in the business plan.
There is a free version of the tool, but it has limited functions. The good news is that the PRO version isn’t that expensive either. The price per month starts at US $12.
Acrobat Pro DC
Adobe’s Acrobat Pro DC is the go-to tool for businesses to create and edit PDF files.
Unfortunately, it’s not an online tool, unlike the other apps on our list. In fact, it needs to be downloaded and installed. Moreover, the reviewer also needs to download it and create an account to review the PDF.
In Adobe’s Acrobat DC, you’re only able to share your files via email invitation. There’s an option to send and track your file, but it costs extra.
There’s a huge selection of tools to comment on the PDF file. For example, it offers a highlighter, a strikethrough tool, the option to insert text in a PDF file, a stamp tool to approve a file, and drawing tools to add geometric markups.
Therefore, the Adobe Acrobat Pro DC offers a wide range of tools to comment and edit a PDF file. But first, you need to download, install, and sign up for the service, which really slows down the review process. And it’s a bit old school.
The web-based tool Frankie allows you to share your file live with your coworkers or clients. Thus, you can comment on the file whilst everyone sees what your point is, and you can discuss it right away. In addition, you’re able to see who’s currently looking on the file while you are.
There are a lot of options for drawing on the file (including pen, arrow, circle, or text), which I find pretty helpful for reviewing.
In contrast, the dashboard of the platform is rather confusing. It’s not clear who’s reviewing the files at the moment, or what the status of the review of the file is. Therefore, feedback workflow is slow and inconvenient. Plus, you can’t really process your comments, since it doesn’t allow you to make a to-do list or sort, search, and filter the comments in any way.
Besides, the tool isn’t optimized for mobile use, so you can’t use it on any mobile device.
The two smaller packages include a maximum file upload limit (100MB and 1GB), which is inconvenient when working with larger files. But if you don’t want a maximum file upload limit, the price per month would be $249 USD. But if you’re searching for a tool with the live option, this one is definitely the way to go.
Review and approval tools can be of great use. But it’s rather time-consuming to review all of the different tools out there. So I hope I’ve saved you some time researching my comparison of all these review and approval tools.
If you’re wondering which review tool to use, I suggest thinking about your workflow first. After all, it really depends on your needs. Then I’d challenge you to try a couple of the tools listed here, and see if they’re a good fit for your company. Make sure that any tool you consider has a free trial. Despite the differences in features, it’s important that the tool you use has great usability. The more intuitive a tool is, the less work for your team and partners.
If you still have any questions about review and approval tools and collaboration workflow, feel free to post them in the comments below. I’ll do my best to answer them for you.
What tools do you use to review and approve files? Have you ever used the tools mentioned above? Or do you have a tool to add to the list? Share your thoughts in the comments below.