Cooliris' PicLens is, without a doubt, one of the prettiest browser add-ons currently available. When we first reviewed it in February, Josh Catone called it 'nifty' and 'gorgeous.' Both of these adjectives still fully apply to PicLens, but since then, the company has added a large number of new features. These include a stronger emphasis on displaying videos and integration with Amazon, as well as support for a few more photo sharing sites.
A Wall of Pictures
At its most basic level, PicLens, which is now at version 1.7, allows you to quickly browse through images from photo and video sharing sites on a full-screen 3D wall. This wall looks a lot like Apple's Cover Flow and the screen-shots here really don't do it justice.
One thing that might come as a disappointment to users is that PicLens doesn't work with every site. However, PicLens does support a wide range of photo sharing sites, social networks, and image search services, including Flickr, Photobucket, Picasa, DeviantArt, Smugmug, MySpace, Facebook, and Google Images. In its newest version, PicLens now also supports searching for videos in YouTube. PicLens should also work on any other site that has a Media RSS feed enabled.
Cooliris has also made a plugin available that allows owners of self-hosted WordPress sites to enable PicLens' functionality for their blogs.
As for browsers, PicLens supports Firefox, Internet Explorer, and Safari.
Window Shopping in 3D
One interesting function PicLens has added, is the ability to do a visual search through Amazon's online store. Scrolling through the covers of books, CDs, and videos, or even browsing the apparel section is surprisingly fast and actually turns out to be quite a lot of fun. Clicking on an item enlarges it and brings up the price and a short description. One limitation of this search is that you can't specify anything else but keywords. Items can't be organized by price or any other filter normally available on Amazon such as brand or seller. This is even more limiting because you can't do a search on Amazon and then have PicLens display the results of your search, making the feature quite a bit less useful.
It's Pretty, But Is it Useful?
Whenever a piece of software looks as good as PicLens does, the question that comes up pretty quickly is how useful it can actually be.
The Amazon integration is most useful when you are searching for a specific look or just browsing through books for the sake of it, but otherwise, it feels more like a gimmick than a useful feature.
PicLens is at its best when displaying objects from photo and video sites. Having the ability to visually browse through a large number of items gives it a clear heads-up over the functionality of these web services themselves, and, at the end of the day, it's also plain fun to use.