PowToon is an internet-based PowerPoint alternative that allows users to easily produce creative video animations. PowToon combines traditional PowerPoint methods with animations and cartoons. PowToon is currently in beta testing stage.
What does it do?
PowToon operates on an online interface from which you can create videos by choosing from a selection of templates and then adding text, images and other content with built-in entrance and exit animations. These videos can be saved out as an mp4 video file, or uploaded straight to YouTube from within the application. PowToon positions itself as a cheaper alternative to hiring a multimedia designer. PowToons are not designed to replace live presentations or video presentations; they are standalone video animations to be viewed from your computer or television screen.
Objects in PowToon currently come in 8 different styles. The overarching style manages the different components you can include on your slide, covering text effects, image holders, characters, props, markers, shapes and backgrounds. This pre-loaded content is designed to make adding video objects to slides easier than starting from scratch. At present there are a limited number of styles to choose from but as it is currently in beta mode I expect more to come in the near future.
Once you have mastered the basics of adding text, changing images, and selecting animation effects, users can quickly and easily create self-running video animations. PowToon also allows you to add your own custom music and voiceover to your videos; these can be imported or recorded within the application.
As it is run in your internet browser, PowToon doesn’t really have an installation process. In order to use PowToon, however, you will need to be connected to the internet and have a Flash-enabled browser. If you use Google Chrome this will be installed as standard, or you can download it for free from adobe.com. Other than these requirements, PowToon should work with most computers.
To get started, simply sign up for a free trial account by visiting powtoon.com, and follow the steps outlined.
How easy is it to use?
PowToon has been designed to allow non-designers to create videos, and has an accessible layout that users should be able to navigate fairly easily. There are many help videos available, and a step-by-step tutorial that talks you through the basics of making your first PowToon.
Once you’ve understood the key components – most importantly how the timeline works – PowToon is easy to use. The timeline in particular is a great feature that quickly and clearly allows the user to see and adjust what is happening on a slide, and when. While it doesn’t allow anything to happen other than in full-second increments, its simplicity makes this far easier to use than PowerPoint’s animation pane. It also encourages users to think in terms of a sequence rather than just throwing all content on a slide at once, particularly as objects are automatically given entrance animations based on the order they were created on the slide.
We tested recording narration for a PowToon using two different methods.
First we tried recording from within PowToon itself. This method is very easy using the Powtoon interface, which takes you through slide by slide whilst you record the narration. This is a good option if you have no audio editing knowledge or want a quick recording. However, PowToon takes the ‘raw’ input of the microphone which can result in a poor quality recording.
The other method we tried, and the one used to record the narration in the PowToon above, does require some previous audio editing experience. For this, the narration was recorded into a different application (Adobe Audition) and the software’s compression and processing effects used to improve the quality of the recording. This was then uploaded to the PowToon as an mp3 file (easily done), before we adjusted the animation timeline for each slide to ensure objects were in time with the narration. This was the preferred method as the narration was of a much higher quality. However, it requires software and additional knowledge, and was considerably more time consuming that the first method.
What’s right with it?
PowToon sets out to make animated video affordable and accessible to a wider audience, and it definitely achieves that. While the output might not always be the most professional, particularly on the cheaper packages, it certainly enables inexperienced individuals and startups on limited budgets to produce videos that they would not have been able to do without other knowledge. Of course, PowerPoint is perfectly capable of producing these types of video – but we appreciate that not everyone is able to do this. The great thing about PowToon is that you don’t need to be tech-savvy to create videos, and PowToon actively encourages users to build slides visually.
PowToon allows users to upload their own images to include on slides, and has handy image placeholders for a more professional finish. You can even upload your own custom designs to include as objects. However, this isn’t an instant service as designs have to be emailed to PowToon and there is a delay involved, which could be annoying if you’re working to a deadline.
The timeline feature is easily the best thing about PowToon. It’s simple and encourages users to think about their slide sequence as a whole, and not as a pile of content to dump on the slide at once. PowToon is designed to be used for video rather than in a live presentation setting, and it really encourages users to think about using engaging visuals for their videos.
What’s wrong with it?
As PowToon is an online application, it can only be used if you’re connected to the internet. You can still view PowToons that have been saved out as video files, but will struggle to e.g. edit your PowToons whilst on the move.
Animations, although very well managed, are limited to entrance and exit animations. The simple addition of something akin to PowerPoint’s motion paths would enable users to truly visualise stories and create far more engaging videos.
There’s nothing to help the user position things correctly on the slides. Alignment tools or even a simple grid would really help to get things in the right positions and looking professional – as it is, users must use guesswork.
Perhaps the biggest issue with PowToon however is that it doesn’t allow for much customisation. The pre-built objects provided by PowToon that form the basis for most animations come in colours related to their style, with no option to change them. While you can adjust the size of objects, you cannot adjust their dimensions. These restrictions limit the possibility of e.g. using rectangle shapes to build bar charts. We hope that this is due to PowToon still being in the beta stage, and that more flexibility will be granted in future developments.
Also due to its being in beta phase, PowToon suffers from a few bugs, such as issues when resizing text boxes or not saving animations. Again, we expect these to be resolved in the next phase of development.
The prices for PowToon vary. You can pay $8 per export, or there are monthly plans starting from $19 a month (depending on your requirements around e.g. HD quality and length of video). There is also a free version that allows you to export videos of up to 5 minutes with PowToon branding.
You can make unlimited presentations and revisions to presentations within PowToon, as these are only charged for if exported. It does mean however that a video cannot be edited once published; you’ll need to export an entirely new video and take it out of your allowance.
Should I buy it?
For an application in beta phase, PowToon is a great product. The few bugs it has need to be ironed out, and some additional features added, in order to really make it a serious contender for other options (including the more laborious, but more advanced, PowerPoint), but it really is showing promise already.
PowToon actually takes a good step in the right direction in encouraging more engaging, animated video content, and certainly helps the user to step away from bullet points. The key thing to remember about PowToon is that it produces video, and isn’t really a presentation solution at all – but if it stops users treating PowerPoint as a means to produce ‘slideuments’, it’s certainly not going to receive any complaints from our end.
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Brian Fenix, Client Principal, Hewlett-Packard
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