Bid goodbye to photobombers
Google always has a few software tricks up its sleeves when it launches its new Pixel smartphones, and I have to admit, some of them have been pretty darn good — ‘Hold for Me’ still ranks as numero uno for me. With so much riding on the Pixel 6, Google had to give the phone the same treatment, and if you haven’t been living under a rock, you’ve probably already heard about Magic Eraser.
Exclusive to the Pixel 6 series, the feature wants to make photobombers a thing of the past. Did a random person walking behind you spoil the best shot? With Magic Eraser, Google automatically identifies people (sometimes objects) in the background and removes them with a single tap. For when it can’t identify a human or when you want to remove an object, you can even doodle over the unwanted area, and Google will try its best to make it seem like it wasn’t even there.
Unfortunately, the tool is exclusive to the Pixel 6, and it won’t be available for any other phones anytime soon (Older Pixel phones running on Android 12 can try their luck, though). But that’s not the end of the road because there are a few Magic Eraser alternatives that might work for you. Not all of them are free or as good, but it gives us a comprehensive idea at how the technology is more widely available than you may think, and how close some of these alternatives are to matching Google's AI prowess.
To give you an idea of how these alternatives work in comparison with Magic Eraser, I’ve selected the four different images you see below. I’ve selected them to roughly represent the varying editing jobs you might want to do with a tool like that. I intend to remove the person standing in the first image, the chilies in the second one, the hydrant in the third, and the dangling overhead wire in the last one.
Google’s implementation is the most intuitive of all, and the fact that it’s built right into the Photos app means you won’t have to mess around with downloading and updating yet another app. Unlike other tools in this list, Google’s solution is the only one that automatically identifies people, making the process seamless (although it doesn’t work every time).
Here’s how to use the tool:
Magic Eraser works best with humans, but as you can see in the third image, the fire hydrant and the wire were removed with ease, too. However, it’s not smart enough to remove shadows; it missed out on the chili’s shadow even when I painted over it. We can expect the tool to get better over time, but it certainly produces images worth sharing even the way it is now.
Also owned by Google, Snapseed is one of the most reliable photo-editing apps out there, and its Heal tool can also help remove unwanted objects from images. It’s completely free to use and is available for iOS devices as well.
Here’s how to use the tool:
Snapseed is not as good at removing objects and people as it is in reproducing predictive patterns (see this, for instance). It likely doesn’t use any sophisticated algorithm to artificially create a part of the image and instead chooses to use neighboring pixels to fill in the selected area. If that’s what you need, Snapseed will work better, but on the whole, it’s not as attractive as some other alternatives in the list below.
If you don’t mind paying for an app that can help you remove unwanted elements, TouchRetouch is definitely worth paying $2 for. It’s a no-nonsense app and, as you’d expect from a paid app, doesn’t push any annoying ads in your face.
Here’s how to use the tool:
As you can see in the images above, TouchRetouch does a really good job. Notice how well it removes the overhead wire in the fourth image without bothering the busy background. Unlike Magic Eraser, it also handles the chili shadow in the second image.
Lightroom Mobile also offers a Healing tool that can be used for similar purposes, but it’s more of a professional tool than a simple tool aimed at the average Joe. It gives you control over what you want to replace the highlighted part with, but this process can take several minutes. Lightroom for Android is only available as part of a broader subscription package, however, that starts at $10/month USD.
Here’s how to use the tool:
Lightroom’s results aren’t that impressive, but that’s because it takes a lot of time and patience to get better results. We’d only recommend using it if you’re already a paying subscriber and want complete control over the removal process.
Unlike other apps in this list, is a web tool based on Samsung AI and is accessible across devices — even your computer or tablet. It’s completely free to use and surprisingly doesn’t even host any ads on the website. This one’s the best of all the tools I’ve mentioned so far, and the results below speak for themselves.
Here’s how to use the tool:
This tool has been the most consistent so far in terms of performance. Notice how it filled in the wood pattern so perfectly in the second image and removed the overhead wire in the fourth, making it seem like it wasn’t there. It did very well with human subjects and did a great job of not leaving artifacts behind in the first image. If you don’t mind using a web tool, should probably be your first choice, as it performs better than Magic Eraser in certain cases.
If you own one of the latest Samsung flagships, you probably didn’t know that your phone had a built-in object remover — Samsung didn’t market it as much. It’s only available on the Note20 series, S20 series, S21 series, Flip series, and the Fold series running OneUI 3.1, and does a pretty good job overall.
Here’s how to use this tool:
Samsung's object eraser tool removes objects cleanly and doesn’t struggle with complex scenarios. Considering the pictures used for this test, it does perform a better job than Magic Eraser.
Of course, comparing a set side-by-side is the easiest way to see which one does the best job. It looks here like Magic Eraser does the best job over the entire scene, including the shadow, though there is a slight shimmering effect remaining around the water. also does well here, especially around the water, but leaves a larger shadow that suggests someone has just been erased.
There’s no doubt that Google has democratized a feature that was once accessible only to creative professionals and made it easy to use. However, you can turn to plenty of alternatives if you don’t own a Pixel 6 and some of them are even better at getting the job done.
Manuel Vonau and Zachary Kew-Denniss contributed to this article.
Timer light, optional exposure controls, and a clearer settings shortcut are among the changes
Prasham is a victim of Samsung’s marketing — he ended up choosing the S3 Mini over the Nexus 4. He has been writing about phones ever since and has regretted not sharing affiliate links with those who have asked for his suggestions. Oh, he was also an urban farmer once but you better not ask him what crops he was growing.