These days, most of us carry pretty decent cameras in our pockets everywhere we go. Smartphones allow us to capture more video footage than ever before, but much of that content isn’t fit for viewing. At least not yet.
No one wants to watch my 30-second struggle to focus a camera, or my kids arguing over which way the pants on LEGO characters go. This is where some simple editing can make the difference between cringe-worthy images and a polished video.
If you’re already feeling intimidated, know there’s no need for expensive, high-end editing software, or delicate equipment that requires you to put another mortgage in your house. Basic video editing programs can be more than enough if you’re putting together slideshows, or mashing up vacation highlights. Some are even friendly enough to allow kids to make their first movies and shows, like mine just did.
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WeVideo, Animotica, and FilmoraGo are three easy-to-use video editing programs with usable free memberships that include all the features most people will ever need.
For low-cost editing software, WeVideo has a great range of features. It looks and feels like a mainstream video editing platform, but runs directly from a web browser, so you can access your account from anywhere. If you’re doing some editing on the go, WeVideo also offers stripped-down but still well-featured apps for both iOS and Android.
This platform has all of the standard features you’d expect, allowing you to trim clips, add music, write text, import photos and video, and play around with fun transitions and cuts. WeVideo works around tracks, which function similarly to layers in image editing. These let you organize and rename your project elements however you want.
WeVideo also syncs with Google Drive, Dropbox, Box, Facebook, Instagram, and OneDrive. This means it’s easy for users to bring in assets from those services, but also upload or post videos on them directly from the program. WeVideo also offers an extensive library of both free and premium content ranging from music and stock images, to clips, backgrounds, and transitions.
If you have some experience with video editing, this tool will feel intuitive and easy. If you don’t, there’s WeVideo Academy, an extensive support library featuring all kinds of content to help users create great projects. You’ll find tutorials ranging from the basics of video editing to instructions on the more advanced techniques this platform offers.
The biggest limitations of the free account are the WeVideo watermark in the corner of all your videos, and the limit of only five minutes of edited video a month. Maybe this is plenty for the project you have in mind, but it can become a problem if you need to make changes and have to re-export.
If you’re looking for something a bit more intuitive, Animotica is a great choice for Windows users—it’s not currently available anywhere else. The interface is clean and simple, and it’s easy to find what you’re looking for. Labels are large and explicit, and it’s not difficult to locate the various control menus.
Click the pencil-shaped “edit” icon located directly on the clip you’re working on, and the full list of editing options will appear at the bottom of the window. Within the menus, choices are similarly clear and obvious, and don’t require minute manipulation or previous understanding of how top-tier editing programs work.
But that simplicity can be limiting. It takes some time to get used to the lack of traditional tracks, which makes organizing clips more difficult. Likewise, the fact that sound effects are attached to a video clip rather than sitting as an individual track makes more complex sound design challenging.
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However, these limitations are also what makes Animotica so easy to use. My kids and I edited several videos they shot in about an hour. While they’re still too young to be able to use the software themselves, by the end of that hour they fully understood how it worked, and were pointing to exactly what they wanted done. If 5-year-olds can understand the software in under an hour, I have no doubt that just about anyone can.
If you struggle with any part of the software, Animotica has an extensive support content. I didn’t find the articles and videos as specific and intuitive as the ones on WeVideo’s help library, but they get the job done.
Beyond the easy-to-use interface that’s great for novices and kids alike, Animotica’s free offering is quite robust. It comes with unlimited exports and video projects, and all of its basic features, including video cropping, transitions, sound effects, and more.
The only real limitations are the limited resolution and the small Animotica Watermark in the bottom right corner of all free videos. For those trying to produce more professional quality work, Animotica has two paid plans at $6.99 and $15.99. They give users a lifetime license for a limited or full set of features respectively, making even this paid version a much more affordable alternative than many other services.
Animotica is free to download for Windows, with upgraded lifetime memberships starting at $6.99.
If you’re just looking for an editing solution to tweak and upload quick videos from your phone, then FilmoraGo is a solid option. The full editing suite is a paid program for Windows and Apple, but a robust and feature-filled version is also available as an excellent mobile app for iOS and Android.
The interface is clean and intuitive, with clear touch points and helpful pop-up hints describing how to use various features when you first open the app. You can add video, photos, or music from your phone to the linear timeline, and then trim, split and reorder those clips with a simple touch and draft interface.
Creating transitions is similarly easy—just touch the transition box visible between each clip and select one of the free stock options. You can also upgrade your membership to get access to advanced transitions and other assets.
[Related: It’s time to pick a better smartphone photo editing app]
Like WeVideo and Animotica, FilmoraGo also has a small help section that walks users through each tool. These in-app guides are not as comprehensive as the other products on this list, or even as the guides available for the larger Filmora software. But they’re still a useful support that can help remind you how the app works and what each tool does.
For simple editing right on your phone, FilmoraGo is a great, basic option on the go, provided you don’t mind the logo watermark in the bottom right of your final videos. It’s also an easy and intuitive platform for your kids to learn on their phone or tablet.