Meal Snap — Calorie Counting Magic iPhone app doesn’t dazzle

Apr 19, 2011
Tech

Meal Snap — Calorie Counting Magic boasts a magic touch, claiming to automatically detect what foods you’re eating and their caloric value using only a photo. Based on its description, Meal Snap should be the ideal companion for calorie-conscious iPhone and iPod Touch users, but, sadly, Meal Snap’s magic is an illusion with a high […]

Meal Snap — Calorie Counting Magic boasts a magic touch, claiming to automatically detect what foods you’re eating and their caloric value using only a photo. Based on its description, Meal Snap should be the ideal companion for calorie-conscious iPhone and iPod Touch users, but, sadly, Meal Snap’s magic is an illusion with a high price tag.

Meal Snap only claims to estimate the calorie counts, however, the estimates are so widely varied — and always wrong — that I have to question the usefulness of the app on the whole. Whenever you have a meal or a snack, you’re supposed to snap a photo of your food, and add a caption if you want. The app uses the current time to automatically place the food to its meal, and you can opt to share your eats over Twitter, Facebook or Foursquare. The app also offers geotagging, but strangely requires a Wi-Fi connection, even on iPhone, to work. The app is able to grab its food information over 3G, so I’m not sure of the reasoning here.

After you’ve entered your information, Meal Snap slowly goes to work identifying your food and providing calorie info. I first tried to get the app to count the calories of a photo of food from a magazine, but Meal Snap told me it was “not food.” Touche! Then I set about photographing random items from my kitchen — primarily processed junk that I could easily see the correct calorie info for. The app came close for its range of 150-225 calories for an English muffin and orange, but that was as good as it got.  Because of the large discrepancy in count, I considered that the app might not be able to account for camera proximity and depth when calculating, so I took four photos at varying angles of the same dish — whole wheat cheese ravioli. The first photo named the food ravioli, and estimated 199-298 calories. The second and third photos both came up with momos at 45-68 calories, while the fourth, “bowl of ravioli without sauce,” clocked in at 215-323. In actuality the pasta was in a family-size bowl holding upward of 700 calories. Perhaps the app assumes the user is eating proper serving sizes, but this doesn’t help counters working on portion control. Two mini white chocolate Reese’s Cups came back at 271-407 cals. With the package label showing five cups for 230 calories, I have no clue where Meal Snap’s info is coming from.

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The real magic of Meal Snap is how much information you include in your caption. When I included this info, my results did improve, but I don’t like that Meal Snap claims to identify based on the photo if (more likely) it’s using the keywords you provide.

All of your meals are displayed by date, so you can look back to see exactly what you ate, when. You can edit the descriptions, and share at any time, but there’s no option to manually edit the calorie counts, something that would increase Meal Snap’s usefulness tenfold. Despite its flaws, I did find Meal Snap — Calorie Counting Magic fun to play with, even just from the novelty of “Will this actually work?” But $3 is too much to spend on an app comprised of bogus magic.

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Kathryn Swartz

Kathryn Swartz is a freelance writer/editor who doesn't know how people lived pre iPhone. She attended the Missouri School of Journalism.

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