SmartDraw for Mac is now a reality thanks to the release of SmartDraw Cloud. SmartDraw is probably the best alternative to Visio for Mac there is and in this in-depth review, we take a look at the all new SmartDraw Cloud on a Mac. For over 20 years, SmartDraw Desktop has only been available on PC but the launch of SmartDraw Cloud now enables users on all platforms including OS X to use SmartDraw’s popular diagramming software. The good news is that SmartDraw Cloud isn’t just a port of SmartDraw Desktop either and provides a genuine alternative to Microsoft Visio on Mac. From what we’ve seen, SmartDraw Cloud is just as good as SmartDraw Desktop which is a rarity in complex cloud computing apps such as these. All you need to use SmartDraw Cloud is an internet browser so this review will also be of interest to not only Mac users, but those on all platforms including PC, iPad and Android devices. Whichever platform you are using, you can also try a free trial of SmartDraw to judge for yourself.
- 1 SmartDraw For Mac: 6 Years In The Making
- 2 SmartDraw On Mac: Easy And Snappy
- 3 A Template For Every Occasion
- 4 Saving Work To Google Drive, OneDrive and Dropbox
- 5 Edit On iPad and iPhone
- 6 The First Online Diagramming Software To Use Vector Graphics
- 7 SmartDraw vs Visio
- 8 SmartDraw vs Office
- 9 SmartDraw vs Lucidchart
- 10 Conclusion
SmartDraw For Mac: 6 Years In The Making
Over the past 20 years, SmartDraw has established itself as one of the biggest rivals to Microsoft Visio. The stats behind SmartDraw are impressive – over 22 million downloads, 1 million customers including many Fortune 500 businesses such as Pepsi, GM and FedEx, 34,000 symbols and 4,500 templates on almost every conceivable subject. What really separates SmartDraw from Visio however is its all round ease of use compared to Visio. SmartDraw isn’t just “Visio lite” though – it’s very powerful but it automates a lot of things that take time in MS Visio.
6 years ago the San Diego based team at SmartDraw decided it was time to branch-out beyond Windows to embrace all platforms, including Mac. SmartDraw Cloud was thus born but it’s testament to how complicated it was that it took 6 years to realize the project. For example, the SmartDraw team decided to replace the pixelated rasterized bitmap graphics that most cloud applications use with higher quality, smooth, clear vector graphics so that it looked just like the Windows desktop version. The technical complexities of this added years of development time onto the project but the result is that SmartDraw is the only online diagramming software that uses high quality vector graphics. Even cloud applications such as Microsoft’s Office 365 still don’t allow users the full functionality of the desktop version which illustrates how hard it is to put everything online into one package. It’s clear that the aim of SmartDraw Cloud is to eventually replace the desktop product completely so if you are already a SmartDraw Desktop user, you’ll probably have to move to SmartDraw Cloud at some point anyway.
To get an idea of the challenges the SmartDraw team faced in putting it in the cloud, it’s quite interesting to listen to them talk about how it was done:
SmartDraw On Mac: Easy And Snappy
To get going with SmartDraw, you simply sign-up for a SmartDraw account and within seconds, you’re on the main SmartDraw dashboard. The first thing you notice is that SmartDraw is extremely fast. There’s almost no lag as you use SmartDraw and it really is as if you were using it on desktop. Of course, some of the performance depends on your internet connection but as long as it’s steady, you’ll find SmartDraw extremely snappy.
One of the main attractions of SmartDraw is the ease of use compared to Visio. The development team claims that both the interface and ease of use were at the center of the development process and it’s hard to argue they haven’t achieved that. Creating visuals is extremely easy, mainly due to the simplicity of the interface but also to the thousands of templates available. The interface is far more streamlined than Microsoft Visio or Adobe Illustrator and therefore nowhere near as intimidating. It never feels like it gets in your way and it’s easy to access tools and assets when you need them.
A Template For Every Occasion
Templates are of course nothing new in diagramming applications but it’s the sheer choice of both templates and objects in SmartDraw that impresses. SmartDraw leaves Visio standing with 4,500 templates on everything from CAD designs, flowcharts and org charts to mind maps, brainstorming charts and even crime scenes. SmartDraw also has 34,000 objects, items and clip-art to choose from (compared to 1,840 in Lucidchart) with which to illustrate these templates making the depth and breadth of SmartDraw very rich indeed. The result is that whatever kind of diagram you need to produce – whether it be a flowchart, CAD design or planogram – the likelihood is that SmartDraw has both the templates and objects for you to get it done as quickly and professionally as possible. What really puts the smart into SmartDraw however is the way the templates react intelligently to changes. So for example, if you make a change to a branch, line or object, SmartDraw automatically readjusts and re-balances the entire chart or diagram so that there are no holes or gaps. This is in contrast to Visio and most other diagramming software where you have to manually fill the gaps. If you’re making multiple edits or deletes, this saves a significant amount of time and hassle identifying where you need to plug the holes. You can see this in action more clearly when creating an Org Chart in SmartDraw:
Note however that not all templates are automated. There are currently 30 automated templates in SmartDraw Cloud in all with the most commonly used ones such as Flowchart, Network Diagram, Organizational Chart and Decision Tree included.
To select a templates, you simply go to the Template Browser Screen you have a selection of templates along the left-hand column. When you select one, you’ll then see some template previews to choose from, depending on how you want your design to look. For instance if you choose Engineering & CAD, you get the choice of diagrams. If you select Circuit Panels, you’ll then see the Circuit Diagrams sub-category. In the Template Preview, then select the kind of layout you want. You can return to the Template Screen at any time by clicking on the Document-SmartDraw browser tab. When you open a template, it will open in a new tab in your browser. There’s no need to save anything as SmartDraw Cloud automatically saves everything.
When a template is open, you will see the SmartPanel to the left of the drawing area. All objects and symbols are high quality 3D vector images and each template has hundreds of symbols. If you’re a Visio user, you’ll notice that the symbols and images provided in SmartDraw are noticeably more modern, varied and better illustrated than in Microsoft Visio.
If you need more, there are a mind-boggling 34,000 that you can search. To access them, simply select the More drop down and select More Symbols. Search for the type of symbols or images you’re looking for and you’ll then see appropriate library. Simply click OK and Add Library.
Saving Work To Google Drive, OneDrive and Dropbox
Anything you do in SmartDraw is saved automatically on its own servers. However, if you want to save files to an online storage solution, you can save directly to Google Drive, OneDrive and Dropbox. All you have to do is register SmartDraw with the online service you want to save work to. You can then share diagrams with other users via those services or alternatively, you can share via email by selecting Share from the Menu Bar and assign permissions to it.
Edit On iPad and iPhone
Since it’s web-based, you can access SmartDraw Cloud on any mobile device including iPhone and iPad. Using SmartDraw on iPad provides exactly the same responsive experience as on Mac and while we wouldn’t advise trying to edit a diagram on an iPhone, it’s useful if you need to make last-minute edit. You can also enable and disable editing to prevent unauthorized or accidental edit being made to diagrams while you are on the move.
The First Online Diagramming Software To Use Vector Graphics
One of the things that impresses most about SmartDraw Cloud is the crispness and clarity of the images and graphics. Due to the technicalities of using vector graphics online, all other online diagramming software uses bitmap graphics but SmartDraw Cloud is the first one to use vector graphics instead. If you’re a design professional, you’ll already know that bitmap graphics are rasterized and as a result, look pixellated and blurry when you zoom-in. Not so with vector graphics – the edges are smooth and straight so that the image retains quality no matter how far you zoom in.
The closest equivalent of SmartDraw is Lucidchart which uses bitmap graphics and you can see below the difference in quality between symbols in the two diagramming apps:
SmartDraw vs Visio
The big question however is how does SmartDraw Cloud measure up against the power and clout of Microsoft’s Visio? SmartDraw has never intended to take-on Visio head to head, with all the technicalities and complexities of Microsoft’s industry leading software. It’s aim has always been to provide a far more user-friendly alternative to Visio and SmartDraw Cloud has certainly solidified that position. Long time Visio users will no doubt look at SmartDraw and think it looks too simplistic to be a serious alternative to Visio but the fact is there is little you can’t do with SmartDraw than you can do in Visio. One of the biggest advantages of course is that SmartDraw is now accessible on any platform, not just Windows as is the case with Visio. SmartDraw on Mac can read and edit Visio files and both the templates and objects library are far superior. The one thing SmartDraw can’t do is export Visio files, open Visio VST stencils or Visio VTX templates but the choice of templates and stencils in SmartDraw does compensate for this. Visio file export support will also be added soon too according to the development team.
In terms of learning curve, SmartDraw is definitely much easier to learn and use with far more clear and easy to follow tutorial videos. The way smart templates automatically re-balance and adjust is something definitely missing from Visio where asymmetrical diagrams or broken connectors are easier to miss in large diagrams. We also liked the way that text boxes and shapes adjust to the amount of text you enter into them rather than spilling-out as it tends to do in Visio if you add a lot of text to diagrams. The formatting throughout SmartDraw is always being automatically managed meaning that it always adjust diagrams to make them look neat and professional, whereas in Visio the formatting has to be done manually and can be very tedious, time-consuming and frustrating.
We tested importing and editing a Visio org chart in SmartDraw and the results were impressive. You can see the results and see how we found SmartDraw vs Visio in our video below:
You can also watch Visio and SmartDraw in action side-by-side below to see for yourself some of the main differences between the two applications:
SmartDraw vs Office
If you live within the Microsoft Office for Mac ecosystem, Visio will obviously be more integrated into your daily workflow than SmartDraw. And if you just want to create simple diagrams, Microsoft Office drawing tools are accessible directly from the ribbon where you can select Shapes, SmartArt or Chart.
This is fine if you just need to do basic sketches or diagrams and there’s really no need to use a professional diagramming software like SmartDraw. But if you’re aiming to create something more complex than just a basic flowchart, the drawing tools in Microsoft Office are extremely frustrating, not to mention their a very few templates. Making changes in large diagrams also gets very messy in Office and it takes a lot longer to manually adjust them to make them symmetrical and organized again.
SmartDraw exports to Microsoft Office format although the reality is that the file it exports in SmartDraw Cloud isn’t editable in Microsoft Office. Rather it’s an image that you can paste into Office applications such as Word. In the desktop version of SmartDraw for Windows, you can actually embed diagrams into Office documents and right-click on them to edit them in Word. This is missing from the Cloud version along with charts and tables and it would be nice to see this added to the online version of SmartDraw.
For a more detailed looks at how creating diagrams in Office compares to SmartDraw, watch this:
SmartDraw vs Lucidchart
The closest equivalent to SmartDraw currently available is Lucidchart. Although SmartDraw has been on the market for more than twice as long as Lucidchart, Lucidchart already has a cloud version and has therefore stolen a march on SmartDraw over the past few years. As a result, it’s gained a lot of traction with Mac users and although it doesn’t have a native Mac client, it does have a Google Chrome extension which allows you to launch Lucidchart from your Mac desktop and even work offline if you want to. Lucidchart can also import and export Visio stencils and templates in VST and VSD format which are features still missing from SmartDraw (although it can import Visio files, it still can’t export them although the development team claim this will be added soon).
However when it comes to overall features and functionality, SmartDraw Cloud definitely leaves it standing. SmartDraw has 4,500 templates compared to Lucidchart’s 125 with 34,000 symbols versus 1,840. Lucidchart supports saving to Google Drive like SmartDraw but SmartDraw also supports Microsoft OneDrive and Dropbox. But it’s from a usability standpoint that SmartDraw really excels over Lucidchart. The SmartDraw SmartPanel contains symbols and tools that are specific to the diagram template you’ve chosen, whereas Lucidchart requires a lot more manual searching of relevant objects. Perhaps more importantly, Lucidchart’s templates don’t intelligently adjust to changes like those in SmartDraw and you can automatically adjust the space and sizing of a chart in SmartDraw whereas Lucidchart is more rigid. Lucidchart also suffers from some of the formatting issues found in Visio such as failing to automatically adjust boxes to text entered.
There are also differences between specific templates in Lucidchart and SmartDraw. For instance SmartDraw shows dimensions for both walls and objects which you can adjust simply by typing which isn’t possible in Lucidchart. There are other small tweaks such as the ability to set the thickness of a wall and flip doors and windows too that make SmartDraw a little easier to work with.
SmartDraw has produced a video to illustrate some of the differences between it and Lucidchart here:
Whilst Microsoft has outsourced much of its support abroad, especially to India, SmartDraw remains rooted to San Diego where it was established 22 years ago. However, support isn’t 24/7 like Microsoft’s but you can contact SmartDraw support via phone and email Monday to Friday 6 AM to 5 PM PST.
It’s been a long time in the pipeline but SmartDraw can now boast a serious alternative to Visio on Mac with SmartDraw Cloud. Experienced Visio users will be surprised at just how easy and automated SmartDraw makes things compared to Visio while new users will find a far gentler learning curve than opting for Visio on Windows. SmartDraw also feels more forward-looking than Visio with little touches like integration with Google Maps, Google Drive, Dropbox and smart templates which save so much time and hassle by auto adjusting to changes. You also get everything in one package with SmartDraw Cloud – Visio comes in three different versions – Standard, Pro and Office 365 and the Standard version has a limited toolset compared to the latter two. Although Visio isn’t available on Mac, even for Windows users that are not already Office 365 subscribers, SmartDraw represents a competitive deal. Visio Standard costs $299 and Visio Professional $589.99 up front. SmartDraw Cloud costs $14.95 per month although Visio Pro for Office 365 costs $13.00 per month if you bill annually or $15.50 for a monthly commitment.
- Easier and quicker to use compared to Microsoft Visio
- Thousands of templates and shapes
- Imports and exports Visio files
- No native desktop client
- No support for Visio file export
- No support for Visio VST or VTX templates