Smart Slider 3: Best New Free WordPress Slider

For the past year I have been recommending Cyclone Slider 2 as the best free WordPress Slider. But that has changed with the free version of Smart  Slider 3 contending for the top spot of free WordPress sliders. As we shall see the  two sliders are evenly matched so slight differences in features, ease of use, and performance make it a “you choose” decision on which free slider to use on your WordPress websites. But first lets address some lingering questions about slider usage.

A Word About Sliders

Over the past five years as slider usage has increased there has been a backlash in the design  community against sliders. The essential argument is that sliders are built not for customers but rather for business management to advocate for their rival services. A unified message gets lost. But much of the evidence is 3-4 years old and/or  incomplete. The conclusion is the best slider is a landing page – a one slide slider.. But in fact, some designers while decrying slider  are providing mixed messages themselves saying images are vital to websites and for customers to tell stories with visual content. But the most interesting trend is that designers who speak out against sliders are still using sliders themselves.

The bottom line is that sliders are vital to good web design, their use has to be mastered. Just like User Interface design in general sliders demand usage  discipline.. Four competing web  design goals have to be balanced:

  1. Attracting the users attentions and curiosity – slider strength
  2. Telling a compelling story about your product or service – inherently a slider advanatge
  3. Get the essential messages lined up and in order – easily said, harder to do
  4. Convincing the customer your solution is their solution – Bottom line purpose comes thru

Here are 2 free WordPress sliders plugins whose feature & /functionality help achieve these web design goals.

Sliders that Deliver Essential Features

Here is a list of features and functionality of the two sliders with an evaluation at the end of their relative capabilities.Note that this list of features puts both Cyclone and Smart Sliders ahead  of most free WordPress slider plugins.

1)As the web move toward more mobile phone and tablet usage[greater than 45% in the North America- see here for mobile stats], websites have to deliver mobile, responsive web pages. Many major sites still deliver for the desktop only – and old sliders often do not resize and fit in. Both Cyclone and Smart Sliders eliminate this problem as their slides are mobile responsive – automatically resizing desktop-size slides down to fit onto mobile phone screens.
Eval – equally capable.
2)Ability to deliver a images of fixed width slider sizes from small 240 x 160 pixels  for banners or sidebars to 1200 x 800 pixels or greater for desktops. But also deliver full page width, hero sliders that span the complete width of a page.
Eval – equally capable.
3)Support images, Youtube and Vimeo videos, HTML blocks,and text testimonials as slide objects. Cyclone does all four  as part of its interface; Smart Slider requires extra edit effort to deliver HTML blocks and testimonials.
Eval – advantage Cyclone.
4)Provide a range of slide transition animations. Smart Slider has more animation effects but less precise timing customization as well as no individual slide animations like Cyclone.
Eval – slight advantage to Smart.
5)Provide slider navigation elements like autoplay settings, next/prevous buttons, thumbnails, dots, keyboard enabling, mouse/swipe enabling, etc. Smart supports all of these while Cyclone is missing keyboard support.
Eval – roughly equally capable.
6)Allow for multiple layers on top of a slide  image. Cyclone supports a caption, description and  link button. Smart supports ,multiple captions, descriptions  and link buttons,. In addition. Smart allows for multiple images, and video on a slide.
Eval – distinct advantage to Smart.
7)Overall ease of use of slide setup and creation  is influenced by documentation and number of features. The docs are roughly equivalent with Smart having a slight advantage in video demos; however some of the videos use Smart Slider 3 Pro screenss. But overall, Cyclone interface is  easier to learn and use.
Eval – distinct advantage to Cyclone.
8)Runtime performance of the sliders is a bit tricky. . Here we have official Jan 2016 testing of Cyclone versus a number of free and .premium  sliders where Cyclone 2 is at the top of the field. In contrast, Smart is only subject to my limited testing which shows it following Cyclone.
Eval – slight advantage to Cyclone.
9)Ability to export and import sliders and to create specific design templates. Both sliders have good export and import options, and Smart has superior template creation but only in the Pro version.
Eval – roughly equally capable.
10)Pro version features and functionality. Here Smart Slider 3 challenges the best pro plugin, Slider Revolution.
Eval – distinct advantage to Smart.
So as you can see, the two free sliders compete fiercely in head to head  in overall features and performance. Lets take a look at each sliders screenshot using the same Allen Gardens Easter Bloom images>

Cyclone Slider 2 Screenshots

Cyclone slider wins the ease of use test for slider creation due to its well designed interface:
wpslidecyclonesetupUsrs can add slides in bulk fashion and its easier to do so. Each slide is loaded into an accordion that has an image thumbnail plus individual caption, link, image attributes, and slide transition effects. But the sidebar on the right contains global slider settings for name, autoplay, width& height settings, transition effects & timings, plus responsive design, pause on hover option, navigation controls, show prev/next button choice, and random order of slides options. Fill these in and you are set to go:

Color Brew
Lilies in Paint
Bird of Paradise
Pink Bounty
Light Bloom
For boxed or fixed width slider both Cyclone and Smart sliders worked flawlessly. But for full width sliders Cylone was theme dependent. It fills into the full width of the post containing wrapper. For some themes which have a master conainer as well as a content wrapper, this means the full width slider does not stretch edge to edge in the Web page. users then have to use CSSHero or direct CSS styling to get edge-to-edge slider performance or change themes. Generally, Cyclone sliders loaded quickly and responded to downsizing/upsizing quickly.

Smart Slider 3 Screenshots

As you can see from the screenshot, Smart Slider 3 setup is more complex than Cyclone:
wpslidesmartsetupAdding the slide images in bulk is straight forward; however figuring out how to make the slider-wide evrsus individual image settings was more challenging. Smart Slider has  videos as well as witten documentation; but the videos are geared to the Pro version and so the screenshots look and feel do not correspond. This does add to confusion for clients. But as noted a full range of options are available for setting up the slider and individual slides. And as for editing  buttons, captions, text, images, videos and other layers on a Smart slide, the drag and drop operations make for quick editing. So setup and slide creation defintely has a non-trivial learning curve.

Like Cyclone slider, Smart 3 produced flawless boxed, fixed width sliders but also full width ones too:

Pink in the grass
Bugles
Red Flora
Leafs Tropical
Pointilist Purple
Tiger Lily
Lily Trumpets
previous arrow
next arrow
PlayPause
Shadow
Slider

Because Smart 3 in the full-width case provides its own containers and relevant CSS it has no apparent theme dependency like Cyclone for full-width sliders. However, Smart emitted slider shortcode in the Category and Archive screens which contained full-width sliders which were corrected by some excerpt and meta option settings. So for full-width operation, both sliders have some bugs.

Summary

Cyclone 2 and Smart 3 Sliders both provide category leading features among the free WordPress slider plugins. The way I decide between them is by clients needs. Those clients who are less WordPress admin savvy and have predominately boxed slider needs, Cyclone Slider is chosen because of ease of use and good runtime performance. But for clients with likely expanded slider needs including layer animations and extensive template use on Slider Revolution level of sophistication, then Smart Slider 3 is  recommended . Since both sliders have robust free versions, download them both and try them out – and see which fills your requirements the best.