Dating apps kind of suck — just ask anyone between the ages of 22 and 35. Despite this, they’ve become the normal way to meet people and ask them out. This puts you in a tough spot. Because everyone else is using dating apps, it’s tough to avoid using them, too. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle. To help you navigate all the choices out there, we’ve picked eight of the most prevalent dating apps — or those that bring something unique to the table — along with our expert opinions on their accessibility, foibles, pratfalls, best intended uses, and everything else in between.
And we tried them. Each and every one.
While we can’t promise you won’t encounter an unwanted pornographic pic or a complete loser, we can at least tell you what you might be in for with each of these apps. Hopefully Cupid’s arrow is in your favor!
First off, Tinder the app requires you to have a Facebook account in order to enable it, and you have to be over 18. Once enabled, you can set up a concise profile that consists of a 500-character bio and up to six images (we suggest always including a photo). You can also link your Tinder account to your Instagram, and include info about your employer and school. Discovery settings allow other users to find you, if desired, and set a few preferences regarding who you see. Then the real fun begins.
Tinder shows you a photo, name, and age. You can tap on the photo to see additional information regarding the person and Facebook friends you share (if any). You can also choose to swipe right (to like them), left (to pass), or up if you want use one of your precious “super likes” to show them you really really like them. If you and someone have both swiped right on one another, a screen will appear showing that you’ve matched and inviting you to send them a message. But most of the time, the Tinder experience will consist of flicking through profiles like channels on the television.
Tinder actually has one of the best user interfaces of any dating app around. The photos are large, the app is — comparatively speaking — svelte, and setting up your profile is pretty painless. Overall, Tinder gets an A for its usability. Also, no one can message you unless you have also expressed an interest in them, which means you get no unsolicited messages. While there are a fair few people on Tinder who use it strictly to collect swipes, many people are actually inclined to meet up in real life, which is not always the case with dating apps. Tinder is possibly the most popular dating app, too, meaning the likelihood of matching with someone you’re interested in who doesn’t live super far away is greater than with apps that have fewer users.
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OkCupid is one of the few dating apps that doesn’t require Facebook to sign up. You create a username and fill out a very long profile, which you can link to your Instagram account if you choose (which is, admittedly, almost Facebook). You can answer questions, giving both your answer and what you’d like your potential match’s answer to be. This creates a percentile score for users that reflects your “compatibility.” You can also choose to make your answers public and note how important they are to you.
All options, including those for accessing the settings and viewing profiles, are located in a slide-out menu. To browse for someone you like, you merely tap the “matches” option, which, oddly, does not show you the people you’ve matched with but rather the people you could potentially match with. If that interface is too chaotic for you, tap the “quickmatch” option, which restricts the results to photos only. You can like people or message them in a similar fashion to Tinder, but messaging is your better bet: Users can see who has liked them only if they have upgraded to “A-list” status.
OkCupid has as many downsides as Tinder, and fewer positive ones, with the exception of learning a lot more about your potential dating partners. The interface is extremely clunky and the photos are a little small. You also have to tap on a user’s small image to see a larger version and the person’s profile, which is simply too large for an app. It might work on a dating website where that much information would presumably be read on a larger screen, but it’s overkill on an app, and the amount of scrolling required makes it annoying to access. When you exit back to the list, there’s no guarantee that it’ll be in the same order or that it will return you to the spot you scrolled down to, making it extremely obnoxious to keep track of what you’ve already viewed. Worse, you can’t see who has liked you unless you pay for an upgrade.
Sadly, you also will only be able to see the five most recent visitors to your profile unless you pay for an upgrade and — worst of all — anyone can message you. Anyone. And they can message anything to you. If you don’t reply, they’ll probably just keep on messaging you, too. Frankly, some things can’t be unseen. Facebook verification helps block a percentage of bots and catfishers from creating accounts, so without it OkCupid loses a level of accountability.
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Coffee Meets Bagel
Coffee Meets Bagel is another dating app that piggybacks on Facebook. Once you’ve set up your profile and input your preferences, it will send you one “bagel” a day, which is essentially the profile of a potential match. You then have 24 hours to decide whether you want to “like” or “pass” on your bagel. If you like your bagel and they have also liked you, you’ll connect, meaning that you’ll be able to message one another in a private chat. That chat room expires after eight days, regardless of whether you’ve talked with your bagel or not. You can also earn “beans” that allow for extra app functions, either by purchasing them outright or recommending the app to your friends.
Props to Coffee Meets Bagel for having the cutest name of all the dating apps. The service also offers more specific preference options, meaning you can narrow your choices to certain religious beliefs or ethnicities, if those things are important to you. You can load up to nine photos and have a much more prolific profile, too, and if you’ve entered any ice breakers into your profile, the app will send one of them to a bagel you’ve connected with as the first message for greater convenience. The fact that the chat room expires after a week puts some pressure on you to exchange phone numbers or meet up in real life, or to just quietly fade away without any fuss. The interface is also relatively user-friendly, with large photos and clean text.
Appearances can be deceiving, though. Although Coffee Meets Bagel allows for a range of super specific preferences, the bagel it sends you may or may not match your specified preferences and, more often than not, if they do, they will be a significant distance away. The app can also be glitchy, often resulting in slow update and load times, and sometimes it’s frustrating that it sends you only a single bagel a day. You can speed things up a bit by using the “give & take” option, but it’ll cost you 385 beans to like someone who catches your eye.
The slow pace and infrequency of actually connecting with someone makes it all too easy to be super passive in the app, which can render it useless. In addition, once you like or pass someone, Coffee Meets Bagel asks you to specify your reasons for doing so, making you feel judgmental and kind of like a jerk if your answer is “unattractive.” The answers are only sent to the developers, who supposedly use the information to help better curate your resulting bagels. Still. Weird.
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Hinge is kind of like Tinder. Okay, it’s actually a lot like Tinder, but with a few key differences that make it superior. Interface-wise, it looks like Tinder’s younger sister. However, function-wise, it relies more on your Facebook friends to make connections for you. Hinge also connects you through friends of friends of friends, and shows you not just the people you have in common, but also all the things you have in common. It does this by having you answer a bunch of questions through a Tinder-like interface. Have you been to Berlin? Swipe right. Don’t play croquet? Swipe left. This makes answering questions far easier and less time consuming, not to mention more fun. The questions themselves aren’t as asinine as those in some other dating apps — ahem, Score — and give you a better sense of someone than 500 characters might.
If you want to know more about someone, you can always just ask the friend you have in common, which is a nice human touch that’s absent from most dating apps. Moreover, people can message you only if you’ve matched, so no unsolicited “greetings” from someone you would never match with. You can see what sort of relationship people are looking for, and while that doesn’t sound that revolutionary, it reflects the fact that Hinge carries more of a dating expectation than a just-hooking-up expectation à la Tinder. Furthermore, because of the friends-of-friends connection, you’re less likely to run across inappropriate photos. That’s a plus in our book.
You can only add photos of yourself from Facebook or Instagram, though, which is kind of limiting if you’re not very active on either. Also, while the friends-of-friends concept has a lot of benefits, it’s also restricting. It’s possible to run out of matches after 10 minutes of browsing, which is a let down if you’re actually enjoying the app or are serious about finding a date.
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