Dating apps kind of suck — just ask anyone between the ages of 21 and 35. Despite this, they’ve become the normal way to meet people and ask them out. This puts many of us in a difficult position. Because everyone else is using dating apps, it’s tough to avoid using them ourselves. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle.
To help you navigate the deluge of dating apps flooding the market, we’ve picked some of the best dating apps, as well as some of those that bring something unique to the table. And if that wasn’t enough, we’ll also offer our expert opinions on their accessibility, foibles, pratfalls, best intended uses, and everything else in between. Hopefully, Cupid’s arrow is in your favor!
Tinder is one of the most famous dating apps out there, and the obvious first choice on our list of the best dating apps. As successful as it is at forming long-distance relationships and successful marriages, Tinder has long been accused of changing dating into some form of hookup game. But it’s the king of the dating hill for a reason and the first port-of-call for many daters.
The Tinder app no longer requires you to have a Facebook account in order to enable it, but you do have to be older than 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 still choose to create a profile using your Facebook profile if you want. You can also link your Tinder account to your Instagram, and include info about your employer and/or 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 you’re logged in through your Facebook account). You can also choose to swipe right (to like them), left (to pass), or up if you want to use one of your precious “super likes” to show them you really really like them. If you and another person 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 one of the most popular dating apps, too (hitting almost 50 million users back in late 2014), 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, and without it, OkCupid loses a level of reliability.
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Coffee Meets Bagel does require logging in through your Facebook in order to create a profile. 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, recommending the app to your friends, or logging in on consecutive days.
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 icebreakers 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 better. 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, 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 letdown if you’re actually enjoying the app or are serious about finding a date.
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The only iOS-only app on this list (Apple users don’t like matching with Android users, apparently), Tastebuds is a dating app that uses musical taste to guess who you’re compatible with. You can link it to your Facebook account if you like, but you’re not forced to. You can also make your profile as detailed or sparse as you like — character limits for each question, mostly centered on music, are pretty high. Once you’re set up, you can flick through individual profiles to view all the information the user has included, including song clips from artists they like. You can “like” a person if interested, and if not, simply “skip” them. You can even send a song or message users before or after they match with you.
The overall experience is also enjoyable. The user interface is clean and simple, and creating your profile is uncomplicated, allowing you to use both Facebook and non-Facebook photos. Even if profiles are a bit long, they’re never cumbersome and only include what you actually filled out. Listening to a song that the person likes while scrolling through their profile is also an added personal touch, as is being able to send someone a song. It’s the updated, truncated version of making someone a mixtape. Moreover, a lot of people use the app to find friends and concert buddies, as well as dates. Of all the information dating apps use to determine compatibility, music seems the least arbitrary.
Unfortunately, Tastebuds is not without its drawbacks. There isn’t a place in the app to see all people you’ve matched with — just those with whom you’ve started a messaging thread. The app also only plays clips of songs and they occasionally stall, which is annoying, especially when someone has a longer profile and a good song selection. Possibly our biggest complaint with Tastebuds, though, is that it is very easy to accidentally skip someone you didn’t mean to skip. There are a few reasons it’s easy to unintentionally skip someone, most of which have to do with the way the app is laid out. Simple fixes, such as positioning the “like” button on the right and using a different motion to view additional profile photos, would help immensely. We can dream, right?
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