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Gadgets & Home Improvement

Instagram for Android: Can be better

The popular iOS photo-sharing app finally arrives on the Android platform - minus some features.
The Straits Times - April 18, 2012
By: May Chua
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Instagram for Android: Can be better -- PHOTO: GOOGLE PLAY STORE

 

I have never been much of a shutterbug. But in the past week, I have taken three times as many photos as I usually do, and am constantly looking to snap and share scenes from the world around me.

It is all because of Instagram.

It is a free app that lets you snap squarish photos, apply any of 17 artful filters and optional frames, and share them with the Instagram community and other social networks.

It won Apple's 2011 iPhone App of the Year award, after appearing for the first time in the App Store only in October2010. It now has more than 30million registered users.

When it was launched in the Google Play Store on April 3, Instagram for Android netted a million new users in half a day. This massive user database has now been inherited by Facebook, thanks to Team Zuckerberg's surprise $1.3billion acquisition last week.

The birth of Instagram for Android marked the end of the app's exclusivity to the Apple platform. This is because some enraged iOS fanboys protested on Twitter, bemoaning it as an intrusion by a group of smartphone users they perceive as lacking in taste.

It has taken the previously iOS-exclusive app more than a year to come to the Android platform because, explained one of the app's co-founders, MrKevin Systrom, 'had we tried to be both on Android and iPhone at the same time, it would've been tough to innovate in the way that we have'.

Was it worth the wait?

Yes and no.

As an image-sharing, mobile social network, Instagram is hard to beat. Its pretty filters, huge community and ability to let users 'like' and comment on one another's photos make it fun and engaging. This is why so many had awaited its Android debut. Their excitement mounted last month when MrSystrom announced its imminent arrival and claimed that 'in some ways, it's better than our iOS app', but gave nothing away.

At first glance, the Android version looks like a clone of the iOS original. The same five tabs are ensconced in the same spot at the bottom of the screen and all the filters are in place. But a side-by -side comparison with its iOS sibling reveals that the newcomer is not better. In fact, some features present in the iOS version are missing.

The first difference I noticed is that the tilt-shift tool which blurs parts of the image, so as to highlight others you want to emphasise, is missing from the Android app.

Not being able to vary depth of field is disappointing, especially since part of Instagram's allure is that it gives that professional veneer to your pictures.

Also missing is the 'live preview' feature in the iOS version, which lets you see filters and frames before you take the shot.

But of course, as in the iOS version, you can opt to press the shutter first, then take your time to apply the various effects to see which works best for you. After applying the filter, you can post the picture simultaneously on Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare and Tumblr.

So far, that is three options less than the iOS version, which includes e-mail, the photo-sharing service Flickr and blog service Posterous.

Instagram has promised to bridge these differences in future updates.

Another grouse is that the Android app is slightly slower than the original, especially when you scroll through the photo feed, or post your masterpiece. While the iPhone version takes you straight to the posting screen after you apply a filter, the Android version pauses for a few seconds to process the image.

On the upside, there is one aspect I found superior in the Android version. You can search for users and photo tags directly from the profile tab instead of having to navigate through the sub-menus in the iOS version.

Also, tapping on the profile tab immediately brings up your profile, instead of the settings menu. This is useful if what you want is to view your photos and see how many followers you have amassed, instead of editing the options.

Another plus point is that the app is, on the whole, beautiful, smooth and snappy by Android standards. In the Play store, critics have lamented its paucity of effects compared with other camera apps.

But Instagram's automatic image-enhancing tool (represented by the sun icon), which instantly transforms an amateurish snapshot into a more polished and professional-looking photo, is still a rare killer tool.

On the whole, Instagram for Android is worth a try - if only to see what the fuss is all about - as it is a well-built app that lets you create and share beautiful images in a fun, addictive way. But we hope the missing features come soon.

No one likes to feel like a second-class citizen.

Don't like Instagram? Here are five free alternatives with their own image filters and social networks

Hipster

Available on: iOS, Android

A beautiful app that encourages users to label their images and share them as virtual postcards with friends on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Foursquare and Flickr. Each pretty filter comes with its own matching font. This app is especially good for travelling, as the default text is always the name of your current location.

PicPlz

Available on: iOS, Android

PicPlz is one of the more popular cross-platform photo-sharing apps that are competing with Instagram.

It is easy to see why.

This feature-rich app lets you scribble on the pictures and add text, as well as tweak brightness and contrast.

Streamzoo

Available on: iOS, Android

Use Streamzoo if you do not want to hang around and wait for the tilt-shift effect to come to Instagram for Android.

This app is one for the competitive - it challenges you to unlock badges by garnering a certain number of followers or uploading photos and videos to selected streams. You earn points to get on the leaderboard.

Lightbox Photos

Available on: Android

This slick Android-only app is a great alternative if you want to get away from the iPhone snobs on Instagram. Lightbox has the most filters of the apps on this list, with 20 effects, including an 8-bit one that mimics the graphics in retro video games.

Getting a free account creates a Lightbox photo blog to which your photos will be automatically uploaded.

PicYou

Available on: iOS

Try this iOS-only app if you do not like the idea of Facebook running Instagram. Its interface is very similar to Instagram's, so converters will feel right at home.

Like PicPlz and Lightbox, PicYou is integrated with its website so you can view your feeds and upload pictures as well as apply filters from your computer too.

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