Tuesday 23 May 2017

Valentine's Day: the best dating apps tested

Tinder
Tinder

Rhiannon Williams and Cara McGoogan

In 2016, dating has gone truly digital.

Any stigma which may have surrounded searching for love online has been banished, and meeting for a mid-week Tinder date is no longer something people feel they have to lie about. An estimated one in five relationships is estimated to begin online, and the industry now generates more than $1.7bn annually.

But given how much choice is out there, how can you separate the wheat from the chaff? We've tried and tested some of the biggest dating apps for ease of use, design and, crucially, the likelihood of setting up a date for Valentine's Day.

OkCupid

Ok Cupid.png
OK Cupid

What is it?

OkCupid began life as a desktop site in 2004, and matches uses through a series of questions intended to reveal certain aspects of your personality; for example, ‘If you were to die, would whoever goes through your personal belongings be shocked by what they find?’ and ‘Would you consider sleeping with someone on a first date?’ Your answers are converted into a percentage, meaning the higher your match percentage with someone, the better the theoretical chance of your compatibility.

Your profile consists of a series of photos (no nudity allowed) and some generic bits of information - a self summary, favourite books, films, music, the six things you could never do without and a ‘you should message me if…’ section. When you visit someone’s profile, you can try and get their attention by liking them or sending them a message.

Who uses it?

OkCupid’s demographic seems to be more relationship-focused than Tinder’s, and is largely populated by young professionals in their twenties and thirties.

Typical message received

“You have so beautiful face and pretty smile I like u :)"

Pros

OkCupid has a clean interface and is fairly easy to navigate. In my opinion it places too much importance on match percentages - no one really seems to take much notice of them - and because it’s not as strictly location-based as other apps, you’re free to peruse potential partners in other countries should you so wish. The option to filter matches by ethnicity, age and certain key words is also useful for narrowing down potentials if you’ve got a certain type.

Cons

The object of your affection can see each and every time you visit their profile, making stalking more difficult than on other apps. Non A-List (e.g. paying) users can’t see who has ‘liked’ your profile, meaning you’ll rack up a whole lot of likes without having a clue who’s been lovingly dropping by.

Verdict

8/10

Happn

happn.jpg

What is it?

French-founded Happn is a location-based app which lists potential dates you’ve passed by in the street as one long, never-ending list of their main profile picture, age and job. Once you’ve tapped on their profile, you can check the exact point at which you crossed paths, on your commute or night out. You quickly work out those who live or work near you as you can see how many times you’ve crossed paths with each user, and can only strike up a conversation once you’ve mutually liked each other by tapping the heart button. You can try and catch their attention by sending them a charm, but be warned, this can look a bit desperate.

You set up a profile by linking to your Facebook account and selecting from up to nine photos on your phone’s camera roll, Facebook or Instagram, with the option to add in a bit of employment and education information should you want to. You can also sync your Instagram and Spotify accounts if you want to provide a bit more depth.

Who uses it?

Happn’s users, while generally in their twenties, rarely seem to message anyone once a match has been made.

Typical message received

The uninspired “Hi how are you?”

Pros

Unlike OKCupid, the fact you need to have liked each other to start a conversation bypasses the deluge of unwanted messages you’re likely to receive. It’s also quite fun to pinpoint the exact point at which you crossed paths with someone, unlike Tinder which just pulls potential matches from your chosen radius.

Cons

Using Happn is a fairly hands-off dating experience, there is no way to search for the beautiful stranger you passed several days back, and as the majority of users leave their profiles relatively blank, there’s not always a lot to go on.

Verdict

5/10

Tinder

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Tinder

What is it?

The bad boy of digital dating, Tinder was launched in 2012 and has quickly become one of the most popular dating apps in the world. Users are presented with a picture of their would-be love and given the option to swipe left for no or right for yes. It’s been criticised for its promotion of hot-or-not style military tactics, but with well over a billion swipes being made each day, I doubt charismatic founder Sean Rad loses any sleep over it. In fact, he has hired female employees he’d matched with on his own app in the past.

Create a profile in mere moments by linking Tinder to your Facebook account, choose your six most flattering shots and you’re away. Many other apps, including OKCupid, have incorporated its swiping featuring into their own offerings.

Who uses it?

Tinder’s core audience is young, social and connected. It recently introduced the ability to ‘like’ individual messages and illustrate your desire for your new match via gifs, so twenty and thirty-somethings.

Typical message received

“Lol u have a beautiful smile”. Messages tend to be pretty visual, as users don’t tend to write much about themselves.

Pros

Tinder is fun and fast-paced, requiring absolute minimum effort to set up and even less to actually use. Swiping quickly becomes addictive, and it’s quite easy to quickly swipe an arsenal of matches.

Cons

Possibly due to the ease of setting up a profile, it’s probably some Tinder users are less serious about finding The One than the inhabitants of match.com, for example. As a woman, you’re also likely to receive the odd unsolicited nude, and if you happen to accidentally swipe no on the partner of your dreams, the only way to turn back the clock is to pay a monthly fee for Tinder Plus. Priced from £3.99 for one month, enhanced membership also allows you to change your location, such as swiping in Ibiza ahead of an upcoming holiday.

Verdict

7/10

Plenty of Fish

Plenty of Fish.jpg

What is it?

One of the older dating services, Plenty of Fish has made notable appearances in music videos from Lady Gaga, Britney Spears and  Akon in the past, and is owned by the match.com group. Founded in 2003, it created its own app version in 2010.

Using a more traditional dating site format, users create a profile by answering an never-ending series of questions, from hair colour and the kind of relationship you’re seeking, to how ambitious you are and whether you want children. Once that’s complete, you’re encouraged to fill in sections about what makes you unique and your ideal first date. Oddly, PoF says it not allow married people to use its service, and helpfully provides a link to extra-marital affair site Ashley Madison, which was famously hacked last year. This is easily bypassed by exiting and reopening the app.

Users indicate their interest in others by rather lamely ‘sending a flirt’, a short flirty message, and browsing from a randomly-compiled rolling list of matches at the bottom of the main menu.

Frankly, the free version of PoF’s app is so poorly designed it in nigh-on unusable. The user interface looks terrible, matches are displayed without any apparent consideration for compatability, and compared to the newer, slicker apps, PoF looks desperately, awfully outdated.

Who uses it?

Plenty of Fish seems to attract an older user base than the newer apps, and seems best suited to those in the thirties and forties upwards.

Typical message received

‘Hi, I'm Shrek, will u be my Fiona?'

Pros

I'm sure there are many people out there who have had fulfilling and loving relationships after meeting on PoF. Maybe.

Cons

Shoddy design, slow to use, terrible matching algorithm.

Verdict

1/10

Match.com

Match.jpeg

What is it?

The granddaddy of online dating. Match.com was founded in 1995, and claims responsibility for the conception of more than one million babies and close to 100,000 mariages. The site prides itself on making astute matches, which it achieves through asking a series of key questions when creating your profile - have you been married, do you smoke, do you want children.

The app is free to register for and to browse potential matches for the first three days, after which you're prompted to subscribe. You cannot fully read received messages or see who has viewed your profile without paying for full access.

Once you've coughed up, you can subtly 'wink' at a profile that catches your eye to get their attention, or message them directly.

Who uses it?

Though Match.com has a more traditional image than say, Tinder, there are plenty of people in their twenties and thirties as well as older users. Given the subscription fee, users are probably more interested in meeting someone for a long-term relationship than some users on some of the free platforms.

Typical message received

"Hello, how's it going? Fancy chatting?"

Pros

Match.com's app looks great - it's clean, intuitive and simple to use. It also has an enormous user base, and comprehensive ways of whittling down suitors on the fully paid version.

Cons

With so many adequate dating apps available for free, it's difficult to justify having to fork out around £30 a month, depending on whether you choose to purchase a one month, three month or yearly subscription.  Its search filtering is also less sophisticated than OKCupid's.

Verdict

7/10

Bumble

Bumble.jpg

What is it?

Set up by Tinder co-founder Whitney Wolfe, Bumble is a female-first dating app, meaning the ladies have to message first. Bumble works on the same swipe left or right basis as Tinder, and is much the same as the world’s most popular dating app, but with a twist - the girl has just 24 hours to message before the potential date disappears. Men can extend this time for a further 24 hours if they’re really keen.

Create a profile in moments by connecting to your Facebook and Instagram accounts. The most successful Bumble profiles contain six images, a job title, education background and a funny quip, according to Wolfe. Bumble tells you if you have any mutual friends and how how far away from one another you are.

Who uses it?

Bumble’s crowd is super attractive. Almost too good to be true. It’s mostly a young professional and creative crowd, made up of people in their mid to late twenties.

Typical message received

“Snog, marry avoid? Mila Kunis, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley and Jennifer Lawrence”

Pros

You can basically just swipe right (yes) to everyone, because they’re so attractive. The women-first design and rules mean that conversation is generally of a higher calibre.

Cons

Are the users too good-looking to be true? Conspiracies abound as to whether there are fake profiles on Bumble, but Wolfe assured the Telegraph all profiles are legitimate. With just over 500,000 users in the UK, you'll often run out of matches - an obvious negative.

Verdict

9/10

Hinge

hinge.jpg

What is it?

Hinge is much like Tinder and Bumble, but only gives you 20 potential matches a day. It works on a swipe left, swipe right basis and shows you people that you’re loosely connected with through Facebook. Once you’ve matched you have two weeks to talk to one another before the match disappears. You set up a profile in the same way as Tinder and Bumble - through Facebook.

Hinge recently started getting users to swipe on yes or no questions after their matches to try and give them better pairings. These questions include “Have you ever been to South America?”, “Have you done any water sports?” and “Do you speak Japanese?” It uses these to give matches conversation starters like “X meet X. You’ve both been attacked by sea creatures.”

Who uses it?

Young professionals and creative types in their mid to late twenties

Typical message received

“Hey! How’s it going?” Classic formula.

Pros

Hinge often shows you people that see you at a similar time so you’re likely to match now or never. More often than not the feed of 20 will contain people that have already seen you and swiped right - saves those wasted swiping hours.

Cons

Not everyone wants their dates to be mutual friends, or vague connections with their Facebook friends.

Verdict

8/10

Once

Once.jpg

What is it?

Once bills itself as a straightforward app that gives you “one handpicked match per day”. You then have 24 hours in which you can pick your next match, or wait to be presented with one. It has 120 matchmakers working behind the scenes that supposedly select the “best match possible” out of its 600,000 users. Unlike other apps you’re free to message your match before they approve of you.

In reality Once is quite confusing. Sometimes it drops you a second match of the day for no reason - who knows what the rules are any more. And after you’ve had your one match you get the opportunity to pick tomorrow’s out of a line up. You can do this once or subscribe to “Infinite” for £7.99 a month. The subscription lets you message anybody, get unlimited pics and information about whether your match has read your message.

Who uses it?

Once is geared to people who don’t want to waste hours swiping and chatting. The longer wait time means the crowd is more likely to be looking time and energy into their matches.

Typical message received

“Hey, you seem like a good partner in crime :)”

Pros

Once claims it has a 62 per cent connection rate, and its one match a day policy stops you from wasting hours swiping. It also claims it won’t awkwardly match you with any unwanted old school mates, but one of those did crop up for me.

Cons

It’s a bit confusing, and you could be waiting weeks before seeing someone you’re compatible with.

Verdict

5/10

Coffee Meets Bagel

Coffee Meets Bagel.jpg

What is it?

Another take on slow dating, Coffee Meets Bagel is as confusing than Once. It launched in the US in 2013 with a promise to match users with one person a day. That person is connected through your Facebook friends and looking for “something real”. To help curate the best candidates, Coffee Meets Bagel asks users to give a reason whenever they reject a potential match. The list includes “want better photos”, “nothing in common” and “unattractive”.

But even with this selective process, the one match a day policy isn’t enough. Coffee and Bagels gives you “Bonus Bagels” out of the blue and you can find yourself swiping through like other apps. It also has a “give and take” section that lets you pay “beans” to “take” someone you like the look of. And if you see someone you think a friend might like you can “give” them via email. Beans can also be used to send “Woos” and check out mutual friends.

Users can earn more beans by inviting friends or following Coffee and Bagel on social media. You can also pay for beans at a high price of £18.99 per 3,000 (it costs 385 beans to “take” someone).

Who uses it?

Coffee meets bagel is predominantly designed for users looking for “something real” or “meaningful”.

Typical message received

"San Diego! I was just down there for work. How did you get anything productive done? It's beautiful."

Pros

You know what other people on the app are looking for and you can’t waste hours searching through it.

Cons

The pace is slow and the app is overcomplicated. Having to give a reason every time you say “no” can be offputting, and the “give and take” and beans sections seem unnecessary.

Verdict

5/10

Howaboutwe

How About We.jpg

What is it?

Owned by the same parent company as Tinder and Match.com, howaboutwe puts its focus on the dates. Rather than a description of what you do or where you went to university, this app gets you to write a fun date idea that accompanies your picture. Its interface mixes the designs of all the other apps - there’s a swiping section (like Tinder), a list-based search one (like Happn) and a recommended section where you’re sent five people a day (like Once or Coffee meets Bagel).

The New York-based app has users in London, but its most innovative section, “Tonight”, isn’t yet active here. When it is, you can post a date you want to do that evening and see if anyone near you is up for it.

You can download howaboutwe, set up a profile and start browsing for free. But to send or receive a message and see who’s “intrigued” by you you’ll need to subscribe for $9.99 a month.

Who uses it?

A slightly older crowd than the current crop of new apps, early thirties.

Typical message received

“How about we sit in the park and offer advice to passersby for 20 cents”

Pros

Focus on the date being fun - an end to countless first drinks. Has the best of all worlds with a recommended section, swipe and list. Tactful “I’m intrigued” rather than the typical “like”.

Cons

The “Tonight” section isn’t yet active in London and you have to pay a monthly subscription fee.

Verdict

6/10

Telegraph.co.uk

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