Snapchat: The Best Photo-Messaging App

Why you can trust Tom's Guide Our writers and editors spend hours analyzing and reviewing products, services, and apps to help find what's best for you. Find out more about how we test, analyze, and rate.

Snapchat is unlike traditional photo apps, because it's more an ephemeral visual-messaging medium than a photo editor. Nor is it a broadcasting social network that sends pictures out into the wild like Instagram. And while Instagram and Facebook have recently added Snapchat-like modules, the original Snapchat remains a unique platform that continues to capture users’ imagination and attention.


Version: 10.7.2 (iOS),  (Android)
iOS, Android
File Type Supported:
Social Sharing Options:

Using Snapchat: Fleeting Fun

Snapchat exists for one purpose only: to use photos and videos to chat with friends. For that reason, when you enter the app, the first screen you see is Snapchat's camera interface in selfie mode. For someone who hasn't been initiated into the Snapchat scene, this bare-bones screen might appear to have little to offer. But as numerous YouTube videos posted by teens will tell you, the key to using Snapchat is to tap and/or swipe. For instance, swipe from the left to access the chat window. Swipe from the right to see Stories (including your own) and to access the Discover page where marketers and celebrities are featured.

Credit: Tom's Guide

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The fun comes from adding filters, stickers (including ones with your personal bitmoji), text and especially Lenses (face recognition-driven masks and effects). But to get to those silly hats, beards and rainbows spilling out of your mouth, you need to tap and hold on your face, before you take a picture — something that isn’t obvious unless you’re a Snapchat “insider.” When you're in the rear-facing camera, taking pictures of the world rather than selfies), you can now add the New World Lenses that add 3D-animated cartoons to your scene (such as a hovering UFO beaming up grazing sheep).

MORE: Best Photo Editing Apps

More than anything, Snapchatting is evanescent. If you send a photo or video to a friend, after she has viewed it, it’s deleted from her device (unless she has one of the third-party apps designed to save what should be an unsavable Snapchat file – or she takes a screenshot). You can even select how long you want a recipient to be able to view a photo – from 1 to 10 seconds. Similarly, Snapchat’s signature My Story (where your most recent photos and videos are collected) deletes any file that’s more than 24 hours old. As the owner of your snaps and videos, you can save them to your Memories on the app, or to your device’s photo gallery.

A Lean Interface With Just a Bit of Meat

Snapchat’s users like the quick, spontaneous leanness of the app. So updates tend to add just a bit of new playfulness here and there, rather than introduce dramatic changes.

For instance, a “major” recent update involved small interface redesigns. These included color overlay animations when you swipe up, left or right. And pulling down on a window (such as Chat) to refresh it displays a silly animated Snapchat logo. Buried among these minor changes was the useful addition of a search bar at the top of the screen, and the placement of your bitmoji in the upper left corner (which has become a quick shortcut to your profile page).

Credit: Tom's Guide

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

That isn’t to say that Snapchat doesn’t keep on creating new playful features and additions. You can now do group chats with up to 16 friends. Keeping in the spontaneous spirit of  the app, you can create ad hoc Groups while sending a Snap. Similarly, the new Scissors lets you create stickers by cutting out parts from your pictures (like PicsArt does).

What Users Are Saying

Snapchat is wildly popular among teens, and has had more than 500 million Android downloads. According to Snap Inc., 158 million people spend about 30 minutes on the app daily. But they are also a very vocal crowd, quick to let the world know when they’re not happy. In the Android Play Store, the more than 11 million reviews average 4.0 stars; the many raves are offset by nearly 1.5 million 1-star reviews. A number of Android users are complaining about frequent crashes and slow performance, issues we didn’t experience in our testing.  Some users of both Android and iOS versions report that the iOS version is more reliable, with no crashes and faster performance. However, the more than 300,000 reviews on Apple’s App Store average only 3 stars, with a large number of 1-star reviews.

Bottom Line

Snapchat is the current favorite photo messaging app among teens. However, it also attracts adults with its playful interface and photo augmentation that dresses up selfies in silly masks, text and decorations. What’s more, by having chats self-destruct and disappear, the app provides users with a private world where they can say and do nearly anything. In most cases, the chats are innocent fun, but parents should be aware that sexting and bullying does take place among some groups. Still, if you’re looking for an entertaining way to share photos, this app makes it a snap.

Sally Wiener Grotta

Sally Wiener Grotta is the president and lead analyst of DigitalBenchmarks test lab ( The scripts she created for various tech publications for testing and evaluating digital cameras, image quality, software and related technologies have become industry standards. Among her numerous books is the first major volume on image processing “Digital Imaging for Visual Artists” (McGraw-Hill), co-authored with Daniel Grotta. Her hundreds of reviews, stories and columns have appeared in scores of magazines, journals and online publications.