Editors' note: This review was originally published on August 29, 2013, and has been updated on August 7, 2014 to reflect changes to the service.
Foursquare underwent some big changes this year when the company split its existing app into two; social check-in app Swarm and the new Foursquare, designed entirely to help you find somewhere to go. The decision to break up the apps drew ire from Foursquare fans who didn't want to download Swarm just to check into places or see their friends' activity.
Yet, for Foursquare, the move is an opportunity to shift its focus away from check-ins and mayorships -- the social game-ification features that made it popular in the first place-- and toward building the one app you check when you want to find the hottest restaurants, bars, shops, and attractions at home or while traveling.
With its latest update, the app gets even better at showing you the best of the best around you, from coffee shops and speakeasy bars, to hot yoga studios and specialty shoe stores.
To begin using Foursquare, you first need to log in with your account. If you don't already have one, the app supports Facebook log-in for an extra-quick setup.
Whether you've had a Foursquare account for years or are just getting started, after you sign into the updated app for the first time, it'll ask you to identify your "tastes" -- which include specific food dishes, restaurant atmosphere, and general types of businesses. These can be specific, such as macaroni and cheese or cask ales, or more broad, like ocean views or bookstores.
You pick your tastes from a screen full of prepopulated phrases, and you can search for anything you don't see. Choose as many tastes as you want, and Foursquare will then use that information to hunt for places nearby you that fit your taste criteria, no matter where you go. At any time, you can edit or add to your tastes; just tap the Foursquare icon at the top of the app.
Discovering hot spots
After you've set up the app, you're taken to the main discovery screen, with a search bar up top and a grouping of recommendations below. In the past, Foursquare's main screen showed you everything that was nearby, but now the app focuses on finding places grouped by interests and categories.
To say that Foursquare has tons of recommendations for restaurants, bars, and businesses is an understatement. The discovery screen is packed with suggestions based on your location, the time of day, your predetermined tastes, plus suggestions from your finds and popular keywords that other users close to you are using to search.
While the previous versions of Foursquare were a bit bare-bones and confusing, the updated app is the opposite. Because Foursquare packs that home screen with so much information, it can feel overwhelming -- and I still felt that way even after using the app for a few days. The new branding and layout are pretty, but the design is too cluttered.
The home screen also constantly changes throughout the day and as you travel around town, to find you new places. Swiping around will help you find nearly everything you need, but if it's not enough, use the handy search bar to get more specific. You can see your search results on a map and filter them by price, distance, and whether or not your friends have recommended it.
When you've found a place you want to check out, tap it to see its full Foursquare listing. Similar to Yelp, business pages on Foursquare contain a lot of useful information, including hours, address, a map, menus, phone numbers, payment options, and photos. There are also several Foursquare-only stats, including a numbered rating and tips from the community, and a group of keywords that describe the business, which are intended to help you get a feel for the place. If any of your Foursquare friends have checked in, you'll see that too.