Slingshot (Android) review: Too complicated for its own good

I'll be up front that I use Snapchat fairly regularly and prefer that experience, so I might be a bit biased. With Snapchat, when a friend sends me a photo or video, I can look at it immediately, and then choose to react with a text message, photo, or video. It feels natural, and there's no pressure to respond if I don't want to.

With Slingshot, I am forced to respond to a message that I can't even see. Because of that, in my testing I found myself and my friends sending photos of empty backgrounds, walls, and other meaningless subjects just so that we could see each other's photos. Though according to their blog, the team behind Slingshot hopes that people will feel compelled to share a moment from their day when they get a shot, in my early testing, it seems that people are often eager to see what you sent, so they'll just find anything they can capture and send back to complete the transaction.

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You can see how many locked shots you have by swiping down on the camera screen (left). Once you unlock a shot, you can send a reaction photo or video by tapping anywhere on the screen (right). Screenshot by Sarah Mitroff/CNET

Slingshot tries to combat this phenomenon with the reaction feature. You can tap on a shot that someone sends you to bring up your camera to shoot a selfie or video, or send a text response. However, that reaction shot doesn't count towards unlocking your friend's shots. That means when you get a new shot, you'll still need to send a shot back, then view your friend's shot, then react. The whole process feels cumbersome and tedious.

It's worth noting that if you have locked shots from several friends, you can create just one shot and send it back to all of them to view everything they sent you.

Unlike Snapchat, where messages disappear after a set number of seconds, you can view a Slingshot message for as long as you want, so long as you don't close the app. I really appreciate that feature. Also, if you take a screenshot of a shot, the app won't notify your friend like Snapchat does. That tells me that Facebook doesn't necessarily intend for you to use Slingshot to share private, intimate shots, but instead use it to share moments from your day.

Odds and ends

Slingshot has a few extra features that set it apart from Snapchat, most notably the sounds. When you send and receive a new shot, the app makes a few fun and dramatic noises. It also plays music when you draw on any photo you take. It adds a bit of whimsy to the app, but if you don't like it, you can turn if off in settings.

If you want to save all of the photos you capture with Slingshot, there's an option to do that in the settings menu. None of the shots your friends send you are saved, only the photos you take.

Final thoughts

Facebook's latest app Slingshot helps you connect with friends using fleeting photos and video, but experience is downright awkward. When we get notifications on our smartphones, whether it's an email, text message, or update from Facebook, we've been conditioned to view and respond to them quickly. Slingshot forces you to change that behavior because you cannot view what's been sent to you, and yet you're still expected to respond. It feels unnatural to interact with Slingshot, and for that reason, I wouldn't be surprised if the app suffered the same fate as Poke.

Ephemeral messaging is a huge hit with younger generations, but looking at the entire population of smartphone users, it's not all that popular. While Facebook is banking on its billions of users to help Slingshot grow, the fact is that at last count, only 9 percent of adults 18 and older with a smartphone said they used Snapchat. Given that, I just don't think that the average Facebook user will even bother with this app, nor should they.

If you're in that small but still-growing camp of people who enjoy sending short-lived photos and videos to your friends, skip Slingshot and pick Snapchat for its uncomplicated design and ample features instead.

What you'll pay

    Pricing is currently unavailable.

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    Where to Buy

    Slingshot (Android)

    Part Number: com.facebook.slingshot

    Free

    Quick Specifications See All

    • Category Social networking
    • Compatibility Android