Snapchat review:

Confusing design, but great for sharing secret photos and video

Video chatting

Snapchat's other major addition in the May 2014 update is real-time video chatting. It's much faster to use than dialing up someone's Skype account -- and a bit easier too, but only once you get the hang of it.

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This is a video chat in Snapchat. My friend's video stream is full screen, while I show up in a small movable bubble on the screen. Screenshot by Sarah Mitroff/CNET

First, both you and the person you want to chat with must be in the app, and both viewing your conversation page. When that happens, the small yellow button at the bottom of the conversation page turns blue. Tap and hold that button to start the video chat. Your contact will see your video stream full screen, and if they want to share their feed, they'll also need to tap and hold the blue button. If both people are sharing video, your view shows up as a bubble on the screen, which you can move around. You can also swipe up and down on the screen to toggle between the front-facing and main cameras.

If it sounds confusing, you're not alone. It took me a while to figure it out, but once I got the hang of it, I found it faster than using Skype or Hangouts.

Send a snap

Along with the new text- and video-chatting features, you can still of course send photo and video recording snaps to your friends, just like before. On the camera page, either tap the shutter button once for a still or hold it down to shoot a short video. Thanks to the most recent update, you can also import photos from your Gallery app (on Android) or Photos app (on iOS).

Once you're done shooting, you can add a text overlay and draw on the video or photo, or simply add a photo filter by swiping left. You can also adjust the number of seconds before it self destructs (the default is 5 seconds). Once you're done shooting, it's time to set the timer, which programs your snap disappear from 1 to 10 seconds after your friend first opens it. It's important to know that your device won't save a record of sent snaps either, so if you're sharing something that you'd like to keep, then you'll have to download a copy for yourself before sending your work off (there's an option at the bottom of the send screen to do this).

When it's your turn to receive a snap, you'll get a notification on your activity screen. You won't be able to preview the snap, so once you open it (by tapping and holding the message), be sure you're ready to take a good look because the timer will immediately start counting down to zero. And just so you know, if you try to take a screenshot of the snap before time expires, Snapchat will let the sender know.


Once you get the hang of it, Snapchat can be a useful tool to send self-destructing photos, videos, and messages to your friends, as well as quickly video-chat with them. That said, Snapchat was built with a simple vision and the app needs to be careful as it keeps adding new features. They don't want to make it so complicated that people won't want to use it any more.

While Snapchat continues to try to get older generations interested in its app, especially with its video chatting (just watch the company's promotional video), its ephemeral approach made it popular with teenagers and twentysomethings, and it seems like it might never grow up from there.

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