Editor's note, April 27, 2015: This review has been updated to cover new features added in the latest version. It was originally published in August of 2012.
Instagram (iPhone|Android) is a popular photo- and video-sharing app that requires only a couple of touches to produce retro-looking projects and then share them with friends and other Instagram members. The latest version of the app adds three additional filters, and new ways to spice up your photos including a fade feature and color overlay options. It also has a new Post Notifications feature to make it easier to see what your friends post. Finally, you can now add emojis to hashtags, to share your photos within the Instagram community.
But what's continues to be special about the Instagram phenomenon is how users have used the app to create a story about their everyday lives through stylized photos and videos.
You start by signing up with Instagram with an email address, username and password. From there you can configure Instagram to autopost to Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Tumblr, Foursquare and Posterous, or just choose to share images from within the app or via email. You can also turn any of these options on or off if you don't want to share your shots with everyone.
Once you're connected, you'll be able to snap a photo wherever you are, move and scale the image, add an effect with a touch of your finger, and then touch Done to share your photographic moment with the world.
The app comes with several free, custom-designed filters that can give your image various retro effects, a grainy black-and-white look, or even adjustable tilt-shift options. A recent update added three new filters for both iOS and Android; Lark, Reyes and Juno. Lark emphasizes green and blue colors in your photos, Reyes give you another vintage effect (like many of Instagram's filters do) and Juno brings out warm tones and plays up any white colors.
The Android version of Instagram got an update adding a few new features for your photos and a new option for notifications. An iOS update with the same features should be coming soon.
To add something more to your images, there are new Fade options and Color overlays you can add along with the usual tweaks. Fade gives your photo an aged look by softening the colors. The color overlays come in eight different color options with yellow, orange, red, pink, purple, blue, cyan and green. They can be applied to shadows or highlights in your images.
When you're satisfied with your shot, you can add a caption along with geotagging it, then share it right away.
Thanks to a recent update, the app now gives you the option to send a private photo or video to one or more friends, without sharing it to your Instagram feed. On the main screen, there's an inbox at the top right, where you can view all the photos and videos you've sent and those sent to you. From there, you can send new direct photos or videos by tapping the plus sign and following the prompts.
Your friends can comment on the direct 'grams you send them, but no one else can see the likes or comments. The idea is similar to Snapchat, the app that sends private photo messages. The difference here is that images and videos don't disappear as they do on Snapchat.
With Instagram, you can shoot videos and add filters much like you would with photos. In the camera mode, there's button to switch from photo to video. Just like Twitter's Vine app, when shooting a video, you touch to shoot and let go to stop shooting. Where Vine has 6 seconds of shooting time, Instagram lets you shoot for 15 seconds. You also can delete sections of your video as you're making it, letting you quickly fix a section of your video without having to start over from scratch. You can then pick from 13 new filters, and you can preview each of them live as your video is playing -- no need to wait for a render. To make your videos more stable, Instagram also has what the company calls Cinema, which help make your video much more smooth if you shoot while moving.
You can also choose to import an existing video from your library. Not all file types are supported, but the app can handle almost any mobile video you throw at it. The feature lets you scrub through your video to mark the start and end points you want, but of course, it limits you to 15 seconds. For now, Instagram lets you import only one video at a time, but perhaps in the future, the app will add basic editing features so you can cobble together multiple clips.
It's important to note that with the video-creating functions comes an influx of videos to your Instagram feed. And what many may not like is that, as of now, there is no way to filter the videos out. Videos and still photos are mashed together into a single feed, which can get annoying if you're just looking for one or the other.
Unfortunately, the video features are not supported by all Android devices. Those running Android versions 2.2 and above will just be able to see Instagram videos, while only those running 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) and above will be able to record.
Even with just the features mentioned, this free app would already be easy to recommend, but a couple of added features make it even better. Once signed up with Instagram, you can follow other Instagram users on the Feed page, which shows recent images taken by you and your friends. Here you can comment and "like" photos, and Facebook integration means you can also "like" it on Facebook. Switch tabs to look at a Popular list that shows all the most popular Instagram images from all users. You can search for tags and users in the recently added Explore section. You also can look at a News tab, which shows the latest actions by your connected friends (liked, commented, or otherwise), so you can see what your friends are currently looking at. These features make Instagram an app you might look at every day, just to see what your friends are up to.
To help you keep up with what your friends are posting, the latest version of Instagram got a new feature called Post Notifications. It's an optional setting that makes sure you see when specific people you follow post a new photo. To set it up, just go to a friend's profile and tap the three dots in the upper right. Select the option to "Turn on post notifications" and from that point on, you'll always know when a friend or family member posts a new picture. Both the iOS and Android versions of the app have this new notification feature.
Instagram also can categorize your photos and videos by location. The app automatically gathers all your past Instagram media for which you activated geotagging and puts them on a map so you and your followers can browse by location. The app defaults to showing all geotagged images and videos (once you have given the OK), but you can select or deselect photos and videos if you don't want certain locations to show on the map. There's a Photo Map button on your profile page that you can touch to show a map of all your images.
It's important to note that sometimes you won't want to post location information (like where you live) to the public. Parents of kids who use Instagram would be wise to make sure their kids do not geotag their photos and videos for the same reason. With that said, this interface change makes it so your work doesn't disappear down an endless feed and gives people a much easier way to see all the images you have created.
Instagram for Android's sleek design keeps it fresh and easy to get around. Its extensive filters and video recording features also help it stay a cut above competitor Vine.
Instagram is an excellent way to take retro-looking photos and videos and share them with anyone. The popularity of the app gives you tons of content to browse and offers the possibility that your photos and videos will be seen by a large number of people. For shooting and sharing photos and video, we don't think there is anything that's easier, or more enjoyable, to use.
Jaymar Cabebe contributed to this review.