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The Facebook-owned photo and video social network Instagram has gained immense popularity over the last three years on iOS and Android as a place to capture and share images with your friends. The app finally arrived for Windows Phone in late November 2013, and while it has some of the core features, it's missing a lot of what makes Instagram fun.
There was a great deal of confusion over the app's features when it launched, so let me clear a few things up. First, you can take photos in the app, but the process is not the same as it is in the other apps. I outline that process in this review. Second, you cannot shoot video or import video into the app, but you can watch videos that others have uploaded. You cannot tag people in your photos, but you can see other people's tags in your feed. Lastly, there is no Photo Map (more on that later).
Instagram gets around the fact that the app is missing features by calling it a beta release. However, Windows Phone users who've been waiting for Instagram to come to their phones expect a full-featured experience, beta or not, and this app does not provide that. That's disappointing, especially because there are already many third-party clients live in the app store that have more features than this official app.
To get started, you must either log in to an existing account or sign up for a new one with an e-mail address and password. Then you can build out your profile and connect your other social-network accounts, including Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and Tumblr.
In the other Instagram apps, you can sign up with Facebook, but you can't do that here. However, once you register, the app gives you a chance to connect your Facebook account and then shows you a list of your Facebook friends who also use Instagram so you can easily follow them in the app. You'll also get the chance to see which of your phone contacts also use Instagram and follow popular users when you set up your account.
You won't see anything in the app until you start following other users or start posting your own photos. To follow other Instagrammers after the initial setup process, tap the search icon in the bottom menu bar and start typing someone's name or username.
Instagram on Windows Phone looks identical to the other apps, save for a few differences.
At the top of the app, there are tabs for each section of the app; Home Feed, Explore, News, and Profile. The main screen shows a feed of all the photos and video the people you follow have posted, in reverse chronological order. You can like someone's post by double tapping on the image or touching the like button. If you want to leave a comment, just touch the comment button below the photo.
You can easily spot videos in your feed because they have a play icon in the top-right corner. In the other apps, if you leave a video in view on the screen for a few seconds (depending on your connection), the video will load and automatically play once. Here, you must tap the video to start playing it.
In the Explore tab, you can see the most popular posts from all Instagram users. In News, you'll see a feed of notifications when someone follows you and likes or comments on your photos and videos. Lastly, the Profile tab shows your bio, user stats, and a grid or list of all of your posts. In the other Instagram apps, you can see photos you've been tagged in and your Photo Map, but both of those are missing here.
If you add a location to a photo when you post it in the Android and iOS apps, Instagram will plot that photo on map so everyone can see where you are. That feature, called Photo Map, is missing from this app.
Likewise, in the other Instagram apps, if someone adds a location to their post when they upload it, you'll see a location tag in between their username and the photo. You can tap that tag to see pictures from other users that were tagged with that location as well. In this app, you can add a location to your post when you upload it, but you won't be able to view other photos shared from the same place.
The main attraction of Instagram is the camera, but unfortunately, the Windows Phone app experience is nowhere near as robust as it is on iOS and Android. There's a blue camera button at the bottom of the screen, which immediately displays your phone's camera roll where you can select a photo you've already shot to upload to Instagram.
From there, you can tap the camera icon at the bottom to launch your phone's camera. Here you'll see the full camera viewfinder, instead of the square viewfinder that's standard in the other apps. That square viewfinder helps you frame your shot, because you can only upload square photos to Instagram, and without it, it's harder to get the right shot that fits Instagram's aspect ratio.
Once you snap a photo, the app will ask if you want to accept or retake the image. Tap accept and you'll be asked to scale and crop the photo, which is similar to what Instagram does on other platforms when you import an image from your camera roll. The app shows a faint grid over top the picture to help you crop it. Tap the check mark to proceed when you're done adjusting the shot.
Then you'll finally get to the familiar editing screen, where you can choose from Instagram's famous filters (or opt for no filter at all), as well as add a frame, adjust the lighting, add a tilt-shift effect, or rotate the image. When you're satisfied with your finished Instagram, you can add a caption, add a location, and share it to your connected social networks, including Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and Russian social network Vkontakte.
From what I can tell, you never actually leave the Instagram app when you follow the steps to post a photo. However, both the camera roll and viewfinder screens use that distinctive Windows Phone design, which the rest of the app doesn't have, and that led me to think that the app had kicked me out to my phone's camera.
So yes, you can shoot and share photos using Instagram for Windows Phone, but the process isn't as smooth as it is in the other apps and it's more tedious.
Unlike the Instagram apps for iOS and Android, this app cannot record video, nor can it import existing videos you've shot with your camera. It did take some time for the Android app to get this feature, so I can only expect it will show up in a future iteration.
Fans of Instagram will appreciate the Windows Phone app for its familiar design, which is easier to navigate than third-party Instagram clients I've seen for Windows Phone. Unfortunately, Instagram dropped the ball when it comes to features in this app.
While you can view your feed of photos and videos from the people you follow, the process to upload your own images is more tedious than it is in the other two Instagram apps. You also can't record or import videos, you can't tag other users in your photos, and there's no Photo Map. Instagram said that the company wanted to get the app out as quickly as possible, and thus could only focus on the core features, but I didn't expect the app to feel this half-baked.
Because of its lack of features and lackluster photo-taking experience, I do not recommend this app. If you want your Instagram fix on Windows Phone, there are several third-party Instagram clients that can offer so much more. One of those is 6tag, which not only has an in-app camera that can shoot video, but it also allows you to manage multiple Instagram accounts at once. None of the official Instagram apps can do that.