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Snapchat review: Confusing design, but great for sharing secret photos and video

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The Good Snapchat is a quick way to send photos, as well as video chat in real time. The self-destruct feature means that your friends can't reshare that embarrassing photo you sent.

The Bad The app's new design, following up an update in May 2014, moved features around, which makes it confusing to navigate for both existing users and new ones.

The Bottom Line With its unique timer feature, Snapchat offers a fun and sneaky way to share photos and videos with friends.


7.8 Overall
  • Setup 9
  • Features 7
  • Interface 8
  • Performance 8

Review Sections

Social network Snapchat made a name for itself by letting you share photos and videos that self-destruct in just a few seconds. That is, the app lets you impose a finite lifespan on your shares so they can be viewed for only a few seconds before being automatically deleted beyond retrieval.

While there's certainly an argument that the seconds-long lifespan aspect is useless, Snapchat's immense popularity, especially with teenagers and young adults, suggests otherwise. Apparently, there are a lot of people out there who love the idea of sending out secret photos and videos, without leaving any evidence of ever having done so. Just be warned that, despite Snapchat's best efforts, there are ways for others to save what you send them, either using an app or just by snapping a screenshot.

Getting started

After you download and install Snapchat, you must first create an account with a valid email address to start. Since there are no Facebook or Google log-in options, this unfortunately means you'll have to remember yet another username-and-password combo. Once you're in, Snapchat parses your address book (if you grant it permission) for any contacts that are already using the app, and there's also an option to invite friends who aren't.

To share items, you don't necessarily have to "friend" your friends within the Snapchat app. In fact, you can send a "snap" to anyone, whether it be someone you know or a stranger you've found through Snapchat's search tool. That said, many users do adjust their privacy settings to receive snaps only from friends, so there is a chance that strangers may not receive your snaps.

Navigating the app

Snapchat used to have a simple design, but its latest major update in May 2014 made things a bit more complicated. The app now opens to the camera screen, where you can take a photo or record video from either your main or front-facing camera. At the bottom of that screen, there are two icons, a simple square, and three horizontal lines. If you tap the three horizontal lines, you'll see your friends list, where you can add or delete contacts in the app.

Tap the square to see an activity feed with a list of contacts who you have sent snaps to, or from whom you've received a snap. In the older version of the app, you could easily respond to someone's snap by double-tapping their name. Now, you have to tap on their name and, at the same time, swipe left. That opens another page with all of the recent activity just between you and that person. As someone who's used the app for a while, I found this new design frustrating at first, and it remained so even after using it for a few weeks.

The new activity log (left) and conversation views in the Snapchat app. Screenshot by Sarah Mitroff/CNET

It's in that activity page where you can use one of Snapchat's newest features -- text chatting. You can now send instant text message to your Snapchat friends, and while they don't immediately disappear after your friend reads them, they do vanish once you leave the conversation and/or close the app. In my testing, conversations can be confusing. If you leave the app, your friend's messages vanish from that activity page, but the messages you've sent can stay there for a few minutes or longer.

That activity page also shows a history of snaps you've received and sent, but those entries disappear after a while as well. When someone sends you a new snap, you view it from that page, and you can respond by tapping the small yellow circle icon at the bottom left of the screen.

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