Editors' note: This review was updated October 25, 2013, to cover recently added features.
After spending the last several months wondering what all the fuss was about, Android users finally get to try out Twitter's younger and increasingly popular video-sharing sibling Vine. While the first iteration of the highly anticipated release certainly worked, it was unquestionably buggy and had a number of missing features, which altogether made it a letdown. Fortunately, the app's handlers at Twitter were fully aware of its shortcomings and worked hard to push out some major improvements.
Because Vine for Android is still a young app playing catch-up, in this review, I'll compare it only with its older sibling on iOS and not to the now-video-capable Instagram app. Vine for Android already has enough to contend with, as it sits in the shadow of the more polished iOS version, so adding Instagram to the party might just muddle things. That said, if you are just looking for an answer as to which is better -- Vine or Instagram -- then you can check out my post that more generally compares the two.
So, in this review, I'll be looking at how well Vine handles the basics and what it needs to become more in line with the iOS version.
To get started with Vine, you can sign up with an e-mail address or use your existing Twitter credentials for quick access. And similar to Twitter, Vine lets you make your account private, so that only those you approve can see your posts. Once you're set up, the app opens up to your Home feed where you can scroll through the latest posts from other users you follow. In addition, the app automatically shows featured posts as chosen by Vine staff.
Watching Vine videos
Once you're ready to start following people, I suggest going to the Profile tab, which includes a tool to scrub your Twitter account for friends who are also on Vine. Also, there are tools for inviting friends to the service via text message or e-mail and for sifting through your mobile device's address book for friends who might already be on Vine.
A recent update to Vine for Android brought a Search tool (thank goodness). With this, you can now search Vine for new users to follow or hash tags that might be trending on the network.
Most of your Vine time will probably be spent checking out your Home feed. As you scroll through, each video starts to play automatically while you have it on the screen, which makes the experience smooth and enjoyable. Since all you have to do is scroll through and watch (and listen), you don't have to fiddle with any Stop or Play buttons. If you want to pause a video, just tap it as its playing, and you can Like videos and add comments easily. The most recent update to Vine also added the Revine feature, which is essentially Vine's version of the Retweet feature on Twitter.
The Activity tab lets you track how others have interacted with (Liked or Commented on) your Vine videos. Next to that is the Explore tab, which is a great place to see how others are using the service. Previously, the page housed Editor's Picks, but now it offers links to streams of popular videos as well as currently trending videos. Also, just like the iOS version, the Explore page now has links to different Channels, so you can browse content by specific categories like Comedy, Cats, and Music.
Recording Vine videos
Of course, the best part of using Vine is recording and sharing videos of your own. The app limits you to 6-second videos, but this is part of Vine's charm, as it forces you to get creative with the imposed brevity (just like Twitter).
What's interesting about Vine's recording interface is that it only records while you're touching the screen, so you can record a very short clip, let go, then start recording again, and continue making clips until you reach your 6-second limit. Though it might seem simple at first, the tool does take some getting used to. And once you do get the hang of it, you'll be surprised at how efficient it is for creating really nice 6-second narratives. Also, exclusive to the Android version is a zoom feature. While you're recording (or in between recordings), you can use your device's physical volume buttons to zoom in and out on your subject.
With recent updates, Vine for Android became more inline with the iOS version, as it got a number of useful recording features. The camera switch button lets you toggle between front-facing and rear-facing cameras while you record. There's also a tap-to-focus feature and a grid in case you need to keep your horizon line straight. Finally, there's a nifty "ghost tool," which gives you a semitransparent overlay of the last frame that you recorded. This makes it easy to create seamless transitions between cuts.
When you're finished shooting, you can add a caption before sharing with the Vine community, and you can choose to share your creation to Twitter or Facebook by using the onscreen sliders.
Thanks to the latest update on October 24, 2013, you can now save up to ten Vines at once that you can post at your convenience. That means you can record a video when you don't have a signal and upload when you do or record multiple Vines of the same subject and pick your favorite.
The process to save a session, which is what Vine calls each recording, is easy. Once you finish recording a video, you can tap the X button and select "save for later" from the pop-up menu. To view your saved Vines, tap the camera button and look for the little box with a number on the far right of the camera controls menu. The number represents how many video drafts you've saved.
Another new recently added feature is called Time Travel. It lets you delete and rearrange individual shots to create a completely different video than the one you originally captured.
Unfortunately, there are no autocomplete functions for hash tags or mentions, so that's an important snag in the workflow. However, this app has caught up to the iOS Vine app when it comes to sharing. In a previous version, you couldn't post a video to your social networks again after you published and shared it a first time. Now you can share and reshare any video to Facebook or Twitter.
With all of its recent improvements, especially those to the recording interface, the Android version has been doing an admirable job of keeping pace with the iOS version. In fact, the Android version even comes with a capture widget that lets you start recording right from your Android Home screen. Still, the conveniences that are missing can't be ignored.
One weakness that both apps share is that neither lets you import videos from your Gallery to be shared on Vine. Admittedly, this is likely a difficult feature to add, but we're still hopeful that the developers over at Twitter will someday make it happen.
Vine for Android is a must for getting on to the video-based social network, and it is quickly improving, as evidenced by recent additions of Sessions, Time Travel, search, front-facing camera support, and advanced recording features. If you're a fan of short-form social videos, and you're not keen on seeing photos in your stream (a la Instagram), then definitely give Vine for Android a shot.