I'll come right out and say it: I'm not a big fan of Instagram. And no, it's not because iOS users have had their underpants in a knot over the Android release, but because for me, it really doesn't live up to the hype. Here's why, and more importantly, here are some just-as-good alternatives for Android users (and some for iOS users too!) who want to take and share photos with or without those filters that make a 5-megapixel phone camera look like a 70s' Polaroid?
Why I Have No Love For Instagram
Here's the thing -- putting aside the fact that some very vocal iOS users are very upset that their precious app has descended to the likes of Android users (let's be clear, some iOS users, not all -- most people understand that the device you use, OS you prefer, or browser you surf with is not who you are) and the social commentary the whole depressing fiasco gives us, the truth is that while Instagram has great hype, slick sex appeal and a bolted-on social aspect, it doesn't do anything that a half-dozen other apps for iOS and Android do. In fact, some of those Android apps do it just as well or better.
Instagram's real appeal is the closed nature of its product -- the fact that it's walled off by default, with no open browsing of user photos by just anyone, and before its Android release, built a brand off of being iPhone only, private and that thing that a select few used to take photos on their phone and then, for fear that no one would see it, pushed it over to Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Flickr, or anywhere else that people actually hang out. Aside from design and marketing, there's little that makes the app special to this writer. (Your view may differ, and if so, that's cool. You should use Instagram!)
That said, it's good at what it does, the product is sound, it's the aura around it that's misplaced. That and the fact that it's been dangled in front of Android users for far too long only to culminate in an arguably unfinished version (no tilt-shift? really?) when it was teased as "in some ways, it's better than our iOS app", according to one of the app's founders. Combine the aura that and the fact that so many iOS users don't want you playing in their sandbox anyway and it's worth looking at some alternatives.
For The Super-Social: Picplz
PicPlz has actually been around longer than Instagram and it's my personal favourite. The app has languished a little and needs an update to keep up with the times, but all of the functionality in Instagram (minus the tilt-shift, but you don't get that anyway Android users) is available here, including the social network on the back end full of people taking pictures of the sights and special moments they want to share with the world.
Fire up the app and when you tap to take a picture, you're shunted to your phone's default camera app to take your photo. Snap it, and you're returned to PicPlz to edit it. It's also loaded with photo filters if you're into that sort of thing, from "Russian toy camera" to "The 70s," all of which designed to give your photos that old-time look and feel to them. If sharing your images on PicPlz's own network isn't enough for you, the app also connects with Flickr, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, FourSquare, Posterous and will even upload your photos to Dropbox for you as well. Oh, and it's available for Android and iOS, with both groups living in harmony.
For The Filter Freak: Pixlr-O-Matic
What started out as a webapp we've discussed before turned quickly into one of both iOS and Android's premier photo tweaking apps. If you love adding borders and filters to your photos, playing with the colours, or adding sepia tone to make them look like old-timey snapshots or 60s-era polaroids, Pixlr-O-Matic is the app for you.
It doesn't bother with a social network on the back-end (and honestly, why bother if your friends are all on Twitter or Facebook and you're going to send the photo there anyway) which we can't fault them for. The real focus of Pixlr-O-Matic is the filters, borders, tweaks and all of the changes you can make to your photos. In the end, you get over two million different permutations and options to make your photos look just right (or all wrong, depending) before you save the finished product to your camera roll or gallery and then share it with your friends.
For The "Disappointed With Instagram Anyway": Lightbox Photos
Even if you love Instagram, you have to appreciate the effort by the folks behind Lightbox Photos to make their app look and feel like Instagram would if it didn't already exist for Android. There's a social network on the back-end here too (although you don't have to use it to use the app), and like PicPlz, you don't have to use the app to share your photos with the community. The app, however, is pretty sharp, sports a load of photo filters, is really snappy and responsive and you have the ability to set your photos as public, private, or unlisted so only the people you choose can see them, whether they're members of the service or not.
One tap also posts your images to Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Flickr, FourSquare and more. Perhaps best of all, if you prefer a different camera app than your phone's stock one, Lightbox Photos will let you take your photos with your preferred tool. So if you like our favourite camera app for Android, Camera ZOOM FX, then this app will work seamlessly with it. Plus, we like the fact that signing up for the service gives you an instant Tumblr-style photo blog, hosted right on the site.
For The Hipster: Hipster
The aptly named Hipster borrows a lot from Instagram, including the snappy photo shooting and all of the great filters you can apply to your photos. Hipster also allows you to add text captions to your photo "postcards" before sharing them, and then post your photos to Twitter, Facebook, Flickr or Tumblr for others to see. It's fast, easy to use, and probably the simplest to get started with in the round-up.
There are over 20 different filters and borders to choose from, and you can opt to geo-tag your photos with the location where they were taken. Hipster also has a social network behind the scenes here too and even if we don't think it's terribly useful, it's full of gorgeous photos and really intimate views of the lives of the people who use the app.
Plus, it's essential for any good Instagram alternative. If you opt to join, or connect with people who are also using the app, you can look at a map of where other users near you are located and sharing their photos. Oh, and yes -- this app is available for iOS and Android as well.
For The Feature Fanatic: Streamzoo
SteamZoo has long been touted as a great -- if not better-alternative to Instagram, partially because of the way it turns editing and sharing your photos into more of a social game that's addictive to play. You can earn badges -- much like FourSquare -- for sharing photos, adding effects and borders, or even for taking pictures of specific subjects, like your dog or your dinner. Whether you encourage the behaviour or not, StreamZoo is a pretty addictive app to use.
The app supports 14 different filters, 15 photo borders and operates a social stream much like Twitter where you can @-reply other users and follow hashtags to see photos of specific places, topics, or events. You even get the missing-from-Instagram tilt-shift option for your shots, in rectangular, elliptical, circular and parallel varieties. Finally, you can also edit your photos -- crop, rotate, contrast or colour balance -- whatever you choose. It's also available for both Android and IOS, and with the number of features it's packed with, it's surprising it's not more popular than Instagram.
There you have it. Five great -- if not better -- alternatives to Instagram. I admit, I don't hate the app as much as I implied earlier, but it's difficult to watch great apps and alternatives get swept under the rug simply because of trendiness and flash rather than substance and features.
Still, you may not agree with me -- perhaps you've used one of these apps and still prefer Instagram, if only to make iOS users angry? Perhaps there's a killer Instagram feature I've overlooked, or a killer alternative worth mentioning? Whatever you think, agree or disagree, share your thoughts in the comments below.