Sharing great moments (or just snippets of your life) with friends or loved ones has never been easier, and a new class of live streaming app makes it possible for them to join you in real time. Of those apps, we think Periscope is the best today, and has the most potential for the near future.
Platform: Android (and iOS) Price: Free Download Page
- Makes live streaming a simple, one-touch operation.
- Supports streaming in both portrait and landscape formats
- Allows you to live stream to the public at large, or privately to specific invitees
- Can connect to Twitter (which makes sense, since the service is owned by Twitter) to share your stream with your friends and followers
- Allows streams to be replayed through your profile if your friends miss the live event
- Supports YouTube auto-upload, so after your broadcast is finished, you can save it and share it with a wider audience
- Allows you to follow Twitter contacts using the app as well, browse available live streams by geographic location, and see which of your friends is streaming live at any given time
Where It Excels
Periscope was one of the first apps to really make live streaming events simple and easy enough that people wanted to do it. Combined with light social aspects that make it fun to find other streams, watch, and perhaps more importantly, share your own streams with friends and upload them to YouTube for safe keeping after your stream is over, it's a far cry from some of the older live streaming apps that were clunky to use and wanted to be YouTube competitors instead of live along side it.
That speaks to Periscope's biggest feature -- the fact that it's dead simple to start a stream, share a stream, and interact with the people watching. From install to stream, it's only a couple of steps, and from there on starting a stream is pretty much a one-tap affair. Share it over to Twitter and watch people tune in, leave you messages in real time, shower you with "hearts," and you have a tool people actually use to share interesting moments in their lives -- or newsworthy ones.
It's that ease of use and simplicity that's made Periscope the tool of choice for people who want to do awesome things like share their kids' games with family members who live across the world or protesters who want to stream a march to an eager and engaged community on social media or live on television. However, it's also the same ease of use that makes it easy to stream and record things like the newest episode of Game of Thrones or a pay-per-view boxing match. That said, I've seen it used by our colleagues at Kotaku to cover E3 from the show floor, and by some of my favourite YouTubers to do live unboxings with their fans instead of making them wait for an official video -- both great uses of the service.
Periscope says it wants to help you "see the world through someone else's eyes," and it certainly succeeds at that. Perhaps most notably though, it excels at giving us a social tool that brings us all a little closer and is super easy to use at the same time.
Where It Falls Short
Periscope is simple and elegant, but it's not totally perfect. Its integration with Twitter is tight (which makes sense) but it could integrate better with other networks as well, and saving videos and uploading them to YouTube later is great, but other video services would be a nice perk as well. Granted, none of this is game breaking, and to add a ton of bells and whistles might change the balance of simplicity-to-features that Periscope has going for it in droves.
A while ago, we would have complained that Periscope was portrait-only, because you know how we all feel about portrait videos, but that's no longer an issue since the latest update lets you shoot in landscape. As it stands today, we've seen more than a few streams with spotty connections and stuttering streams, but it's always difficult to tell if that's the app, the user's connection, the user's device, or the viewer's connection.
It's also worth noting that Periscope is Android 4.4 and higher, so if you're still running an older version of Android or on an older device, you're out of luck.
Meerkat (Free) is Periscope's biggest competition, and to be fair, came first. While the two used to be fierce competitors, they're a bit different now. Meerkat only does public, live events, it's more notification-heavy than Periscope is. The UI is a little more cluttered, and it's certainly less elegant and a bit trickier to use. Starting a stream is a one-touch affair, but it kind of comes as a surprise, and there are virtually no settings. Signing up is a bit easier though (just your phone number, a profile photo, and a username are all you need,) and you don't have to link your Twitter account until you want to -- you can also link the app with Facebook as well if you prefer. In any case, it's a good option if you're already using it, or if you know people using it, but we definitely prefer Periscope.
Livestream (Free) is one of the old guard of live streaming apps. Livestream the web service has been around for ages, and its mobile apps have always made streaming live events from your phone -- regardless of the camera you use or how big your community is -- relatively easy. The app has come a long way in the post-Meerkat and post-Periscope days too, and is much easier to use now. Partnerships with TV networks and sports leagues also mean that any event being streamed via Livestream on the web is an event you can watch on your phone, and you can replay events after they have ended, save your own streams to share elsewhere, connect with Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, and interact with other streamers. Again, not as simple or easy as some of the others here, but useful if you're looking for an alternative, or more live events to watch.
UStream (Free) is another of the old guard, but it's tough to recommend. HD streaming is only available on specific devices, not even just specific versions of Android, and its focus is squarely on viewing streams currently taking place at UStream.com, not necessarily on streaming from your device. You can stream from your device, it's just obviously not what the app is really designed for. If you have a favourite stream at Ustream though (like this live HD view from the International Space Station) and want to check it out on your phone or tablet -- or if you're streaming and want to see how you look on another device, then it's worth checking out.
YouNow (Free) is a little less focused on the whole "stream events" and "see through someone else's perspective" angle and intended more for people who want to "stream myself to my friends and chat with them," if that makes sense. Where Periscope and Meerkat feel a little more mature, YouNow uses a significant part of the screen for live chat and recommended broadcasts, depending on whether you're the one doing the streaming or watching (respectively.) To keep users engaged, the service has a points and in-app currency system that awards you points for certain activities that you use to then "level up," and in-app "coins" and "bars" that can be used to purchase gifts for your profile or your favourite streamer, some of which cost real money. YouNow seems like it'd be fun as a community if that's the kind of environment you're into (and have money to toss into it), but the reviews at Google Play aren't too encouraging as far as the functionality of the app is concerned.
Those are the big players. There are a few others, like TwitCasting Live (Free) and Stre.am (Free), both of which are promising feature-wise and seem to work pretty well, but are both smaller players with smaller communities and userbases. That doesn't mean you shouldn't check them out, but it does mean that if you're looking for community, or for people to sign up and watch your stream or interact with you, you might be better off with something a little bigger. TwitCasting walks the line between Periscope and Hangouts, allowing you to invite other people into your stream, but its UI is a super cluttered and it tries a little too hard to focus on chat. Stre.am on the other hand is light and elegant, just empty.
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