Dating apps are like picking wine. Sure, you know a few of the big names but your tablemate for dinner is largely pot luck. There’s no real guarantee before you pop the cork that the contents will suit your palate.
So, how to hone the science of swiping? For starters: know the players. Like a sommelier of the singles market, we’ve scoured the best dating apps and narrowed down the best for value, variety and, frankly, avoiding an ego battering.
Best for… Options. Lots of options
It isn’t good maths to rely on the shaky odds of meeting someone at work, nor should you trust the mate who promises to set you up with his cousin but delivers as successfully as Brexit. No, you want options – and Badoo has 420 million of them.
How to stand out in such a big field? First, get your profile verified. You’ll earn a blue tick of trust (a la Instagram) after reassuring Badoo’s tech squad that you are who you say you are, by syncing with your social media accounts and posing for some shots. Secondly, message wisely and wittily. You have two pops to crack conversation with potential partners; if they still don’t reply, you can’t message them again. If they does, the limits on messaging are lifted. Lastly, cough up for credits – Badoo-speak for buying your way up its search results.
All over… The Lookalike function. Upload an image of someone you fancy (a famous face, friend, whoever) and Badoo uses facial recognition tech to find similar-looking users.
Over… Shed loads of spam. No great love ever started via 11 butt or boob shots. A hacked bank account, maybe.
Best for… Letting someone else do the legwork
Gone are the days of your pick-up lines being met with a sympathy laugh. Bumble goes one step further than vetting jokes, however – it severs men out of the initiation process, enlisting women to make the first move. Your role is simply to swipe right on a profile if you’re interested (or left if not), and then sit back, load season 8 of Game of Thrones and wait.
Even getting going is simple – Bumble extracts info from Facebook to write your profile for you. It’s like someone suggested that men like to put their feet up.
All over… The high ratio of female users. The female-steered operating system was designed by former Tinder exec Whitney Wolfe to do away with unsolicited naked groins filling up women’s inboxes. As such, they’re keen.
Over… The 24-hour window of doom. Once a match is made, women have 24 hours to start a conversation – otherwise your pairing is lost forever. Cue dramatic music. It’s like the suspense of a Luther episode, then Netflix cutting out five minutes before the end. Brutal.
Best for… Locking in a date
The downside of app-based dating is that it’s very easy to find yourself with a pen pal. You message each other your hopes, dreams, even the minutiae of your sandwich filling, yet you never actually meet up. Which is fine for a high school French exchange, but to find love you need to leave the house.
Step forward Cupid’s more practical cousin, Clover. You book a date like you’d book an Uber – decide a city and a time, then sort out who you’ll be going with. Helpfully, each profile has a compatibility rating of how well Clover thinks you’ll spark – based, in part, on how you both answer its 20-question quiz. The app will even provide date ideas by price and popularity.
All over… The really detailed search filters, such as by interests, hair colour, height and smoker status.
Over… Many of the best features being paid add-ons, such as read receipts on messages.
Best for… Having the icebreaker supplied for you
Hinge used to operate like a social network turned matchmaker, using your Facebook profile to suggest matches with mutual friends. Today, it’s ditched the Facebook affiliation – Hinge insiders put it down to a new, “more sophisticated” algorithm, though there’s also the coincidence that Facebook will soon roll out its own dating app (beta tests have been done in Colombia, Canada and Thailand – see below).
What Hinge has hung onto, however, is the idea of connection. Rather than scrolling aimlessly, it wants you to stop and chat, which is why each profile has pre-prepared talking points based on how you answer three questions, such as: “A random fact I love is…”, “Give me travel tips for…”, “True or false…” and “One thing I’ll never do again…”.
Hinge calls itself the dating app ‘designed to be deleted’, which doesn’t mean it’s crap – rather, that it wants you to find a lasting match and get off apps for good. The fact that it’s the fastest growing dating app in the UK, with three out of four dates leading to more, suggests there could be something in it.
All over… The We Met feature, which asks, like a post-date debrief with your mate in the pub, whether you’d see that person again. Your feedback then hones the algorithm to better tailor future matches.
Over… The city-focused user base. Outside major urban centres, profile quantity drops off.
Best for… Finding out if your secret crush is mutual
If you’ve ever yearned for “Celebrate Your Friend Anniversary” to become “In A Relationship With…”, Facebook’s brand new dating app is the one for you. Yet to be rolled out globally, with beta tests done in Colombia, Canada and Thailand, Facebook Dating is actually the thing you always wanted to be able to do – tell your crush you like them but only if you’re sure they like you back. Users select the friends for whom they’re secretly crushing on, and if your crush adds you to their list – of which Facebook generously offers 9 picks to be added – you will be revealed to each other. If the feeling isn’t reciprocated, nobody will be the wiser.
There’s also an element of the traditional dating site profile to Facebook Dating as it doesn’t just use your Facebook profile info for the dating app. Users actually create a dating profile that is separate to, but integrated with their main Facebook account, visible only to non-friends who have also opted in to Dating. Potential matches are then suggested on a basis of dating preferences and shared interests and events.
All over… The number of users can’t be beaten at 2.4 billion actively monthly.
Over… The friendship risks. Dating apps introduce you to strangers, but Facebook Dating’s Secret Crush could connect you with someone you already know you fancy and have a long history with, which could be a really good or really bad thing for your friendship…
Best for… A one-night wonder
Tinder needs no introduction: the original location-based fixer-upper is famous for generating flings, finger strains and, well, a lot of fun. The operating mechanics are simple – like or dislike someone (the RSI-inducing swiping bit), then chat if you’re both interested. Interested in what, you ask? Well, more than other apps, Tinder has a rep for being more about casual naked time than meeting the parents.
What remains a mystery is exactly how the algorithm serves up your matches. It’s thought to prioritise users who are near you, active, and active at the same time as you. But it also takes into account how many people have right-swiped you (that’s the good direction), and how many right swipes they themselves have had, in order to hook you up (or more) with someone on the same desirability tier. We think.
All over… The Super Like. Instead of swiping right, you swipe up. When that person sees your profile, a big blue star appears so they know that you’re keen with a capital K. You’re basically hacking the algorithm to push yourself to the top of their pile, and they triple your chances of a match.
Over… Getting too swipe-happy. There’s a daily limit of 100 right swipes, and the more you randomly swipe without exchanging phone numbers or chat (yep, Tinder knows this stuff), the fewer future matches will come your way.
Best for… Turning your love of moaning into love
While every other app on the market tries to bring people together by things they love, Hater goes the other way – developing common ground by encouraging our innate, carnal nature to have a damn good moan. And we get it: is there anything more satisfying in life than a long, hard… rant? Exactly.
Hater mines your opinion on thousands of divisive topics – slow walkers, gluten-free, spray cheese, biting ice-cream – then matches you with people with similar gripes. It even solves the awkward problem of how to start an introductory message (tip: anything but ‘Hey’) by getting you to complete a funny sentence in the vein of Cards Against Humanity – only less dark.
All over… It being completely free, and ad-free. There’s also no bio section so you don’t waste three hours trying to be funny.
Over… The low number of users.
Best for… Merging your social life and dating life
Huggle is a bit like Timeout for dating. It’s another location-based service, but rather than connecting people in the same general vicinity as one another, it’s 100 per cent venue specific. You’ll see users who go to the same places as you – the gym, a favourite coffee shop, a local park, that new cocktail bar you geotagged on Instagram last week.
The thinking is that if you like the same spots, you’ll likely share a similar lifestyle – and, as such, it’s not just focused on dating but also creating new friendships. Suss out what a person is looking for by the icon beside their name: wine for dating, pizza for friendship, and coffee for both.
All over… The ability to send images and videos to matches rather than just plain old text, like most apps.
Over… Potentially having a regular haunt ruined if you don’t get on, but both go there a lot.