Back in the day dating services may have been considered a last resort in the long, arduous hunt for love or even something of a shameful secret.
But fast-forward to 2018 and nowadays if you’re young (or not-so-young) free and single it’s weird if you don’t have Tinder, Bumble or the hottest new dating app around between staples like Instagram and Deliveroo on your homescreen.
Dating apps are more popular than ever, which means the demand for better experiences, better connections and more diversity is more important than ever too.
That’s why we’re here to help you before you begin your swiping spree. Take a look at our pick of the best dating apps - catering to a wide range of preferences and orientations.
We’d also like to add that we didn’t just look at the app stores to come up with this list, we also quizzed a wide range of dating app guinea pigs, from those who used them once and found a soulmate to those who use them regularly for everything from relationships to flings.
So whatever your preferences, and whatever you’re looking for, check out our selection of the best dating apps.
Competition for a date may be touch, but competition between the top dating apps is fierce. That means it can be hard for other apps to really stand out, which is why OKCupid has turned its focus to matching people up on a ‘deeper level.’
By filling out your profile and answering questions, the app’s algorithm will suggest potential matches who share your interests in the hope you’ll build deeper connections, which you can easily see from a ‘compatibility’ score displayed next to other users. You can also link up your Instagram profile if you think it gives potential matches a better picture of what you’re all about.
Nick said: “The OKCupid dates I went on were often the most interesting, with people I could genuinely chat to.”
The app is free and, unless you use its ‘quickmatch’ Tinder-style option, it’s all about browsing through many profiles and breaking the ice with a message. But this focus on messages can lead to some clear downsides.
Sarah said: “The fact you can easily message for free comes with the downside that you might get a fair few unwanted messages.”
OKCupid recently refreshed its user profiles with an update that allows users to define their pronouns. This information now shows up alongside gender and orientation.
- iOS (Android coming soon)
- Straight, gay, bisexual, other
Now is, as its name implies, focused entirely on meeting up right now. For some, that might sound romantic, thrilling even. For those that prefer to plan, it can cause some pretty serious anxiety.
Once you’ve created an account, you select a window of time when you’re available and then decide what you’d like to do, like ‘coffee’ or ‘drink’ or ‘entertainment’. This immediacy is refreshing in the dreary world of ‘will we ever meet or just awkwardly flirt for weeks before getting bored?’ online dating woes.
Dating blogger Paul Thomas Bell tells us: “I did a lot of research into online dating and Now is the solution to what I found to be the single biggest complaint of women on Tinder - no more pen pals.”
But it turns out that an app designed for instant dating gratification doesn’t necessarily attract those searching for a long-term partner.
Louise told us: “It could just be because of the area I live in, but in my experience most of the guys on Now are only after one thing right now, and it isn’t romance or a coffee...”
Here it is, Tinder. The app that’s apparently the cause of everything, from the rise of STDs and breeding promiscuity to global warming (okay, we’re messing with you with that one). But regardless of who you ask, it has become synonymous with casual dating and hookups rather than those looking for their soulmates.
It’s perfect if you’re looking for something not so serious, but that’s not to say that it’s impossible to find a more long-term love. After all, we’ve all got a friend-of-a-friend who married someone they matched with on Tinder, right? Unless we’re all just referring to the same couple…
The core concept is simple enough. You see someone’s photo. If you like it, swipe right. If you don’t, swipe left. And then repeat a couple of hundred times. If you’ve swiped right on someone and they’ve swiped right on you as well, you’ll be notified and can begin messaging one another.
Hayley Minn says: “I used to love it, it's so easy to use and fun, but it now feels like a game more than anything and I've never had a date lead to anything serious.”
Despite the fact it seems to be losing its edge, we included it because it’s still popular, and the large user numbers mean the more chance of dates.
Louise said: “I’m sick of it, but most people are on it. And I’ve had a few good, well, mediocre, dates.”
In many ways, the Bumble experience is pretty much identical to the Tinder style of swiping, but rather than either party making the first move, it’s up to the girl to say something witty and impressive first within a day.
For many women that we chatted to, this was a breath of fresh air in the often seedy and overwhelming world of online dating and cringe-worthy first messages.
Hayley told us: “I LOVE it! The woman speaks first, and it means guys are way more likely to speak to you if you're not just one of many.”
It also seems that the higher quality experience and focus on women being in control attracts a slightly better standard of men.
Louise told us: “The men are better, looks and personality.”
Paul agreed: “It’s Tinder, but better.”
Calling itself “the relationship app”, Hinge is aimed at those who are tired of Tinder, or just have really sore thumbs from all the swiping.
You’re prompted to ask a series of questions, but you can choose which you answer. The idea is you can build an authentic picture of yourself, with answers, photos, details about what you’re reading or listening to and even video. So you’re more likely to find someone with genuine shared interests, rather than just a nice face.
The biggest difference is there’s no ‘hot or not?’ style swiping. You can like someone’s activities and photos, which reminds us more of Facebook-style interactions, but packaged up within a dating app.
Does this all sound a bit too good to be true? That’s maybe because it is.
Sarah said: “Hinge definitely sounds good in theory. But I haven’t had a date through it yet. I’m trying to stay patient and positive, but I think the instant buzz of Tinder might have ruined me.”
Plenty of Fish
Plenty of Fish is another app that allows you to create a profile, answer questions or just upload your favorite selfies. It’s got a large user-base and when it comes to success rates, it really divides opinion. The huge choice of, erm, fish, tend to mean there are a few long-term love stories and lots of “okay I guess” dating anecdotes.
Louise said: “It’s a totally mixed bag. Be ready to hunt for people through the droves and droves. I’ve had a few fun dates through it, you just have to put the time in to weed through the rubbish.”
Paul said: “All I ever hear from men is that women never reply, and all I ever hear from women is that they get too many messages.”
That said, we know personally of one real world couple that are now married having met through Plenty of Fish, so love can be found here!
Match.com is another older dating website that’s evolved over the years to become one of the most popular apps. The profiles are detailed (if people fill them in), which means you can find out more about someone before you speak to them, and location-based searching means you’re shown people who live or work nearby.
One of the most interesting developments to Match.com’s proposition is group dating events, which sound weird but could set it apart from the rest.
Paul said: “I love that match are evolving by introducing dating events. They have the potential to be the future of dating and it's nice to see one of the top online companies acknowledging that, without losing their original identity.”
If you're serious about finding long-term love as a gay man, Chappy may well be the best app option on the market. Built from an idea by Made In Chelsea's Ollie Locke (stick with us...) it's a respectful community with a higher quality user than some of the sleazier apps.
Letting you choose between "Mr Right" and "Mr Right Now" it's fun and playful if you're in the mood for some quick company, while offering a bit more depth for those looking for a bit more.
According to Basil it's greatest feature is "a slider at the top, where you can indicate what you're after, so only like-minded guys will populate your feed," but the app experience "from that point onwards, is basically Tinder."
Coffee Meets Bagel
Another app, another promise to provide more meaningful connections. Meet Coffee Meets Bagel. Ladies, you’ll be served up a Bagel (that’s what the app calls men) each day at noon, which are only the Bagels (or... erm... men?) that have already liked you. The idea is it’ll cut out time wasting and lead to a greater chance of a connection.
The app also has a recently launched premium feature, which serves up more information about your matches, like how likely they are to reply to you.
It’s another idea that sounds good, but does it really work? We’re yet to find anyone who has found what they’re looking for through the app.
Louise told us: “It’s a great idea and I like the fact I don’t have to sit alone in an evening and swipe for hours, but I haven’t had a date through it yet.”
Paul said: “I like it but I'm not yet convinced. It hasn't captured my imagination quite yet but I do hope they prove me wrong as it has some really good elements to it.”
After a hairy hookup? Scruff takes the basic dating app experience, and tailors it to gay guys looking for burly, furry men, also known as bears, polar bears, cubs and otters.
Scruff quotes over 12 million worldwide users, and has recently expanded into AirBnB style travel accommodation, with a gay-friendly slant, also letting you know if fellow travellers from out of town are looking for some company. Paid tiers unlock additional features for committed users, but the free experience is worthy of inclusion here.
Basil enjoyed the "instant messaging, whether you've been highlighted for a positive match or not. It means there's not instant rejection, but be ready for unsolicited messages too." He encouraged using the private gallery feature to have more meaningful interactions with would-be dates.
Do you ever daydream that you’ll experience a romantic movie moment when you lock eyes with someone and then you’re together for all of eternity? But then you glance at someone in the street in real life and instantly look away again because you’re shy and awkward and not a fictional character? Well, Happn wants to try and resolve that and turn every walk down the street into a dreamy chance to find love.
You fill in your details like you would with any other app, but then your phone’s location smarts kick in and you’re shown people who are nearby. Whether that means they live near you, work near you, have the same Sunday morning routine, or anything else.
Nick said: “I met a lot of great people through this app. You’re bound to have similar lives if they keep showing up near you. Plus, it takes the pressure off because you’re already in each other’s proximity - you can easily go for a drink.”
But there are drawbacks to the “find people nearby” USP.
Nick continued: “The problem is, if you go on a bad date, you’ll see the same person again and again.”
Hayley said: “I used to love this. But then it keeps bringing up the same people over and over if you're doing the same commute everyday as other people.”
Taste Buds wants to connect you up with people who share your music interests, which is why it calls itself “Tinder for music lovers”, as if everyone on Tinder doesn’t love music?
If someone’s music tastes are a dealbreaker, this app will weed out anyone who isn’t destined to sit and listen to your favourite artists with you.
Paul said: “It’s a really nice idea. But I’m not sure if it has any longevity. I hope I’m proven wrong, as it's quite innovative.”
Formerly called Dattch, Her claims it's the "most popular lesbian app" and that's hardly a surprise considering its fresh approach to connecting people. It's mostly about dating with its "Meet" tab, with a bit of platonic social networking thrown in for good measure via its Facebook-like "Feed" area.
To set up a profile you answer some simple questions and then sync it up with your Facebook account. A lot of the people on the app say that's REALLY appealing because it stops men from seeking out lesbian and queer people in an attempt to chat them up and somehow change their orientation... Yeah, it makes no sense to us either, but its an all-too-common problem on some of the more straight-focused dating apps. But Her puts a stop to it before you've even signed up. Phew.
It doesn't just cater for lesbians – the app is for lesbian, bi, pansexual, trans and queer people, too. It just makes a big deal of its "most popular lesbian app" creds in its marketing materials.
Have you ever been texting someone lovely or on a great date with someone to then find out the next time you meet that you’ve got absolutely zilch in common? Sure some people can build relationships from differing interests, but it’s often easier if you have at least one hobby to share.
That’s why Sweatt seems like a kinda silly, kinda great idea. It’s essentially like Tinder, but for those who love fitness and working out. The aim is you’ll find someone who loves exercise just as much as you do so you can become one of those cringe-worthy couples who lifts weights together or does complicated acrobatic yoga poses and then posts them to Instagram.
Like Tinder, Sweatt isn’t interested in getting you to fill out lengthy questionnaires, instead profiles are simple. This is great for those who are pushed for time, but it does mean it’s likely your matches will be based solely on how you both look - a fact some will love and others will hate.
Also like Tinder, you can search through potential matches by swiping and if you both like each other you’re matched and can begin the cat and mouse game. Except in this case the mouse loves running and the cat is so toned it looks like it’s been moulded from clay.