Finding love in the age of Tinder is no easy feat. Instead of phone calls, there’s the cryptic text message; instead of maturely calling it quits, there’s (or worse, breaking up via Snapchat); and instead of blind dates, there is a veritable sea of dating apps to navigate. Are you busy and ambitious? Do you read your horoscope every morning? Can you craft a perfect playlist? There’s a dating app for you! Unfortunately, finding the right dating app isn’t so easy (as if finding a perfect match weren’t hard enough).
How can you tell —and worth the time and energy that first dates require? We gave our best shot at answering these questions and convinced a few of our editors to review the on the market right now. The stories will make you laugh, make you cry, and perhaps inspire your own search for love. Want to know if our editors found what they were looking for? Read their quest to find—if not love—the best free dating apps, and pick one out for yourself.
The Nuts and Bolts: It’s easy to use and has a simple interface, but you do have to pay to go back to a previous swipe, which is lame. This app is the pioneer of swiping, which in its own right gives it a five out of five. That being said, Tinder is overrated: There are the ads, the inability to swipe backward, and almost too many people on it now. Everyone uses it now, so the pool of potential partners isn’t the best, and the user experience is now a pay-to-play kind of experience.
The Dating Pool: I give it a four out of five on a REALLY good day, but most days it’s a one. I’ve meet some really great guys on Tinder, and then there are some who are terribly frightening. Finding men on Tinder is like shopping in a vintage store: You have to sift through the piles to find the good stuff.
The Date: I’ve had quite a few bad dates, but one of the worst began on a high note. Any time a guy calls, I’m thrilled. I’m old-school, and I love it when they aren’t afraid to be old-school too. So this date starts by him calling and saying he’s going to pick me up and take me out (YAS, finally a man with a plan). From there, it’s downhill. I give him detailed directions on how to find me, he gets lost, and I had to walk to him in heels. Being an optimist, I let it slide and got in his car. He says hi and then kisses my hand—cute, right?
Until I find my hand suddenly being rubbed against his face—why, I do not know. He then asks me where we’re going. So much for a plan. After pulling my hand away a few times and a few back-and-forth rebuttals, we finally decide on an overrated café in Santa Monica. He insists on hanging out longer after eating, but I make him walk back to the car. We sit in the car for 20 to 30 minutes while I try to convince him to take me home. He continues with the hand-rubbing thing, and after I finally give off enough signals, he literally stops talking to me—like complete silence—and drops me off.
Length of Use: I’ve been on it for about a year and have been on probably eight to 10 dates. Honestly I’ve just stopped using it because Bumble has grown in popularity.
Would You Recommend It? Yes. At the end of the day you may not meet The One, but you’ll have some stories to tell by trying it out. And though I rag on the experience of the many, many terrible men on Tinder, I must say there’s something special about finding a gem among the dirt.
The Nuts and Bolts: It’s easy to use, bright, colorful, and doesn’t feel as “shameful” as Tinder. I love that the only one who can start conversations is the girl. It makes it easier to avoid the weirdos, and it makes me step up my game. Also, you can swipe back free of charge, and there’s even a feature in the app that allows you to match with friends. But it only gives you 24 hours to reach out to the guy and for him to reply, so it’s almost too much pressure. It can be annoying since I don’t want to check my phone every two hours to see if I messaged or matched with a guy.
The Dating Pool: On average, I go on five dates for every 10 matches. The guys are way, way cuter on Bumble; that being said, I’ve had more solid relationships/friendships come out of Tinder than Bumble. It seems everyone I’ve talked to thus far is more easily distracted than people on Tinder. On Tinder, you could talk to a guy for two months; on Bumble, maybe two days. Maybe that's because the app pressures you to start a conversation in less time? Or because there are more attractive people on Bumble?
Overall, you do get more matches, but it almost makes me miss having to sift through all the bad men on Tinder to find the good ones.
The Date: But my most horrific online dating experience has come from Bumble. I was talking to this guy, and we really clicked; we had the same humor and even the same horoscope sign. But once we got to know each other, I found out he used to be a drug addict, which really scared me away from dating for a while (I ended up because I couldn’t handle it). But when it comes to dating online or in person, you have to take the same stance that you would expect your father too: Don’t take any crap, and always remember that the good ones take time to find.
Length of Use: About three months—I’m still new to the Bumble game! And I’ve been on four dates.
Would You Recommend It? Yes, it’s a fun alternative to Tinder, and it’s a great way to build your confidence in talking to guys if you’re used to them making the first move.
The Nuts and Bolts: Instead of having just a gallery of images, the app prompts you to choose a theme song to play during your photo slideshow. You can tell a lot about a person by the images they choose, but even more by the one song they have them coincide with! The annoying thing is that the app doesn’t allow you to look at only one geographical location, so even though I live in New York, I still have to sift through prospects in Los Angeles, London, and other cities. The other con is that it costs $8 a month, but I figure that’s like two cups of coffee, so it’s not a big deal to me.
The Dating Pool: The dating pool is full of creative, attractive prospects who all seem to have interesting careers.
The Date: I’ve only been on one date from the app, and we dated for a couple of months!
Would You Recommend It? Yes!
The Nuts and Bolts: You’ll die laughing when you see what happens when you get your first match. I’m not that religious, so I don’t use any of the other apps or sites aimed at Jewish singles, but they made it easy to categorize how religious you are so you’re not as likely to match with someone who has a vastly different lifestyle.
The Dating Pool: I met a lot of really nice guys on JSwipe—pretty typical wine bar–and-apps dates.
The Date: I found out about the app from my roommate, who had a friend who knew the founder, so we accidentally ended up going out with the same guy, since the app was pretty new at the time and we were both located close to this person (obviously, since we lived in the SAME APARTMENT), so that was funny, if not ultimately successful.
Length of Use: About a year, dozens of dates. I stopped using it when I went on a digital dating cleanse, which I highly recommend everyone do periodically.
Would You Recommend It? Yes, if you’re looking to date someone Jewish. If not, then probably not.
The Nuts and Bolts: “Location-based dating sounds kind of terrifying, but since I’m one of those people who doesn’t like to travel for dates (You live in Brooklyn? How cute.), it was helpful for me,” said Kate. Gabby had a different take: “The user experience isn’t bad, but a little overwhelming. You’re probably crossing paths with hundreds of single men a day—thousands in New York—but do you need to match with every single one?”
The Dating Pool: “Happn initially launched in Europe, so the population can skew a little Euro, but generally speaking the quality of the matches I got was good. The nature of the app meant that most of the guys I met either lived or worked near where I lived or worked, which made setting up dates really easy,” said Kate. For Gabby, it was more hit or miss: “You match with people you’ve crossed paths with, which is in theory interesting, but in practicality a little weird. For one, I matched with the photographer at a family wedding.
I also knew exactly who lived in my building based on the number of times we crossed paths. Sadly, the one time I was driving behind a really cute guy in a vintage convertible (picture Ryan Phillippe in Cruel Intentions), we did not cross paths on Happn. And don’t even think about opening the app at an airport. But if there are a lot of good-looking people in your area, consider signing up.”
The Date: “I achieved the ultimate New York dream,” said Kate. “I got to go out with my hot random neighborhood crush thanks to Happn. We matched on the app, and I didn’t let it slip that I’d seen him walking to the subway every morning while I walk back from the gym for like four years until the third date. It didn't work out for other reasons, but he thought it was charming. He said.”
Length of Use: “I used it on and off for about a year, never super heavily, probably went on a few dozen dates,” said Kate. As for Gabrielle, “I used it for a few months last summer and lost interest after one date.”
Would You Recommend It? “Yes—of the people I met, it definitely made dating more convenient,” said Kate.
The Nuts and Bolts: The service’s big point of difference is its matching algorithm, but it’s never made that much of a difference, in my experience. The low-percentage matches were definitely not people I was likely to swipe right on, but it’s not like the 98% matches were love at first sight either.
The Dating Pool: There are definitely some advantages to using one of the bigger sites (more people!), but also some disadvantages (more terrible people!).
The Date: My 98% match and I went to dinner at the Odeon in NYC, and he was determined to talk about every single one of the common interests we had listed on our profiles. We ended up talking about the new sails he was buying for his boat for 45 minutes, and then he was astonished that I didn’t want to go home with him.
Length of Use: I met a few people I really liked and one guy I dated seriously, and I had some total disasters over the course of about a year. I have no idea how many dates I went on, but dozens. I stopped using it after I started dating someone I met on OkCupid seriously. By the time I was single again, more mobile apps like Tinder had come on the scene, so I didn’t go back.
Would You Recommend It? Sure!
The Nuts and Bolts: You can see who’s liked you, in addition to a pool of people you can like. It’s kind of helpful, I guess, if you’re really afraid of rejection and only want to look at people who are interested in you first.
The Dating Pool: Everyone’s profile seemed fine, but I communicated with a whopping two people the entire time and went on no dates. Doesn’t seem to really have enough of a user base to be effective.
Length of Use: Not very long—I went on no dates. I don’t think this is anyone’s go-to dating app, which makes it hard to find and meet people.
Would You Recommend It? Not based on my experience, no.
The Nuts and Bolts: The user experience is not bad, but not fantastic either. You’ll probably receive more messages from the app’s concierge than potential matches. The app also pulls your LinkedIn educational and professional background—so my profile lists every job I’ve had since graduating college and where I went to high school, which is a little odd. By far, the best feature of this app is that it gives you a maximum of five potential matches a day—why in the world would you need more? The users are carefully vetted, which eliminates the mindless swiping aspect of most apps, which I really like.
No one has time for endless swiping these days—and if they did, I probably wouldn’t want to date them.
The Dating Pool: Let me start by saying that at first glance, the quality of guys on the app is second to none. I wouldn’t need more than five potential matches a day, because I end up swiping right on three or four out of five. These men are good-looking, educated, and ambitious and generally seem to have their lives together. The downside? They’re probably too busy to be on the app, because even though the number of matches is high, the percentage of guys who actually reach out to chat is pretty low.
The Date: I started using The League when I moved to New York, and I went on two to three dates. It’s ambiguous whether the guys on this app are actually catches or if they just have really carefully crafted Instagram profiles and impressive LinkedIn résumés. Overall, I can’t say that any of the dates I went on blew me away more than on another app (possibly the contrary). Each guy was certainly normal and well put-together and could hold a conversation—but no sparks have really flown yet.
Would You Recommend It? Sure!
The Nuts and Bolts: Honestly, this just feels like a more boring version of Tinder. It’s easy to use, but there’s no lust there. This app only connects you with matches based on your network of friends, which seems great, but if I were going to make my friends set me up, I would ask them. It also limits all of the people you could meet.
The Dating Pool: The quality of the dating pool was alright. It seemed like too comfortable, though; on Tinder or Bumble, there’s pressure to reach out and talk to the person, versus Hinge, where I only talked to like three guys out of the 20 I matched with. And I had no dates because no one seems to be interested in talking on the app.
Length of Use: Three months; no dates. It ended up being the one app I didn’t really use because no one else seemed to be using it.
Would You Recommend It? Skip it; there are more apps in the sea, and more men, too.
The Nuts and Bolts: The branding is adorable. Every match is considered a “bagel,” and you’re the coffee, looking for your mate. You use “coffee beans” to gather points based on how much you engage, divulge, etc., and that unlocks more access/information on your matches. I would say, however, the best thing about this app is how you can’t scroll through a website of prospects; instead, you’re sent one match every day at noon. You get the alert, you say yes or no, and that’s it. No scrolling through endless pictures, no digging deep into essay-like profiles.
In my opinion, this is the hassle-free way of dipping your toes into dating apps for the busy person who doesn’t have time to scroll through feeds or browse through profiles.
The Dating Pool: The app was founded by three Korean-American sisters, so the majority of its users were Asian when I was last on it, which can work for or against you pending your preference. The actual quality of matches were all average, normal, nice guys but a bit on the dull side. Though, I can't rate it too harshly, because my third match was my final—for good reason.
The Date: I don’t have a worst-date story. My policy is to give every guy two dates because I think any mishaps in the first (awkwardness, moments of silence, lost reservations) can be chalked up to jitters. The activities for the dates I went on were fun, but that wasn’t really a reflection of the guys’ tastes but mine since we just did whatever I wanted to do—going to the Met to see a limited exhibit of the rooftop painting by Pakistani artist Imran Qureshi, Café Sabarsky for German sausages, or the Brooklyn Book Festival.
By the fifth date, I was exhausted. One day I scheduled meeting two different guys on the same day. Not meeting anyone stimulating, I decided to cancel the app, but right before I did, I connected to someone who wanted to meet up that weekend. I thought to myself, This is the last one. On my way out, the app asked me why I was quitting, and I clicked the option: I didn’t meet anyone. Boy, was I wrong.
The third guy broke the two-date curse and then some. We’re still dating, and it’s been almost three years. [Ed. note: They got married earlier this year!] We were one of Coffee Meets Bagel’s first success stories. So much so that the team sent us matching couple T-shirts and wanted us to send them pictures of ourselves on dates for their website. We passed.
Length of Use: Approximately one month, I would say.
Would You Recommend It? Yes, I would!
The Nuts and Bolts: I spent a whopping five minutes on the app—I think that says a lot. For starters, your five potential matches show up on a constellation-like sky chart (with you at the center—how groundbreaking). There’s no way of swiping left on your matches (or seeing new ones), and not one was even remotely attractive. So that was that for me. The app matches you based on astrological compatibility, which is amusing. It completely fails, however, to consider any other factor—looks, education, age, location—so the matches were a total flop to me.
I think the concept is good, but the app is poorly executed, and the user pool seems low.
The Dating Pool: In a nutshell: new-agey. No surprise here. One guy named Jack was sitting on the stoop of a Lord of the Rings hobbit house. Another goth-looking 24-year-old was sitting cross-legged, arms perched on an oversize wingback canopy chair, looking ready to pet a Himalayan cat à la Dr. Claw. Again, this is two out of five potential matches. I’ll spare you the rest.
Length of Use: I was on the app for less than an hour.
Would You Recommend It? No.
Date Better With These Essential Tools
Subscribe to our newsletter for more dating advice and relationship tips.
This story was originally published on May 13, 2016, and has since been updated.