Instagram isn't just for hipsters. The iPhone-only photo app is getting ready to take off in a big way, and you might enjoy giving it a try -- even if your kids, like my daughter, say it's really only for people under the age of 25.
That's about where Facebook started and look at it now -- a favorite way for all generations to stay connected. And like Facebook, Instagram is a social network and it's free to join. But at Instagram, it's all about the photos. Sure, you can share your own with family and friends, but Instagram is a great place to discover new places to visit or simply enjoy the sites from the comfort of any seat you happen to be in with a phone in hand.
And if you have an interest in photography, you'll discover new photographers and gain inspiration from their work to fuel your own.
First, the equipment. Instagram has been only available through iTunes, which meant iPhone and iPad users. (Instagram has not been formatted for larger iPad screens, but it's still usable.) However, last week Instagram launched an early notification sign-up page for Android smartphone users at http://instagr.am/android/. Who knows how many have signed up? But it's my guess that the company will send out emails as soon as the app is available in the Android Marketplace and there won't be any limits on downloads.
iPhones aren't the only phones with good cameras. You'll find plenty of Android phones that match iPhone's 8-megapixel camera and have bigger screens. Tech enthusiasts are holding their breath for Samsung's Galaxy S3, rumored to have a full HD 4.8-inch display. It could arrive as early as April, but no official word yet. While you don't want an unwieldy phone, you will appreciate a larger screen when you're viewing photos and working with an app like Instagram.
Instagram photos are "instantly" recognizable by their retro appearance. But you don't have to do any fancy photo editing to achieve the range of effects. There are 16 filters in all, and a single tap shows you what your photo will look like with each one.
Ready to get started? Download the app to your device. You'll create an account with a user name and password. Instagram will then ask if you'd like to connect with friends on Facebook, Twitter or through your contact list on your phone.
Privacy is simple -- it's either on or off. When privacy is "off" your photos are visible to everyone and anyone can choose to follow you. When privacy is "on," you'll receive a notification when another member wants to follow your picture stream. When you're setting up your account, Instagram will also give you the opportunity to follow notable photographers -- you'll see a sample of work and decide to follow or not. You can also program Instagram to automatically send your photos to Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and several other sites to save you those extra steps.
Taking pictures and giving them that Instagram look is simple. Launch the app, tap the camera icon and shoot. A strip of 16 filter options will appear at the bottom of your screen. Inkwell turns a photo to black and white, toaster gives an overexposed spot in the center and 1977 gives a faded cast -- there's no right or wrong, just pick the one you like the best. Tap the checkmark to launch the comment and sharing page.
To use Instagram like a pro, keep your commentary short. You can use hashtags to make photos searchable by certain words. For instance, if you take a photo sailing on Lake Tahoe, you might want to write your caption like this: Sailing on Lake #Tahoe, so people searching for that Northern California hot spot would see it. Likewise, use terms to find photographers who shoot subjects that interest you or search by a professional's name -- chances are, they're on Instagram.
While there's no reason you can't use Instagram for a family photo album, you can also use it as a place to experiment as a photographer. Post an artsy photo of your keyboard on Facebook and you're a kook. Post it on Instagram and you're an artist.
Ogden-based TopTenREVIEWS.com guides consumers by comparing products in the world of technology, including electronics, software and Web services. Have a question for TopTenREVIEWS? Email Leslie Meredith at email@example.com.