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The idea of Snapchat was first conceived in 2011 when founder Evan Spiegel was having a conversation with his friend Reggie Brown. Brown explained to Spiegel that even though he was enjoying exchanging messages with a girl, he wished all the photos he was sending her would vanish after she saw them.

Spiegel clearly liked what Brown was putting down, and over the summer of 2011, Snapchat began to pick up steam (back then it was called Pictaboo) with the help of Brown and co-founder Bobby Murphy. They even used the same cute little ghost icon that we know and love today!

After a bit of drama (what's a successful start-up tech company without a little drama?), a name change, some people leaving, and a brand shift, Snapchat as we know it began to take shape.

Today, Snapchat has nearly 180 million daily users who send and receive snaps. Want to be among them? We're here to help you set up Snapchat and get in on the fun!

Download: Snapchat (free) (opens in new tab)

How does Snapchat work?

Think of Snapchat as messages meant for a secret agent, except instead of your video or picture message exploding when it's done playing or times out, it simply disappears.

If you try and screenshot a photo or video that someone has sent your way, Snapchat will alert the person on the other end that you've screenshotted their snap, so don't think you're being sneaky — you'll just end up embarrassing yourself!

You can use Snapchat for pretty much anything, although it was originally designed for dating (can you guess why?), but it's recently become a more artistic medium for some people.

One of Snapchat's newest features is the "story," which broadcasts your snaps out to many other snappers for 24 hours rather than sending a snap to one person.

Some people spend a lot of time shooting interesting things, taking unique photos, and sharing their lives through their "story" because it's not as permanent as posting something to Instagram but not as fleeting and temporary as sending out individual snaps.

Sign up for Snapchat and get started

Signing up for Snapchat is super simple. After downloading the app, open it from your home screen. You'll see a bright yellow screen with a little white ghost on it. Underneath, tap on the red login bar (the little ghost will then stick his tongue out).

Enter your first and last name, your birthday, your username (this is how friends will add you on Snapchat), and your password. Enter in your phone number or email and wait for your confirmation code.

Once you've signed up for Snapchat and gone through the verification process, Snapchat will scan your contact list for other people using the app, so you can add friends. Then you're ready to get snapping!

Getting familiar with the home screen

Your home screen in Snapchat isn't the Stories/discover section like some people think (although that is where all the action happens), but the screen that shows what your camera sees when you first open the app.

On the home screen, you'll see a few different icons that do different things, including a tiny ghost at the top that when you swipe down, shows a pull-down menu of extra Snapchat things like how to add friends, settings, and more.

Filters

Filters in Snapchat work similarly to filters in Instagram but with a fraction of the options to choose from. After you take your photo or video, swipe left to pick from all your filter options. At this time, there are four color-filter options to choose from:

Filter #1:

Slightly airbrushed and brightened effect throughout the filter. Also lowers the contrast a bit.

Filter #2:

A very light green/yellow tint to your photo or video. Makes things a bit darker, so it looks best with snaps that have brighter lighting.

Filter #3:

A 'modern' looking filter that gives your photo a blueish, cool tone. Makes colors pop and adds a bit of saturation to otherwise dull snaps.

Filter #4:

Your standard, run-of-the-mill black and white effect.

There are a number of other of filters to choose from that wont tint your pictures. You can add the speed into your snaps if you're traveling on a car or bike, the temperature if it's a particularly hot day, the date or time, and your phone's battery percentage.

Your city or neighborhood may even have a few geofilters designed for you to use (geofilters will only work if you're in a certain space or area), so be sure to swipe through all of your filter options and explore!

Lenses

A lot of people get lenses and filters mixed up because they sound like similar things, but in reality they're super different features on Snapchat.

While a filter works by laying a blanket tint, text, or design over your photo or video, a lens works by adding real-time sound effects and special effects directly onto your Snapchat screen as you pose and snap.

When the feature was first rolled out, people could take pictures with lenses that turned them into puppies, made them vomit rainbows, distorted their faces into hilarious caricatures of themselves and more, but as lenses have become more and more popular, the options you have seem to grow daily.

Singular-person lenses

Singular-person lenses first appeared in 2015 and do just what you think they do; produce a lens for a singular person.

These lenses are normally updated and changed every single day, and feature everything from cute and cuddly animal lenses, freaky demonic lenses, lenses that give you a full face of makeup, lenses that let you face swap with a photo in your camera roll, and much more.

Double-person lenses

Double-person lenses or "Try it with a friend" lenses are new-ish to Snapchat, but they only appear on a couple of lens options and they change constantly, as in: one hour a double lens will exist and the next hour it'll only be a single-person lens.

Double-person lenses work by masking both people in the frame with a similar effect but with a slight variation (one's a brown dog and one's a dalmatian or one's a panda and one's a koala, etc.) or they work by applying the same effect to both people, like the same flower crown or wreath or laurels.

Doodling

After you take a snap, you'll notice a small white pencil in the upper right-hand corner of the screen. This lets you draw and add your own artwork to your Snapchat videos and photos.

You can even adjust and pick your colors as you draw, and on Android phones, you have the option to change the opacity (so if you want to draw a ghost chasing you, you totally can).

Pro tip: Use a stylus for more creative control over your drawings!

Text

Right beside the white pencil in the corner is a large "T" that stands for "text". Tap on that icon to produce a text box on your snap and then go ahead and write whatever you want.

You can tap the T again to change the text from a panel to free-floating text. Here you can change your text color, size, and position on your snap. If you tap the T again, it centers the text for you but still keeps the text free-floating for you to adjust as you want.

Stickers & Emojis

On the other side of the white T and the pencil on your snap screen is a little box that looks like its edge is folded inward. This is the button for all the fun stuff – the stickers and emojis!

Tap on the icon and you'll see some of Snapchat's own stick designs, but if you keep swiping you'll quickly see all of your favorite emojis displayed.

You can put stickers and emojis into your videos or photos on Snapchats, or you can "stick'" them to your video, which means the sticker or emoji would match movements with an item in the video.

Taking, sending and saving your snaps

After you've taken your desired snap and edited it, there are a few things that you can do with your Snapchat photo or video.

You can send your snap out to specific people by tapping on the big blue and white arrow in the lower righthand corner and selecting who specifically you'd like to send it to from your friends list; just don't forget to adjust the length of the snap in the lower lefthand corner.

You can also save your snap directly to your camera roll by tapping on the little white arrow going into the box at the bottom of your screen, or send the snap directly to your story by tapping on the square with the plus sign icon beside it (you can also send a snap to your story through the same screen where you send individual ones. The "your story" option is at the top.)

Your story/discover page

If you swipe to the left of your Snapchat home screen, you'll find the stories page, and if you swipe again, you'll land on the discover page.

The discover page is a bit useless now that Snapchat has made all the outside news sources on that page appear on the stories page, but if you're looking to cut through the noise and use Snapchat as a super convenient news source rather than a way to send and receive videos, then the discover page will be your best friend.

At the top of the page, you'll see your stories – these are the snaps that you've set for all of your followers to see for 24 hours before they disappear. If we're looking at this from a social media perspective, your story is almost like a temporary Facebook page that broadcasts the day's shenanigans to all your followers.

You can also use the story page to scroll through all of your friends' stories as they post them. Every time a friend posts something to their story, their story will jump to the top of your queue, so you can watch them in order. While you're watching a story, you can tap on your screen to jump to the next snap in their story, or swipe to go to the next person's story altogether.

Another cool thing Snapchat has is its news sources, entertainment sources, and publications that are updated daily on your discover and story page. Currently, Snapchat has regular feeds from Tastemade, Daily Mail, Buzzfeed, IGN, Refinery29, Cosmopolitan, VICE, MTV, People, Comedy Central, CNN, Bleacher Report Sports, Mashable, the Food Network, National Geographic, and Sweet Magazine.

Sending audio, text, photo and video messages

Snapchat isn't just used for sending out snaps; it can also be used as an instant messaging service for audio and text messages, along with photo and video calls.

To start a conversation with a friend on Snapchat, simply find them in your friends list and tap on their photo. Tap on the little blue icon in the pop-up's lower left-hand corner to bring up the conversation window.

Once the window is open, you can send pictures from your camera roll by tapping on the photo icon; send an audio note by holding the phone icon or make an audio call by tapping the phone icon; record a video note by holding the video icon or make a video call by tapping the video icon; and send emojis via the smiley face icon.

Anything tips for starting on snap?

Is there anything we missed about Snapchat that you'd love for us to cover? Let us know in the comments below!

48 Comments
  • Tried it, found it almost useless for a functional adult. I would love it as a preteen girl, I'm sure. Unlocked Marshmallow Nexus 6 on Verizon. I'm a happy guy.
  • Ha, same here. Plus, the owner is a bad man. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Doesn't the owner hate android or something? Heard he makes the app perform bad on android on purpose... Posted via the Android Central App
  • Not having a valid use for Snapchat is one of the metrics I use to define myself as Old. But at least I understand what it is now, so thanks!
  • I had the same idea as you until my wife started sending me throughout my work day snap videos and photos of our recent born daughter. Then you both have a very valid use case for it and feel even older. Posted via the Android Central App
  • I have a two-year old myself, so I can definitely see that, but why would you want pictures that delete themselves? We kept all our baby pictures.
  • Photos we back up on Google photos too. But snaps we do it always on video. And it's just a different way of keeping contact. I guess the fact that it's not kept for ever make them more spontaneous to send a "say hi to daddy" and baby smiles. Posted via the Android Central App
  • As a parent that went through that stage of my daughter's life when phones barely had cameras, I wish I could have had what you have. But I sure would have kept them. Then I didn't care, now I wish I could go back and see those moments.
  • I've found texting with the messaging app of my phone allows me to send messages and pictures to my friends and family. We've all been using texts for years now. Works good and most plans these days have unlimited texts...
  • I find the app very useful for any ages. For example I have it installed on both of my parents phone's, iPhone 5s and Galaxy J3. It's the best way to stay in touch across platforms for video calling (something Google native apps still lack) and sharing moments with friends and family. Posted via Samsung's beast S7
  • What benefit does Snapchat have that SMS, Skype, Hangouts, Facebook Messenger, etc don't? Hangouts has video calling, but I'm guessing you don't consider that a 'native' app.
  • No one uses it. Posted via Samsung's beast S7
  • The fact that people use it... About 99% of my friends use SMS and SnapChat (young and old). None of them use Hangouts, WhatsApp, Skype, etc. I tend to only use the ones my friends use. Posted via my Nexus 6P
  • The only real complaint (except for battery usage) is that the snapchat camera can't get exposure and dynamic range right, also the pictures are VERY compressed, videos too. Posted from outer space on my Moto X Style
  • It doesn't actually take a picture. It just takes a screenshot of the viewfinder, resulting in crappy images. Lazy devs or did they aim for 0 shutter lag? I don't know.
  • Never used it and don't care to. NEXUS 6 T-Mobile
  • The SEO is strong with this title... ...actually it's strong with all of them. That's the one thing these guide articles by non-AC staff actually excel at.
  • "How to use snapchat on Android" Don't....... Just...... don't..... Posted via the Android Central App
  • I know right? Time to remove AndroidCentral from my rss feeds and Feedly. It's been fun but this is no longer a tech website.
  • An article about how to use Snapchat... yet there's no mention of porn? That's an odd editorial decision.
  • Most things are better left to imagination! Why do i even comment!
  • It's surprising isn't!?? You would think that nudes would be the first thing they mention.... Posted via the Android Central App
  • Snapchat is definitely more useful for sharing moments and events in an instant rather than FB or Twitter. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Tried it. Deleted in 10 mins. Couldn't personally find any use for it Posted via the Android Central App
  • So I can take picture of snaps by using other phone (or camera) to take picture of the screen?
    Really don't find purpose for this, if I'm sending photo to someone I don't regret if someone else sees that. We are human after all. :D Posted via the Android Central App
    for LG G3
  • I wish they'd use the image processing on my S7 instead of basically taking a screenshot of the view finder. The fact that they don't makes my images look like they're from a cheap Walmart phone. AT&T Galaxy S7 Onyx Black with Unlimited Data
  • Somewhat off-topic, but what is the device from the pictures in this article?
  • Nexus 6P is the phone in the pics. 
  • Thanks! Didn't know it was so pretty in real-life, I'd only seen the commercial photos.
  • I'm not taking the Snapchat bait Rodeo time, time to get er on down the road
  • my phone make slow motion videos on snapchat...i tried everything to fix it but nothing changed...re-installing, phone reset... everything...it is still making really slow motion and sluggish videos on both cameras...help me guys Posted via the Android Central App
  • This girl looks like eminems daughter Posted via the Android Central App
  • I'm almost 23 and I never found a need for it, my gf uses it all day and I have it on my phone but rarely look at it Nexus 5X or 7 2013
  • Snapchat was so good before they introduced the discover junk, now it's garbage and unistalled recently. I'm sad that I can't share my cat videos 24/7. It's not the same using other forms of social media Posted via the Android Central App
  • If you're talking about how you don't need Snapchat and it's useless in your life then you likely don't hang out with cool young adults into social media. If that's the case then why are you even here commenting..... this app is made for people with Many friend on the same app into social media.... funny how people grow up physically but mentally still children Posted via the Android Central App
  • Funny how you have to use an app to "be cool". Sounds like you are still a kid. Funny how people cannot grow up and mentally still be children.
  • I started using it for the same reason as Twitter, keeping up with sports or movies I like Teams use any medium they can to get content out. Nhl teams did snaps about the entry draft several weeks agk, Mets for example did a lot in their series win against the Cubs When it's a phone opposed to on FB it feels more personal which people have commented on Don't always have time to check out Ign, mashable, ESPN, on tv but I can easily watch that for a quick lowdown Posted via the Android Central App
  • Why is it that Snapchats from my mum's iPhone 5S look SIGNIFICANTLY better, especially video, than my Galaxy Note 3. It's as if Snapchat is sharing the SCREENSHOT, not an actual photo on the Android!! Their devs can go to Hell especially with their infamous attitude of being negative to Android...
  • For those who don't see the value, think of it as a quick way to send your friends or family pics that have no lasting value and and that certainly don't need to be saved. My friends and I use it all the time to send pics of stupid stuff, things that remind us of inside jokes, places or things we might see while traveling, or just random stuff. For example, one of my friends is traveling and is sending us snaps of various things he sees: a scenery picture with the location or temperature tagged, a pic of something he's eating or drinking, etc. These pics are just quick-hitters--they're not intended to be high-quality, cherished shots included in a lasting photo album. While I enjoy seeing these pics, I certainly don't need to keep them on my phone or within a lengthy MMS thread. With SMS/MMS, you'd have to take a pic, send it to an MMS thread, add the contacts if they're not on the thread, etc. In Snapchat, you take the pic and then check off the people you want to send it to and that's it.
  • Uninstalled a few weeks ago, app has gone downhill fast. Terrible lag and image quality, slow to open and actually snap something. If I want to share something quick it's far less reliable than opening the camera app and taking a photo. If I want to share something I have time to photograph it's pointless due to low quality. It's basically an app for sending stupid selfies or inappropriate stuff to the other gender. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Next article: how to turn on your Android phone... Posted via the Android Central App
  • I downloaded it and use it, but basically just for the lenses. I've been waiting for the Super Saiyan one to come back around (which was essentially the reason I got the app in the first place), but have been having fun with a few of the others. As a dedicated messaging/communication platform, I'd rather use something else entirely though. (P.S., At 40 I'm apparently an old man, so my opinion may be due to the Crotchety virus.) :)
  • A Super Saiyan lens would be the coolest! :)
  • its pretty decent to share quick stories. i use it to promote my music tho.
  • That's actually a super smart idea! I love that you can play music and record your snaps.
  • I know how it works. It's not hard to figure out.
    What I'm having a hard time figuring out is the point of it... Well apart from spamming all other social networks with pictures of stupid girls with a dog nose and for American Coeds to sell private strip shows. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Missing from the article: Lenses can be layered. Android supports 2 layers currently. after picking a lens, press and hold with one finger and while holding swipe the screen with another finger to add a new lens over what you currently have selected.
  • I'm here Posted via the Android Central App