Samsung's Instagram Stories camera mode is bad and it should feel bad

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This could be amazing, but instead, it’s aggressively mediocre.

Samsung announced back with the Galaxy S10 that it had integrated an Instagram Stories shooting mode into the phone’s camera app. You can toggle over with a swipe and shoot straight to Instagram Stories, including video. I, like most, scoffed at the idea. I can just open the Instagram app to use all of the capabilities of Stories, or take photos in the camera and share them to my feed, so why would I bother with a separate Instagram mode in the camera itself?

I’ve been deep into Instagram Stories of late and using the Galaxy Note 10+, so I decided to give the dedicated Instagram mode a try — it turns out to have a few great advantages over shooting from the Instagram app, and I was immediately hooked. But it only took a couple of days for me to realize this conclusion was short-sighted; it is, in fact, quite bad. Here’s why … and how Samsung could do better.

lf you use Instagram Stories, the idea of having it built into the camera app is great.

I was so excited to experiment with the Instagram mode in the camera for a few reasons. First, it lets you toggle between the ultra-wide, standard and telephoto lenses, unlike the Instagram app, which is a huge deal. Also, every photo you take is saved to your gallery before being shared to Instagram Stories to edit, so you get a clean version without having to save manually (or forget and miss out completely). Finally, I was excited to take photos natively in the camera app because it would theoretically be higher quality than shooting in Stories directly, which has notoriously bad quality.

Well, it turns out only one of these things is actually useful — and there’s a lot of the experience that’s in need of improvement if I’m ever going to use it again. The benefit of being able to choose between all three cameras is legitimately the best reason to use the Instagram mode — switching perspectives with a tap is super useful, and once you get accustomed to that feature you miss it deeply when shooting in Stories natively. I really wish Instagram made some sort of API available to let phone makers surface their various cameras in the app.

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But apparently my expectations for higher quality when shooting in the camera app were completely incorrect. Shooting with the Instagram mode leads to the same terrible drop-off in quality. (This basically comes down to Instagram stories using a cropped-in video feed, and when you take a “picture” it’s just pulling a single frame, which is much lower resolution than a full-sensor shot.) And that pretty much negates any benefit there is to saving photos before sharing … because I don’t want to save bad photos. I suppose it’s also worth noting that the Instagram Stories mode doesn’t offer the various live filters and effects of the Instagram app.

Ironically, it’s the lesser part of the Instagram-in-Samsung-camera partnership that is much more useful: there’s a one-tap share option after taking a photo in any mode to send directly to your Instagram feed or Stories. This, ultimately, accomplishes most of what I want: you can take a photo with any of the three cameras, use all camera features, get the full-quality photo, have that photo saved locally, and also quickly share it to Instagram. You just don’t get the proper aspect ratio or quick access to video recording you want for Instagram Stories.

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Then there’s one other quirk that really rubbed me the wrong way. Every photo taken with the Instagram mode in the camera app receives a “#withGalaxy” sharing tag in the upper-left corner of the Stories interface, which when tapped doesn’t even lead to a search for the hashtag … it leads directly to the @samsungmobile Instagram account. Now call me old fashioned, but that feels rather slimy — there’s zero reason why Samsung should be forcing this sort of advertising on people who want to use the Instagram mode in the camera. Sure, there are companies like Huawei and OnePlus (and others) that offer an optional watermark in the camera app, but this is both on by default and unable to be turned off. It’s the simplest reason for me to never use the Instagram mode in the camera app, even if all of my other complaints were addressed. C’mon, Samsung, think about this one and realize it doesn’t make you look good.

Samsung’s failures with the Instagram mode are numerous — but also fixable.

So the annoying part of this whole experiment is that I’ve eventually landed right back where I started: taking photos with the camera app, and sharing them to Instagram manually, and using the Instagram app for most of my Stories. For the former, the quality is dramatically higher, and I get to use all three cameras as I see fit; and for the latter, I just put up with the lower quality of Stories knowing I won’t care to save those photos. Plus, most importantly, I don’t get forced into advertising for Samsung’s Instagram account.

Samsung’s failures with this Instagram camera app integration are frustrating because I really want to use this mode. If Samsung could provide higher quality when shooting directly to Instagram Stories, while letting you switch between cameras, and removed the stupid #withGalaxy forced tagging, it would easily make Samsung phones the best choice for Instagram Stories. Perhaps Instagram isn’t willing to offer that sort of deep access into its platform, but it would be a win-win scenario for Samsung and Instagram both.

New Notes

Galaxy Note 10

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From $950 at Samsung

Samsung’s Note flagship is back for 2019.

The Galaxy Note is back for 2019, but it looks a little different than usual. Samsung is selling three different models, removed the headphone jack, and is starting to phase out the microSD card. However, with gorgeous AMOLED displays, faster performance, and an S Pen that does more than ever before, these new Notes are certainly worth a look.