For LGBT folks, there has never been any shame in looking for love, or the next best thing, online. With a smorgasbord of dating and hook-up apps to choose from, however, which should you bank on?
The popular kid on the block: Blued
Perfect if you’re in search of Mr Right Now – ideally pre-oiled
The Death Star has installed a hairpin bend in its ventilation shaft.
Interface: Another Grindr rip-off, just bluer. It’s impossible to know who’s copying whom, but there’s nothing to stop you running both apps simultaneously. Profiles tend towards the torso-centric, and minimum user information beyond vital statistics is visible.
Other areas are chocka with LGBT news and listicles (Chinese only) and the app also serves as a social media profile with a platform similar (Ok, almost identical) to WeChat Moments. The user base is huge and overwhelmingly local, meaning, provided you’re not a dating racist, you’ve got a good chance of uncovering someone who’s your type. Those looking for foreign faces, however, will find themselves fresh out of luck.
VPN? Nope, and boy is it fast.
The best looking: Aloha
Mobile design at its prettiest, it’s Tinder, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram all rolled into one
Logo: Likely inspired by a childhood transfer tattoo.
Interface: From the Tinder school, but with better hair, swipe left for ‘nope’, and right for ‘aloha’ to get matched with the folks in your league, and slavishly follow those that aren’t. Only basic user information is given, and there is no option to refine your search criteria – no ‘mo is left unturned. Limits users to a few score swipes every three hours, and you can triangulate your mojo by linking your account up with Instagram and Facebook. The messaging service is user-friendly and we actually found this app to be pretty accurate when it came to pairing our profile with others. We also like that you can’t refine your search by race.
Not for getting matched up, but essential for social media integration.
The one for guys and girls: TantanA hook-up app, but also a tool to find like-minded people close to you
Logo: Is it a fox? Is it a bear? No, it’s a European power socket!
Interface: TanTan is gay Tinder. Comfy design, no-frills basic profiles with lots of options to expand upon and oodles of fresh-faced users (mostly at the younger, 18-24 end of the spectrum) – including a decent crop of lalas. Expect a lot of coloured contact lenses, and heavily-filtered selfies. As with other local apps, Chinese language dominates, but the straightforward swipe format means you don’t have to go far to find someone who’s willing to chat in English. If you’re not finding matches, the app helps you fine-tune your profile down to favourite movies and hangouts. Essentially, if you’ve tried Tinder in China and found the LGBT options to be lacking, then Tantan is a great alternative that also gives you a degree of control over who you’re interacting with.
No, and the simple interface means loading times are minimal.
The homegrown app: ZankMade famous by Time Out’s favourite Chinese LGBT sitcom Rainbow Family
Logo: Zorro was ‘ere.
Interface: Eerily similar to WeChat, if the former had a lovechild with Grindr. You seemingly have to include all personal data requested (sexual role, relationship status, height, weight, etc) into your profile, whether you want to or not. While the interface is in English, in-app messages, news and alerts are all in Chinese only. Those with some fluency will find the in-app local LGBT events calendar quite handy, as well as the open group chats for specific interests, which make this among the most versatile of the apps we tested.
You can even make in-app group purchases of holidays, dining and spa experiences specifically for LGBT people. The app zones in very precisely on nearby matches, and throws up tons of filterable results all over the city, thanks to a massive Chinese user base. With that in mind, don’t expect everyone to speak English, and if you’re not looking to date local, you’d be better off heading elsewhere.
The Andrew Christian of gay dating apps: Jack'd
If you don’t know who Andrew Christian is, this painfully jocked-up offering is definitely not the one for you
Logo: Originally designed for a now-banned brand of protein powder.
Interface: Jack’d’s day in the smog-sundered Beijing sun (it was dating app du jour for about five minutes, two years ago) won’t last much longer if the service is this spotty. This might have been an issue with our phone – other users certainly had no problem tracking down our profile and bombarding us with dick pics and unambiguous invitations to engage in sexual congress in nearby office bathrooms(we’re not kidding). In short, not our cup of tea.
VPN? Variable connectivity seemed to remain a problem whether or not you jump the wall. The app also crashed on us multiple times.
The original: Grindr
You know the drill
Logo: The Gimp from Pulp Fiction seems to have escaped.
Interface: The original gay hook-up app with the distinctive notification ringtone, Grindr is synonymous with sleaze, and the kind of dating ethics that some of us would have preferred to leave behind in the 1990s. Plenty of casual racism (‘No Asians’), and other douchey comments (‘straight-acting top,’ ‘no weirdos’).
Grindr knows what its users are in pursuit of, and it’s not witty conversation. English is the dominant language, and there aren’t many supplementary features to distract you from the important task of getting laid. Just don’t expect to be loved for who you are on the inside.
The hasbeen: Fridae
Fridae has failed to keep pace with China’s LGBT social media revolution
Logo: Greek never looked so grey
Interface: Once Asia’s leading gay personals website and news portal, Fridae is struggling to keep up with the times, as evidenced by this limp attempt to go mobile. This chunky, clunky shrunken version of the website basically just replicates the same user database.
While it does give a bit more info than other competitors – including what users are specifically looking for, and, crucially, whether or not they have tattoos or piercings – it’s a lot less user-friendly in terms of instant messaging. It’s basically email, with no live chat. Its user base in East and Southeast Asia remains quite extensive, so it’s worth thinking about if you’re looking for a holiday romance
(or you’re a business traveller).
Paying for perks allows you to see X-rated user profiles and view who’s been looking at your profile – but when other apps offer these services for free, why bother?
The silver daddy of gay dating: Gaydar
While this app might be a market leader in the Western world, in China it runs like a battered old jalopy
Logo: Pacific Island flag designed by Steve Jobs
Interface: If you search for 'nearby matches,' you get a rather haphazard rogue’s gallery that doesn’t seem to bear much relation to actual geographical proximity. One of our first 'nearby guys' was a mere 388.9 miles away.
Profile info is relatively comprehensive, including personal statements and hobbies, making it good for people looking for more than some afternoon delight. Judging by data on when China-based users last checked in, the average seems to be online about once every 48 hours, so forget using it for short-notice booty calls.
Membership grants additional access perks – but given the limited China coverage, with users scattered across the country, we weren’t tempted to try.
VPN? Not for viewing pictures, but profile data and chats don’t seem to load without one.
For the lalas: Tata (她她)
A discreet, rather inscrutable and cutesy-poo app exclusively serving local ladies.
Logo: Ta, love
Interface: No English support rules out non-Chinese readers (we couldn’t find any non-local users either). It's a lot less demanding in terms of information disclosure, though it is linked to your telephone number, which might unsettle privacy lovers.
The user base is small, so you should usually expect a handful of matches within a 5 kilometre radius. It also lacks social media connectivity or alternative functions, although it does feature in-app games as a way of meeting people (though there weren’t many players on the occasions we logged in).
While an adequate option for those looking for low-key chat rather than intensive dating, there’s plenty of room for improvement here.