Cinemagram has a familiar user interface, hashtags and retro-style image filters.

INSTAGRAM’s speed, retro filters and intuitive design reinvented mobile photography, outsmarting rivals such as Facebook and Flickr. A crop of free iPhone apps is reinventing mobile video, offering clips lasting just a few seconds and instant uploading. But can they better YouTube’s video community?

1. Vine — four stars

Jack Dorsey, co-founder of Twitter, says Vine is "a new art form". Twitter bought the company late last year — before launch — in a rebound romance after its bid for Instagram was rebuffed (the photo service was acquired by Facebook instead).

As with the newest video apps, Vine’s simplicity is its biggest virtue, although it is prone to bugs. Filming a clip involves holding down a finger on the touchscreen — either continuously or in separate clips — to create a six-second video, which is uploaded in as few as three more taps. This allows the creation of rapid sequences or stop-motion animations.

Sharing on Facebook and Twitter is a doddle. The square, looping videos load immediately as you scroll down your newsfeed. Twitter’s backing alone guarantees a degree of popularity for Vine, but it would merit attention even without it.

2. Cinemagram — four stars

Cinemagram has taken inspiration from Instagram for more than just its name, with a familiar user interface, hashtags and retro-style image filters. Like Vine but without sound, videos start playing as they appear, with many users sharing off-beat visual gags and TV clips. A video can be filmed continuously or in a series of consecutive shots, then cut down to the maximum four-second length after uploading.

A popular effect is selecting a portion of the shot to be animated while the rest remains static — a man appears to stand still while his shadow dances, for example. The filters, editing and the option to use the camera’s flash to brighten the picture offer more ways to tweak a film than rival apps — although this might make it appear over-complicated.

3. Tout — two stars

Tout, which launched in 2011, offers the longest clips at 15 seconds. Also available for Google Android devices, it suggests following feeds from celebrities such as former basketball star Shaquille O’Neal and media partners such as ESPN. But it was hard to find exciting clips.

Publishing a one-take video requires just four taps but it takes a minute to upload, unlike the other apps where videos appear almost instantly. And the newsfeed is a list of static images with a YouTube-style play button rather than playing automatically; it is easier to skim but less engaging.

4. Snapchat — three stars

A private messaging app that has taken the teen market by storm, Snapchat’s 10-second videos disappear after a single viewing — but that is a feature, not a bug.

Simplicity is a big part of its appeal: the only post-production feature is the ability to write or draw on top of the video after shooting. Unlike the other apps, Snapchat — also available for Android users — is designed just for sharing silly shorts between friends, rather than creating lasting works. Over-25s might struggle to find much use for it.

5. Echograph — three stars

The opposite of Snapchat, Echograph — acquired this month by Vimeo, the video-sharing service — puts its emphasis on quality. Although you can share your videos on other social networks, you can’t follow friends within the app. Users can view their own five-second videos or "staff picks" only, making it rather lonely and intimidating.

A Cinemagram-style masking effect is elegant and the editing is more precise than in rival apps but I wish it did more.

None of these "video Instagrams" has entirely mastered the medium.

But as a man with a short attention span and little patience for traditional film-editing software, I found the enforced brevity and ease of use compelling. Whether it is a new art form or an addictive time-waster is up to the budding Quentin Tarantinos out there.


Gadget of the week

What it is: Lunatik’s TakTik Extreme

Why you should try it: A $125 iPhone case that almost doubles the device’s weight and thickness might give Apple designer Sir Johnathan Ive a heart attack. But created by the team that found a way of turning the square iPod nano into a wristwatch, the TakTik Extreme offers super-strength protection. A Gorilla Glass screen, and a rubber and polymer perimeter lend it Transformers chic. Love it or hate it, it is guaranteed to provoke a response when you slam it down — hard — on the bar or desk.

© 2013 The Financial Times Limited