Once dating review: Glitchy, money-focused and a bit superficial
Once is a dating site that gives free members just one match per day, and bases initial interactions on looks. How well does that work out in the end?
Would you want to date someone who rates a photo of you before even getting to chat? That’s one tactic from new dating app Once, which tries to emulate Hinge, offering a ‘slow’ dating experience.
The app offers you one match a day, based on an algorithm which learns how you’ve rated previous photos. But is it deliberately ‘slow’ or just superficial?
PLEASE NOTE: Dating apps are hugely subjective. Your ‘success’ and overall experience are likely to vary hugely from person-to-person. For our dating app reviews, we’ve tried to include as much objective information as possible, from reviewers who have used the Free and Premium features of each service. Where possible, we also include comments from the actual people reviewers meet via these apps, to try and get a balanced viewpoint from both sides.
Once seeks to position itself as a more selective dating app, much like a low rent version of Hinge, but sadly it falls significantly short of all other ones I’ve tried. There are two main elements to the app: the feed and your daily match.
Once departs from the traditional swipe-feed model by asking users to rate potential matches from one to five stars. The trouble is that you get even less info to go on than from the average app, just a name and whatever pictures the user has put up. Not even a location or age, let alone any profile blurb to read. This means that you’re effectively being programmed to objectify women.
Some might argue that it’s being more honest in this respect, others more superficial. If you have the free version of the app, you get served a single daily match, which is supposedly informed by the algorithm of how you’ve already rated users on the feed. Imagine how you might feel if there was a data breach which revealed your average rating across thousands of users was, say, 1/5? Premium users get served around four matches a day.
The next issue is just how craven the app appears to be. Everything seems to cost ‘crowns’, the in-app credit system. If you get someone crushing on you, you need to spend two crowns to simply view them. Each crown costs from around £1. You can supposedly earn crowns by watching ads, but the system is highly buggy and temperamental, only working less than half the time I tried it. If you want to see another potential match that day – guess what – you have to spend a crown to do so. Likewise if you want to ‘grab someone’s attention’, that is, effectively nudge someone suggested as a match for you, that’s a crown too.
Once does offer impressively detailed profile fields, including a travel section which lets you humblebrag about all the individual countries you’ve visited. All the usual suspects are present and correct: height, education, job, sexual orientation and politics.
Some profile details are comically obscure. Click on the hobbies dropdown section, for example, and you’ll be greeted with an eccentric list containing things such as astronomy, hula hooping, lego, origami, wizardry and even sandcastle making! You can upload up to eight pictures with one small inset photo overlaid and a scrolling background of the rest, which is perhaps not the optimal design approach, to put it politely.
Once has a separate section for what it calls ‘biscuits.’ These are simply standard icebreaker prompts. You can choose three for your profile, from a list of around 20, and they’re fairly generic, such as ‘The last time I sang very loudly was..’ and ‘If I won the lottery I would spend it on…’.
Filtering options are pretty limited in the free version. You can only do so by age, distance (up to a max of 62 miles) and curiously, religious beliefs. Full filtering is available to premium users.
Messaging via the app is fairly basic, with no picture facility and an option for video chat introduced during the pandemic. I only had two matches, one from a crush who didn’t reply to my message and whose profile seemed a bit fake and one I briefly maintained a virtual chat with.
Ads: Frequent and intrusive. They were mostly for online games in my testing, and tend to last 30 seconds. Some, rather jarringly, are for other dating apps. Given how poor this app is, this seems like a foolhardy commercial strategy.
What did you like about the app?
That’s a difficult one. When I started, the idea that proximity would be part of the selection process was very attractive, especially during lockdown. However I got matches from Dusseldorf, Paris, Edinburgh and (apparently – although I think this one was a fraudster – Afghanistan) and I’m based in London, so the app didn’t deliver.
What didn’t you like? What would you change?
Where do you want me to start? That the app forced me to objectify men just to get to my messages (OK, this was fun for the first day, but not after), that it tries to get me to spend money on crowns to get access to basic services at any possible opportunity, that when you’re creating your profile it takes you through a whole load of minor unnecessary questions (that don’t appear to be used at all in the search algorithms) before allowing you to write your bio, and that even when you’ve answered the questions it’s hard to find where to write your bio. That I never worked out how to see my profile the way other people see it. And all of that is just for starters.
Have you ever paid to use it?
You are joking! No!
If so, was it worth it and why or why not?
Why would I pay to use something that delivered so poorly on the free version?
Once is a dating app that, upon reflection, is hard to recommend. Yes, it does let you spell out your hobbies and interests in detail, but the relentless focus on making money and the frequent glitches detract from the overall experience.
With so many other dating sites to try, Once isn’t one we got on well with during our review, so we’d be tempted to look elsewhere.