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Lens is a modern and feature-packed Instagram app for Apple Watch that works without the iPhone

Lens is a new Instagram app for Apple Watch that includes nearly every feature of the photo sharing service — all without the iPhone. The unofficial client is much more capable than Instagram’s outdated and discontinued app for the watch.

You can’t post photos or videos from the Apple Watch and you can’t view live streams, but Lens manages to pack nearly every Instagram feature you could want into the Apple Watch app. Simply log in with the iPhone app once, then Lens on the Apple Watch unlocks a really impressive Instagram for Apple Watch experience.

Lens is a modern Apple Watch app so you can browse, like, and comment on photos and videos using the Apple Watch on Wi-Fi or cellular without a nearby iPhone. Viewing photos isn’t ideal on tiny screens, but the experience is rather immersive on the larger Apple Watch Series 4 displays.

Navigation is broken up into seven sections when you launch the app: Home, Stories, Activity, Explore, Messages, Profile, and Search.

The Home section lets you browse your timeline, seeing both photos and videos posted to your feed from accounts you follow. Scroll with the Digital Crown, tap the heart to like, or tap the comments button to leave a comment right from your Apple Watch. Lens supports dictation for using voice-to-text, Scribble for drawing out the message, emoji, and the new FlickType gesture-driven keyboard. And if you run out of photos in your feed, you can tap a button to load more and continue browsing.

The Stories section in Lens lets you view both your own Stories and Stories posted by people you follow just like the Instagram app. You can scroll to specific users and tap through photos and videos to see more. In the early versions of Lens, viewing photos works much better than loading videos, but it sounds like these are issues that will be sorted out in future updates.

In addition to video, Lens also supports viewing collections of images so you can browse through posts with multiple shots in a gallery by swiping. Lens has a search feature for finding specific accounts and more too.

Lens really is like a mini Instagram app for Apple Watch with more features than Instagram’s discontinued and outdated app. That’s partly because Apple allows new apps to do much more on the Apple Watch now than it did when Instagram first released its watch app, but Lens shows how much is possible today for an official Instagram app.

Other features in Lens include the ability to view comments and like summaries for your posts on the Activity page, which is useful since Instagram can push notifications to the Apple Watch but they’re gone after you view them. You can also use Instagram’s direct messages feature right on the Apple Watch inside Lens, and it really looks like a dedicated messaging app. Want to browse your own posts? The profile section lets you do that.

Or you can use the Browse section to see posts recommended to you from Instagram on your Apple Watch without the iPhone. If you’re an Apple Watch user and an Instagram fan, it’s really impressive how many features Lens has managed to bring to the watch and all with the first version.

Lens Instagram Apple Watch

Apple Watch hardware has improved unbelievably over the last few years, including the display design that replaces the boxed screen with a more immersive display with rounded corners. Modern Apple Watches are much faster, too, and software is much more capable with video playback, new ways to enter text, and support for loading web content.

Lens takes full advantage of these benefits and provides an impressive Instagram experience on the Apple Watch. Lens is available for free on the App Store with an optional $1.99 upgrade to support development. Highly recommended.

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Avatar for Zac Hall Zac Hall

Zac covers Apple news for 9to5Mac and hosts the 9to5Mac Happy Hour and 9to5Mac Watch Time podcasts.