Hangouts, Skype, FaceTime, Facebook Messenger—what’s one more video chat app to add to your arsenal? Google finally shipped Duo, the video chat app it announced earlier on in the year at its annual developer’s conference.
There’s also a companion messaging app, called Allo, coming soon. Until then, this is your first glimpse into Google’s attempt at revamping its messaging suite. Will it work? It’s way too soon to tell, especially since Duo feels like it’s still under construction. But if you’re curious about what Google is gunning for, here’s what to know.
You don't need a Google account, just your phone number
No Google account? No problem! Duo allows you sign up with just your phone number. Once you install it, you’ll receive a verification code via SMS to ensure that it’s actually you that’s signing in.
You can theoretically sign in from any phone using that phone number as long as you have also the phone it’s connected to near you to receive the verification code. However, you can’t use two phones at the same time to make or receive Duo video calls. Each time you log back in on another phone, you'll have to re-verify. It really feels like it was designed for a single mobile phone at a time.
It's for iOS and Android
Sorry, Windows Phone users. Duo is cross-platform, but it’s only available for iOS and Android since they’re the two most used mobile operating systems.
It's also not available for Windows, OS X, or Chrome OS.
Knock Knock lets you see who is calling before you pick up
If you’re receiving a call and your friend is a contact, you’ll see a video preview of the other line before they can see you. And if you’re calling someone, Duo will let you know that everything you’re doing can be seen by the recipient, so don’t try to pick your nose before they pick up!
If you're on Android, you can see the caller even on the lock screen. iOS doesn't give devleopers access to the lock screen in this fashion, but if you have your phone unlocked and the app ready, you'll see the caller before you decide to answer.
This feature only works with people in your contacts, so random strangers can't flash you. And of course, you can disable it in the settings if you prefer.
It's only for video calls
This is a bummer, and one reason you might want to stick with Hangouts for the time being: If you want to send a text message through Duo, you can’t. You’ll have to use another method to leave a little note. Google will release a messaging app called Allo for text and images and the like—why they're separate apps instead of integrated, we can't figure out.
You can't even make audio-only calls. The app will drop video and go to audio if network conditions are really bad, but there's simply no "make an audio call" button for some reason.
Video calling can be finicky
I’ve tried video calling on both Verizon and T-Mobile’s LTE network and through Wi-Fi, and in all three instances I’ve had issues connecting to a smooth video stream. I’m not sure if it’s because of where I live (in the outskirts of the San Francisco Bay Area) or if the issue is on Google’s end, but Duo performed poorly for me in this sense.
Other users have praised the overall video quality and stability, however. Your mileage may vary.
Calls are end-to-end encrypted
Duo is built on WebRTC—or Web Real-Time Communication—a standard that allows voice, video, and P2P file transfers without any additional plugins or software. Your video chats are end-to-end encrypted, so you don't have to worry about anyone (including Google!) spying on you. And if the government (or anyone else) asks Google for data, it can't decrypt the content of your calls.
It's not really meant for tablets
You can’t download Duo directly from the Google Play Store to your tablet: the app officially only supports phones. But if you install the APK (on Android) on your tablet device and sign in with your phone number, it will work fine. You just won’t have access to it on your main smartphone unless you re-verify your phone number (ugh), nor will you have the option to use cellular connectivity.
On iPad, you can find it on the store if you toggle the switch to show iPhone apps, and it'll install and function. But it's not optimized for iPad; it runs in "blown-up iPhone app" mode.
You can block repeat offenders
Got an ex-boyfriend who keeps calling you up to see if you’ve changed your mind about him yet? You can easily block him from inside the Duo settings panel.
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