Google Duo Review

All You Need To Know About Google Duo The Simple Video Calling App

Video Calling on Smartphone
Video Calling on Smartphone. PhotoAlto/Sigrid Olsson/GettyImages

Google Duo is yet another communication tool launched by the Internet giant for smartphones. It is solely for one-to-one video communication. You have not seen a video calling app simpler than that, but yet it brings new things. You can preview who is calling you through real 'footage' right on the incoming call notification, which helps you decide whether to take the call and in what mood to greet your buddy.

It also identifies you through a phone number on your mobile device. It comes as a serious competitor to Skype, Apple's Facetime, Facebook MessengerViber and other apps of the kind.

While the app does look interesting, we cannot help ask so many questions. Why this app from Google when Hangouts is already there and rocking? Why not integrate all features in one single universal app for unified communications? What's in it for you, and do you need it? 

The Duo App and Its Simple Interface

Since mid-August 2016, the app is available on Google Play. It runs solely on Android and iOS and is not available for any other platform. Installation is very quick and straightforward, helped by the small size of the app and the simple interface. Once you fire it open, you get nothing but a full-screen view of yourself that your selfie-camera captures.

When I installed the app on my Android phone, it felt weird seeing myself on what till now has been tagged as 'the other side' of apps.

Along with the screen-wide footage is an icon that you touch to invite someone to a video call. The menu button only allows access to help and settings, which has only a handful of preferences to set. It cannot be any simpler. No voice chat, no instant message, no controls, no window, no button, nothing.

 

Knock Knock On The Transparent Door 

What is there in Google Duo that is not elsewhere? It is this feature called Knock Knock and that brings a more 'human' touch to video calling. It allows you to preview the person who is calling before you take the call. An incoming video call fills your device's screen with a real-time video of the caller, like someone knocking on a glass door. They can make faces or gestures that entice you to take the call, and you can tune your voice or face to better fit the conversation, prior to it. In other words, you sign your call with your face, state, and surroundings in real time. The closest app we know to Duo in feature and simplicity is Apple's Facetime, but Duo gets even simpler and brings this new preview feature, and is available for iOS. 

You can choose to disable this feature and allow your correspondents to see you only once they accept your call and vice versa. When you do this, it applies to all your contacts; you cannot apply a filter for some contacts. Also, Knock Knock works only with contacts that are on your contact list. For instance, if someone unknown to you (or your phone) calls, or if you call someone, not in your contact list, there is no pre-call preview.

 

You Are Your Phone Number 

Like WhatsApp, Viber, and LINE, Google Duo identifies you through your mobile phone number. This changes a lot in the way things work and brings a hard blow to Skype, which still uses the username and password authentication method. Skype can still breathe since it still reigns on computers in terms of video calling. But it should dread the day Duo comes to the desktop. Duo's authentication through a phone number breaks the link that has kept Google tools within a restrictive pool whereby you have to sign in with your Google identity. 

No Unified Communications

With Duo and Allo, which is announced for later this year, Google is clearly moving away from integrating everything into one single unified app.

Duo is only for video calling, Hangouts for voice calling and Allo for instant messaging. One of the reasons we can gather from Google is that they want each of these apps to be of great quality and highly effective on its own and that they are better off in this respect if they perform individually. Although many users would love to have everything within one single app, that app would run the risk of being too bulky or cumbersome on a mobile device. Skype is a bit like that. Also, not everyone uses every means of communication. Not everyone wants video calling. So, another message we get from Google here is that 'everything is here, grab only what you need.' 

Google Duo and Privacy 

Your video calls are private, very private, such that not even people at Google know what you are talking about or what you look like during the call. So Google says because it delivers end-to-end encryption with Duo. This type of encryption is the closest you can get to total privacy when it comes to online communication, in theory, that is. Technically, no one can intercept your calls or private data during calls, not even the government and not even the servers of Google. That is in theory. But there are questions about end-to-end encryption that remain of actuality. 

Also, the way Google works worries many. Through the plethora of services it has, Google is able to keep a very information-rich profile of each user. It tracks every search, every email, every video watched, every number dialed, all contacts stored, every app installed, every person contacted, with the timings, every location visited, frequencies, durations etc. Now Duo feeds it with even more info. Even if technically encryption prevents it from laying hands on the multimedia content of your conversations, it does have the meta-data that carries it and can infer patterns on your communication. 

Call quality

Many people ditch video calling because of its high requirements on bandwidth and hardware resources and the subsequent poor quality. There are so many factors on which the quality of a video call depends, and it is quite hard to have all of them present in one call. Duo does a great job into being consistent with quality. One of the major factors affecting call quality is the bandwidth and quality of your connection. Google Duo adjusts the resolution of the video call based on the connection that feeds the images. Your call is therefore only as good as your connection, or that of your correspondent. 

Google Duo on The Market

Having separate apps for video, voice and messaging is also a strategy to snatch users from the leaders on the market. Hangouts, after the failure of Talk and Gmail calling, has been Google's flagship in voice communication; but it has failed in challenging apps like WhatsApp, Viber, and LINE. It does not even come close to them in the competition. Having one high-performing video app and thereby offering what the popular mobile communication apps are not offering will draw users to Google without having them leave those. 

What will happen to Hangouts? While it does not enjoy a great share of the market, it still stands as a useful and solid communication tool, especially for voice communication. There is an indication that it will be groomed and made to focus on business communication in the future. I believe it has to move out of the attachment with Gmail and Google services. It still remains the only tool Google has for voice calls.

Duo has a very strong carrier that guarantees its success on the market. Unlike any other app that has to fight its way through platforms, Duo is playing home. The most popular portable device, Android, is from Google. I am expecting to see Duo as a native app in future releases of Android, which will secure its place and ensure it succeeds where Hangouts hasn't. The reasoning is simple: why use Skype or Viber when my Android already has a native app that rocks?