I had written this article just a few hours after the Google Duo app went global and then something happened… Only people who are signed up to the TechCity newsletter will know the end of that story as it shall hit your mailboxes on Monday. Subscribe here to reserve a copy of the gist. Yes, it’s that serious.
Couple of months ago, in one of my TechCity updates, I mentioned the new products announced by Google; Google Home, Google Allo, Google Duo, etc and in that update, the products were going to be rolled out one by one towards the end of 2016. I thought it was going to be a rather long wait. Oh, how time flies! Here we are about to review the app to it’s smallest detail.
The app only works on devices running on the iOS, Android 4.1 Jellybean OS and above and requires just your phone number to sign up/register. Once provided, you are sent a verification code which you enter to complete the set up. The app then presents a blue camcorder icon that launches your selfie camera and a list of your contacts; those who are already active on the app and another list of your regular contacts who are not on the app with an option to invite them.
To make a call, you would click on the contact that’s active on the app already and the coolness of the app sets in. When you are video-calling someone, they can see you from wherever they are in the world, even before your video-call connects. This feature is called “Knock Knock” and it works for only people whom together you share contacts with. If you decide not to answer the contact by rejecting their call, the app simply says “(Eg) Bella is unavailable”.
The UI of the app is incredibly simple, minimalist and user friendly. I can assure that you will get a hang of it in five minutes or less. The app always has your camera on and you cannot switch cameras unless you are on a video call already. The “home screen” shows your missed calls with the picture of the contacts whose calls you missed. There is no individual profile setup. The settings however indicated by the three dots on the upper right corner of the app help you “personalize” the Duo experience to a certain degree. You can either block numbers from there or long press a contact on the “home screen” to block or remove from your list. The help and feedback option does not take you to a website (thankfully) but presents you a number of FAQ’s, answers and other options.
The app is impressively intuitive. When on a video call, it tells if your internet connection is weak and tries to establish a better connection. When you switch from or to WiFi, it notifies you. As of now, the app cannot make “only voice” calls. Tapping the mic icon turned off my contacts audio but when my battery was almost dying out, there was a notification that “recommended disabling video to conserve power”. First time users are also able to give instant feedback on the quality of the call after it ends.
The simplicity of this app, its incredibly easy setup with just a phone number and the ability to see your caller realtime before answering the call are reasons sufficient enough for heavy video callers to ditch Apple’s Facetime and Skype and migrate to Google Duo. But I can’t help this feeling in my gut that says Google will update the app pretty soon and until that happens, we cannot say for sure what is on the other side.