Duo Announced at Google I/O 2016
The long awaited dedicated video chat app from Google arrived this past week. I’ve tested it out and will report my findings here. Duo was announced, along with it’s sister app Allo, at Google I/O 2016 and I was there. I remember thinking, ‘Why doesn’t Google just fix all the issues with the Hangouts app?’. I still don’t have a clear answer on that question other than maybe there are so many issues that they just want to burn it to the ground. But they aren’t even doing that, Hangouts is reported to be hanging around for Enterprise users, so I guess we’ll see.
I travel a lot with my job and I have two young children, so I video chat with them and my wife every day when I’m gone. Video chat is a very important feature to me as it allows me to see the most important people in my life and I have high expectations.
During the announcement at I/O, Google specifically said this app would deliver a magical experience every time it was used, OK that got me excited about having such a great video calling app. Basically this will be FaceTime on Android, something that has been missing for six years now. So let’s dive in and see if Google delivered on this promise.
The set up is very simple, you confirm your phone number, Duo is tied to your phone number but not your email or any other ID, then grant Duo access to your contacts, camera, microphone and SMS. Once that is complete Duo is ready to use. Currently Duo is only available on phones, it will not work on tablets, maybe this will change but there is no guarantee of this. If you compare to WhatsApp, you see the same app setup, to me this is disappointing. I would really like to use Duo on multiple devices, not just my phone.
The interface is dead simple, when you open the app you are greated with your own smiling face and you see a simple Video call button. Clicking the Video call button you will see your contacts at the top of the list that already have the Duo app installed and for anyone who does not have Duo installed you will see an ‘Invite’ link. Clicking the Invite link will allow you to open your SMS app of choice to SMS them a quick message with a link to install Duo on their device (Android or iOS). After making a call you will then see that contact’s icon next to the Video call button next time you open the Duo app.
After all the hype and all the waiting I was expecting this app to be glorious. However, what I have found is the call quality has been very disappointing. I’ve had issues with sound and delays. Sound quality has been very poor, this has been when I’m on WiFi and the other person was on WiFi. One example of this was on the same network and the other was talking with a friend in California while I’m in Texas. Both of this instances I could barely hear the other person and the sound that I could hear had a bad echo. The other issue I’ve experienced has been extreme delay of sound and video, this happened when I was talking with one of my best friends who lives in Manilla, again I’m in Texas, was connected to my home WiFi. I’m not certain of his connection but he was at home when we were talking, so I assume he was on WiFi as well. He had trouble hearing me and the video feed kept freezing for both of us (we chatted on Hangouts after). I’m hoping that google comes out with a good update very soon to address these issues.
So after waiting for the past three months I was expecting magic, I personally know two people that were in the beta test for this app and have heard nothing but glowing reviews from them (along with a lot of bragging). After the release this week I have felt totally let down. The interface is great, I couldn’t ask for it to be simpler but the sound issues and the delays in both video and sound have left me with a sour taste in my mouth.
I hope that Google has an update coming out to fix these issues but I hoped that about Hangouts for the past three years and that never happened. Will Duo be another app that gets replaced in a year or two or will Google come through? Only time will tell but for now I will probably continue using Hangouts when I need to make a video call.