Mobility

Google Duo simplifies video calls, and impresses with a clutter-free UI

Android users no longer need to feel FaceTime envy. Google's new video chat app Duo is easy to use and might make you rethink using Hangouts for one-on-one video calls.

duohero.jpg
Image: Jack Wallen

Google's new communication apps might be surprising to some people, though it makes perfect sense...in a grand scheme kinda way. To cut to a very succinct chase, Google will have three communication apps:

  • Allo for text-based communications
  • Duo for one-on-one video chats
  • Hangouts for business/enterprise video conferencing/chats

Hangouts has been around for a long while; Allo has yet to be released; and Duo has come to light in both the Google Play Store and iTunes and is ready to become your go-to, one-on-one chat app.

But why do we need Duo? Weren't we all good using Hangouts as our all-in-one app? In Google's infinite wisdom, they didn't think so...and I believe Google was spot on.

Why? FaceTime.

No matter how big a fan I am of Google, one aspect of mobile I readily admit that Apple nailed was video chat. FaceTime makes the process of chatting with others in real-time video as simple as it gets. Google Hangouts, on the other hand, has a layer of complexity the average user often struggles with. Hence, the need for Google Duo.

Duo simplifies what Hangouts started. Duo strips away the complexity of using Hangouts and follows in the footsteps of FaceTime. Now, Android users can enjoy video chat as quickly and easily as their Apple brethren.

SEE: Why Google Duo will actually make you want to use video calling (CNET)

Google finds simplicity in Duo

Hangouts is one of the best video conferencing tools, especially when used in conjunction with the Hangout Toolbox. But for one-on-one video calls, Hangouts is a bit much. Even before the user begins chatting with another user, confusion could cause them to abort the call. Why? Knowing whether or not a user has Hangouts installed (or even a Google account to associate with Hangouts) can kick off the frustration. Now, anyone can install Duo without associating it with their Google Account; instead, Duo pairs with the device's phone number.

Plus, Google Hangouts isn't adept at navigating poor connection quality. Duo, on the other hand, will automatically adjust the video resolution based on your network speed and reliability. If your connection drops all the way down to 2G, Duo will pause video and continue with audio only.

Duo's interface is clutter-free. While connected, you only see the person you're chatting with and a small circle with what your device camera is seeing. If you tap the screen during a call, three circles will appear (Figure A):

  • Camera rotate (rotate the camera from the front-facing to the rear-facing)
  • Mute (mute the audio for the call)
  • End (end the call)

Figure A

Figure A

Having a conversation with myself.

Image: Jack Wallen

Knock Knock: A truly unique feature

One of the more unique features of Duo is called Knock Knock. (Knock Knock only works on the Android iteration of Duo.) In an attempt to humanize the video chat experience, Google has created something really special.

When a Duo video call comes in from someone in your contacts, you'll see a preview from their video feed instead of just a contact image. This way the person placing the call can better entice you (or guilt you) into taking the call (Figure B).

Figure B

Figure B

Knock Knock in action.

Image: Google

Humanize yourself

Clearly, Google is aiming to not only simplify but humanize the experience of video chat, and they should. No other feature of the smartphone is as "human" as the video chat. Because of this, Google aimed to strip away as much of the technology as possible and create a video chat app that does one thing and does it well: connect two humans (or more) via video. To that end, Google has succeeded brilliantly. Duo is exactly what Android has lacked for a very long time.

If you've ever felt that Hangouts was either too complicated or overkill for a simple one-on-one video chat, Google has gone to great lengths to ease those frustrations. With Duo, you'll have seamless, simple, and personal video calls. When you need to turn up the complexity or hang out with more than one contact, you know where to turn.

Also see

About Jack Wallen

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.

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