Google Duo review: Google tries video calls again

google duo hero
© Google

Google officially announced its Duo video chat application at Google I/O 2016, and now it's being rolled out. We've tested the application and concluded that it does its job (video calling) well, but that's about all. Should you install it? Find out in our Google Duo review.

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Google Duo: Download and Installation

To make use of Google Duo you will need an active phone number – similar to how WhatsApp operates. You don't, however, need a Google account. You can download Duo for free at the Google Play Store

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The Duo Google interface is extremely simple. / © NextPit

Google Duo: a minimalist interface

Duo's user interface is typical Google: it's clean and intuitive. When you launch the application you'll immediately see the camera icon at the bottom and a contacts menu which you can slide up the screen.

If you press the camera button, you can select a contact from your address book to begin a call with. Making calls only works if you have the person's number in your contacts – or you enter the number manually – and they also have Duo installed on their device. During the call, you have the option to switch the camera to the front or rear and mute the microphone.

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The Duo contacts list. / © NextPit

The USP of Duo is that when you make a call, the video will start before the person has answered, meaning the receiver gets a preview of the caller. It's a good idea and it works.

One of the limitations of Duo, however, is that it can't be used on more than one device. If you want to use it on a second smartphone or tablet, you would have to register another number. 

Google Duo: how much mobile data does it consume?

Duo works with Wi-Fi or mobile data and it includes a setting which limits the consumption of the latter. This option is enabled by default and I advise you keep it that way. Without this in effect, you could easily consume 160 MB of data in just a few minutes. When activated, this function would limit consumption to around 20 or 30 MB.

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We advise that you keep the mobile data limit in place. / © NextPit

Google Duo: Picture quality

Google promised high image quality when using Duo and, in practice, it has succeeded. However, the quality is not quite as high as we had hoped: if your internet connection is poor, the image will be pixelated and the call could be terminated. It is certainly not a revolution in video call quality.

What about Allo?

If you're wondering why Google has created Duo instead of simply integrating this function directly into Hangouts or why Google has released it when it has another messaging app, Allo, on the way soon, you're not alone. We have no concrete answers but we can make a few educated guesses.

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Google Duo isn't yet a match for FaceTime. / © NextPit

Hangouts has many features but also some limitations – creating an entirely new messaging application is perhaps the best thing Google could do. Maybe Duo is an experiment to determine whether users are ready for a pure video-chat application. If they are not, Google will simply integrate Duo into Allo. Hangouts might start to take focus as a professional messaging application, integrating into Google Docs and Sheets, while Allo and Duo are there to serve users’ more personal needs.

Google Duo is easier to use and more attractive than Apple’s FaceTime app, considered a reference in the field. However, to really compete with FaceTime, the application needs to be usable across multiple devices. That is what Duo is lacking.

Google Duo: Conclusion

Google Duo offers few features, but what it does offer is very well done. Users will appreciate the simplicity of the interface. It is a shame, however, that Duo requires you to make a new account.

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Google Duo: the app is fun but maybe a little too simple. / © NextPit

Simplicity, Duo’s greatest strength, is probably also its greatest weakness. You can't send text messages or talk with several people at once. You can't use Duo on several smartphones, tablets or PCs. For this reason, Google has not yet met the requirements to compete with Skype or FaceTime.

Have you tried Google Duo? What are your thoughts on it? Let us know in the comments. 

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  • Ingemar Kenyatta Aug 20, 2016 Link to comment

    Wow. A well written, thorough and balanced writeup. Very impressed. I'll be back for more!

  • I-Dzign Aug 18, 2016 Link to comment

    I just tried it a little while ago and it worked flawlessly. I like it.

  • Michael D'Angelo Aug 18, 2016 Link to comment

    I tried it 2 days ago. The video quality was poor (we were both on wifi connections) and the voice was in and out. The video at times was lagging the voice and also the video just kept going out for periods of time, but the voice worked. We would have been better off just using a phone. If this is the best they can do, you'd be better off using a different service like skype.

  • Twsted Aug 17, 2016 Link to comment

    People should not be limited on data in this day in age.
    companies know that in this day in age of 2016 ~ 2017
    almost everyone on this planet uses up massive amounts of data,
    from watching snapchat clips, youtube, hulu, netflix, browsing the web, downloading updates to your device, updates to each and every app, google maps, locations app, video games. you name it is uses data and charging people for it is wrong.
    A person should not have to pay more than $100 a month for service connection to the internet.
    We should pay a connection fee for service only and thats it. And not be limited on how much we can use that connection.

    I remember when internet was free. all you needed was a dial-up modem.
    now I wouldn't be surprised if they charged people $200 a day to breath.

    here is an example that can actually happen in real life...
    because of companies charging for data for any little thing on a cell phone plan.
    Mother is pregnant on the highway, father stops to help his wife because she is about to give a baby.
    Google Duo is used between hospital and/or 911 operators trained to help while EMS arrives.
    the video call of the entire event takes about 45 min to 1 hour.
    The mother is safely taken to the hospital and baby is doing great.
    THE BILL comes in at the end of the month for $680.00.
    In the description of the bill it says Overuse of data plan on cell phone...
    explain to me how we let this happen ?

    • Joycee Aug 18, 2016 Link to comment

      T-Mobile did listen to you. The just decided to kill all prepaid cell plan, to replace it by an unlimited data plan for 70 usd.
      It should start by September 6.

  • Brian Carr Aug 17, 2016 Link to comment

    I like it simple and user friendly

  • Rideau Aug 17, 2016 Link to comment

    Google Allo and Duo need to be the default mesaging and video calls on Android Nougat, instead of Hangouts 😃

    • Joycee Aug 18, 2016 Link to comment

      The frontier between voip and historical carriers is getting skinny fast.
      Just have a look at EU action against whatsapp, skype and co.
      So apps too wanna catch the market of video and audio call.

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