Hands on with Duo – Google’s new video calling app

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At Google’s I/O conference in May the firm announced two new communication apps – Allo and Duo.

The latter of these – Duo – is being launched today worldwide but is, at time of writing, unavailable in South Africa just yet.

Duo is Google’s video calling app that uses a phone number, rather than a Google account, to connect contacts to each other.

The benefit of this is that you don’t have to use a Google account to to video call with your mates. Of course you will need an email address to download it from the Play Store and the App Store.

We’ve been lucky enough to test a beta build of Duo before its release today and what follows are a brief summation of our experience.

Video calling everywhere

Video is a different kind of beast when it comes to data. You could want to watch one video and poof, your data is gone or much worse, you have to deal with low resolutions.

Google says that Duo has been optimised to work well “even on spotty networks”.

During our beta testing of the app that claim seems to hold up well here in South Africa. Video calls are able to scale quality all the way up to 720p and audio is good quality.

The reason for this stability might be thanks to Duo adjusting the quality of the video call depending on the network conditions. Duo is also able to switch between a mobile network and a WiFi network as it needs.

How much data does Duo use?

Speaking of data, Duo is actually rather thrifty with its data needs. During our intial tests on an LTE network we found that Duo used around 10MB per minute.

We do however recommend keeping an eye on your data to check if it is cheaper than using your network’s voice calling service.

When you think about it, Duo isn’t all that new

While using Duo the overwhelming question hovering above us was, “what’s the point?”.

When you think about it, Duo is launching in a time where other apps like Skype, Whatsapp and Facetime are not only ubiquitous, but popular. That’s before we even mention that Duo is competing with Google’s own Hangouts.

We say almost because there are a number of features missing such as being able to send a text message to a contact during a Duo call. This is a small feature but one that Skype has offered since the onset.

There is also no way to use Duo on a desktop. If that sounds like a small gripe consider that Whatsapp, Skype and Hangouts have ways to access your messages and keep in contact when you’d rather not be using your phone.

We’re nitpicking now but it would also be nice to have Duo contacts separated from your regular contacts more clearly.

With all of that said, the app is simple to use and the user interface is simple enough for everybody from your little brother to grandma to use. The video and audio quality of the call is perfectly fine though we are interested to see just how well it works where LTE isn’t as widespread as it is in Johannesburg.

As we mentioned this is a beta build and while we would love to test the app as it goes live, there appears to be a bit of snag in that regard.

Available worldwide, eventually

Despite Google announcing that Duo is live on the Play Store and the App Store we are currently unable to download the app. On the Google Play Store we are greeted with a “Pre-Register” or “Unregister” button in place of “Install”.

A search of Apple’s App Store for “Google Duo” comes up empty as well.

For now then you’ll have to stick with the host of apps that does what Duo does.

If you really want to try out Duo keep one eye trained on your relevant app store and one here because we’ll be sure to update this story when the app goes live.

Brendyn Lotz

Brendyn Lotz

Brendyn Lotz writes news, reviews, and opinion pieces for Hypertext. His interests include SMEs, innovation on the African continent, cybersecurity, blockchain, games, geek culture and YouTube.