When Google announced their new messaging and video call applications, Allo and Duo, during Google I/O last year, I was ecstatic. Finally, here was the iMessage/FaceTime competitor we have been waiting for, available on both Android and iOS. It might take some convincing to get people to try Allo out – and might be a difficult sell, considering I also tried to convince people to use Hangouts before, too. But assuming this was the all-in-one messaging solution I thought it was going to be, it would be well worth it.
Except it kind of wasn’t.
It turned out that Allo and Duo weren’t much like iMessage and FaceTime at all. They had the same concept, but iMessage and FaceTime were far better integrated with each other than Allo and Duo were. Allo in particular suffered because it didn’t technically support SMS, which is a big setback here in the States where SMS is still the default method of texting. Allo also didn’t offer direct access to Duo from within the app, which fragmented what should have been a seamless experience.
Things have changed for the better over the course of a year, however. Google implemented direct access to Duo from Allo, and Allo now has a web interface that users can access through the Chrome browser on a PC. Unfortunately, Allo still doesn’t support SMS, and it’s not even clear if SMS will ever be integrated into the app. Although the improvements to Allo over the past year are welcome ones, for many it matters not without proper SMS support. Without SMS, Allo is just another frivolous messaging app to add to a likely extensive collection, therefore not worth the effort.
Duo, on the other hand, is my new go-to, even after switching back to iOS.
Truthfully, I’ve never been a big fan of video calls, but over the past year I’ve needed video calls more than ever for a multitude of reasons, so Duo arrived at the perfect time for me. Although many of my contacts have iOS and could use FaceTime, most of them also have Duo installed, and almost all of my Android contacts have it as well.
Aside from its availability across platforms, Duo has something else going for it: simplicity. Its no-frills approach to video calling is exactly the kind of straightforwardness I want out of a video call. You just tap, connect, and you’re set. Even its interface is as barebones as it gets. Now, I will admit I was not a fan of the “Knock Knock” feature at first, which allows the recipient to view live video before answering, but I’ve since embraced it by making horrible faces at people while waiting for my call to connect – assuming they even accept the call.
Connection with Duo isn’t immaculate; there has been a time or two where the voice or video cuts out temporarily, although I’ve yet to experience a true dropped call. Aside from that, it’s been a clean experience and has worked well no matter which phone I’m using it with.
That’s really all there is to say about it. It’s clean and works well. Because of its ease of use, how well it has worked for me, and how many people have readily adopted it as their go-to, Duo has become my main app for video calls and I’m happy that Google released it. I wish I could say the same for Allo, because I really did want to use it. Even after its debut, only a handful of people were willing to try it out with me. In the year since, only one other person still uses it with me, and that’s only when they’re traveling overseas. Most of the time it sits dormant in a folder, collecting virtual dust.
Now that I’m back on iOS it isn’t a big deal. I just use iMessage, which seamlessly transitions between iMessage or SMS, depending on who I am texting. But one day I will return to Android, as I often do, and iMessage won’t be an option. That’s never been enough to deter me, but it would have been nice if Allo had been as easy to use and carefree as Duo was. Fortunately, Allo isn’t the first nor the last messaging app to work on both Android and iOS, so there isn’t much of a loss.
Readers, what are your thoughts on Allo and Duo? Do you use either app as your go-to these days? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!