Grab your phone and prepare to shoot some new apps and games over to it from the Google cloud. It's time for the Google Play App Roundup where we tell you what's new and cool in the Play Store. Just click the links to head to each app's page to check it out for yourself.
Google announced two new chat apps at I/O last spring, and now the first of the two is available. Google Duo is a video chat application that's designed from the ground up to be easy. It's not as feature-rich as Hangouts, but it works much, much better for simple 1-on-1 video chats.
Google has made it clear that Duo will be the consumer-focused video chat solution going forward as it makes Hangouts a more business-focused product. So, Duo is tied you your phone number, in an attempt to make it easier to get people using it. When you first open the app you need to verify your number by SMS.
Starting a call is as easy as tapping the big call button at the bottom of the screen—it's basically the only button in the app. After you've been using Duo, your frequent contacts will show up there too. Your contact list will appear with Duo users up at the top. Those who have not installed Duo yet are shown below that with the option to send them an invitation to the app. If you select a Duo user, the call will start immediately.
The default functionality on Android includes Knock Knock, a way to see who's calling you before you pick up. When you place a call, your video will be live before the other person answers. That means they can see you before deciding whether or not to answer, like looking through a peephole in a door. This only happens if you are in the other person's contact list, though. Knock Knock is neat, but also a little weird to dismiss a call when your friend's face is staring expectantly at you from the screen.
The latency in Duo video chats seems very good, and the video is alright. It's not mindblowing quality, at least in my experience. There is a toggle in the settings to turn off the data saving feature, which makes it look nicer. According to Google, Duo is using a protocol called Quic that allows for better video compression. It can also hand the call over between WiFi and cellular data as needed. The only controls of importance when you're in a call are mute and a front/rear camera toggle.
Duo seems like a fine video chat app, but its success will depend on how many of your friends and family you can convince to install it. I would not be surprised to see Google start bundling Duo (and Allo) with the Google apps package for all phones.