Messaging and video calling apps are a dime a dozen these days. One of them is Google Duo, which lets you stay in contact with friends and family via video and voice calls. But how does it compare with rivals like WhatsApp, Viber, Skype, and Signal, and should you actually use it? These are the two main questions we’ll answer in this post.
Google Duo vs the competition
The main thing you should know is that Google Duo doesn’t support instant messaging. It only supports audio and video calls. This is the biggest difference between Google Duo and other popular rival apps. WhatsApp, Signal, Skype, Messenger, and Viber all allow you to send messages in addition to making calls.
Google had a dedicated messaging app called Allo that made its debut alongside Duo in 2016, but the company killed it off last year because not a lot of people used it.
When it comes to calls, Google Duo has a few features you won’t find on most of its competitors. The most interesting one is called Knock Knock and lets you preview video calls. That means when someone calls you, you can see the person through their camera before you answer the call. For security reasons, the person calling can’t see you until you pick up.
If no one answers, you can leave a video message.
Then there’s the ability to create a video/audio message and send it to a contact. Yes, WhatsApp and other rival app let you send audio recordings as well as videos via chat, but Duo implements this differently. It’s a bigger, more important part of the app. For example, if you’re calling someone and that person doesn’t answer, you can press the “Leave a message” button and then decide whether you want to leave an audio or video message. You can also spice up a video by using various filters and effects, just like my colleague Ankit did in the screenshots below.
Google Duo also lets you send a heart emoji to contacts with a single tap or a simple note that can be customized with different fonts and colors. These are not groundbreaking features by any means, but they are there if you need them. The tool is also integrated into the dialer app on Samsung Galaxy S20 phones, allowing you to quickly call someone with the tap of a button.
Another thing worth mentioning is that Google Duo is ad-free. It’s not the only app of its kind that doesn’t contain advertising, but it’s definitely in the minority. Signal is also ad-free, for example, while Skype, Viber, and Messenger all contain ads. There are no ads in WhatsApp as of now, but that may change soon.
When it comes to group calls, Google Duo allows up to 12 people to join in on the fun. This isn’t class-leading, but it is above average. Viber supports up to five people, while WhatsApp allows for four. Skype is the most generous with its support for up to 50 people.
Google Duo call quality
All the features in the world don’t matter if the call quality of an app is bad. This is where Duo should shine based on the fact Google says it’s “the highest quality video calling app” you can get.
I decided to put this to the test. I made video calls with Google Duo, Viber, Skype, Signal, and WhatsApp to see how big of a difference there is between them.
Based on my testing, Google Duo lives up to its promise. The video quality it offers is quite a bit better than those of Viber, Signal, and WhatsApp. The colors are more vibrant and realistic, the video is less grainy, and the connection is a lot more stable, which makes sure the video doesn’t freeze as often.
I’m not saying that Viber, Signal, and WhatsApp are bad apps for video calling. They get the job done, but the difference in video quality compared to Duo is noticeable more or less right away. Skype, on the other hand, is just as good as Google Duo. I didn’t see a major difference between the two — both get a thumbs up from me.
Privacy is important, which is why we need to say a few words about encryption. Google Duo offers end-to-end encryption, which basically means that no one can see the messages you send or the calls you make. That includes Google.
End-to-end encryption is great, as it provides total anonymity. But Google Duo isn’t the only service offering it. Viber, WhatsApp, and Signal all have it on by default, making them just as safe as Google Duo.
Read next: Not sold on Zoom? Here are the 8 best alternatives to consider
When it comes to Skype and Facebook Messenger, the story is a bit different. By default, both encrypt the data between your device and the companies’ servers. What this means is that while no one can snoop on your conversation if you’re on a public Wi-Fi, both Microsoft (Skype’s owner) and Facebook can see the messages you send if they want to.
There’s a way to get around this, though. Both Skype and Messenger offer end-to-end encryption as well, but you have to enable it yourself by opening a Private conversation on Skye or a Secret conversation on Facebook. This means that the two services can be just as safe as Google Duo, WhatsApps, and the rest of the competition, you just need to remember to opt into a private chat. It’s a bit of a pain, but it’s better than nothing.
So, should you use Google Duo?
Google Duo is kind of a mixed bag. On one hand, the lack of instant messaging makes it hard to recommend to those looking for an all-in-one communication app. But on the other hand, the video quality makes it a great choice for those who frequently make video calls.
So if video quality is super important to you and you’re not already using Skype, I’d say definitely give Google Duo a go. It also comes with a few unique features that many will enjoy, even though there’s nothing groundbreaking about them.
But if you’re happy with the video quality of your current messaging app or you want just one app that can handle both messaging and calls, then Duo isn’t for you. The video quality on apps like WhatsApp and Viber is decent, but it just isn’t on par with what Duo is offering.
The great thing about these apps is that they are all free, so you can test them out yourself to get some hands-on experience. You can download Google Duo below if you don’t already have it installed on your phone and try it out.
This goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: When choosing the right messaging app for your needs, you also have to consider which ones your friends are using. A great app is useless if no one you know uses it, as you won’t have anyone to talk to.