Everything you need to know to get started with Google's new messaging service.

Allo is finally available, and it offers a first look at what's possible with Google Assistant. Assistant is Google's AI chatbot that answers questions by drawing on the vast trove of information it has collected over the years. It suggests replies in conversations, offers recommendations on nearby points of interest, tells bad jokes, plays games with you, and so on. Unlike Google Now, interacting with Google Assistant feels more personal and conversational.

If you're just getting started with Google's latest messaging service, we've got you covered.

Setting up Allo

Haven't gotten around to downloading Allo just yet? Here's the Play Store link. Once you're done downloading the app, it's a straightforward process to register using your phone number. We've covered the basics of getting started with the app below:

How to install and set up Allo

Allo and text messages

First off, Allo isn't a Hangouts replacement. You can't set the messaging service as the default SMS client on your phone. It does offer the ability to message a contact that doesn't have Allo installed through Play Services, but that's about it. You can also talk to contacts over SMS, with the message itself routed through Google's servers, but Allo isn't an SMS service by design. In this regard, it has more similarities to WhatsApp than iMessage.

Allo is mobile-first, which means that right now, there's no way to access it over the web. It requires your phone number to register, and you can only use it on one device at a time. Google will add more functionality to the app over time, but for now, Allo is in the proverbial beta stage that we've come to expect from many Google services.

All the features of Allo

Allo is loaded with functionality that differentiates it from the slew of messaging services available today. First up is Google Assistant, which offers contextual information within chats, reply suggestions, emoji parties, and much more. Assistant is always running in the background, and is there to assist when needed. Sharing a picture of food? It'll ask if you want to take a look at restaurants nearby. Interested in going out? It'll offer a list of nearby attractions, events, and movies right there in the chat window.

The messaging service also offers an incognito mode for private chats, and you can choose from a variety of stickers for when words just aren't enough.

These are the top Allo features you need to know

Traveling with Allo

Allo is tied to your main phone number, but you can switch your SIM card out while traveling and continue to use the service without any issues. As long as you don't active Allo on another device with the same number, you'll be able to access the service.

Here's how SIM card switching works in Allo

Should you use Allo?

Allo is just getting off the ground, and as such there are several features missing from it. Even though it's tied to your Google account, chats are stored locally, and don't make their way across when you switch to a new device. That, and the lack of a desktop client, are the biggest drawbacks for me, but these issues should (hopefully) be fixed shortly. For context, WhatsApp didn't have a chat backup feature for years. I remember transferring WhatsApp conversations in text format to my email to preserve them when switching devices.

Overall though, Google may have missed a beat by not bundling Duo into Allo. Video calling is the one feature that isn't available on WhatsApp or Messenger, and if Google managed to bake it into Allo, it would've gotten a decent headstart over its rivals. Google Assistant is great, but it needs a lot of polish before it can be usable every day. While Google works on that, I have the arduous task of convincing my friends and family to switch to Allo.

Are you using Allo? Share your first impressions down in the comments!