Google's messaging strategy has been an unmitigated disaster, with the search giant bouncing from service to service over the years as it tried to take on the likes of WhatsApp. Allo and Duo debuted in 2016 to lofty ambitions, but in typical Google fashion, both services were hobbled from the start. Allo didn't have SMS integration, and there wasn't a good enough reason to switch from existing services at the time.
Duo didn't have any flaws of its own at launch, but convincing anyone to install another app just for video calling was a Sisyphean task. Google ultimately killed off Allo earlier this year, and its messaging efforts are now revolved around Android Messages and the RCS rollout, and Duo.
Duo has largely flown under the radar, but in the last three years, it has picked up a host of updates that make it an excellent video and audio messaging platform. Duo comes pre-installed with every new Android phone, allowing the service to pick up one billion downloads.
What makes Duo stand out from other video calling services is the quality on offer. Of all the services I've used, Duo delivers the best image quality for video calls, and it does so while consuming less data. Duo also switches between Wi-Fi and cellular data based on signal strength and bandwidth, and it does all of this seamlessly in the background.
Another particular highlight with Duo is that it works even on 2G cellular data connections. Sure, you won't get the same visual quality, but the fact that it works at all (and does so reliably) has allowed Duo to amass a sizable userbase in India.
Duo works over Web Real-Time Communication (WebRTC), an open-source platform that is designed for direct audio and video communication. WebRTC relies on peer-to-peer connectivity, meaning your calls don't go through a server. That allows for things like end-to-end encryption, which is enabled by default on all video and audio calls you make using the service. WebRTC is the secret sauce that gives Duo an edge in this category, and why the service is able to deliver rock-solid connectivity.
Duo is also incredibly easy to set up and use. All you need to do is link your phone number, and the app will scan your contacts list and find all contacts that have Duo installed. Calling them is as easy as selecting their name, and you get the option of choosing between audio or video calls. Duo also offers group calling with up to eight people, and like one-on-one calls, group calls are also end-to-end encrypted.
More often than not, I rely on Duo to talk to friends and family instead of my regular voice calls just because of the quality on offer. Duo also works over the web, and you can link your Google account with Duo if you don't want to sign in to the service on every new device. Duo is also the default audio and video calling app on Google's smart speakers, including the Google Home, Nest Hub, and Nest Hub Max.
There are other standout additions. Knock Knock lets you see live video of whoever's calling before you pick up, you can leave a recorded audio or video message, and Duo even has a dark mode.
Google has also added features to Duo that make it fun to use. Duo is now offering video effects for the holidays, and Google regularly rolls out themed filters that make calls to friends and family that much more interesting. The service is also getting Scooby-Doo video effects ahead of the launch of the new movie in 2020.
Google hasn't made it any easier for itself with its convoluted messaging strategy, but with Duo, it has managed to create the perfect video and audio calling service. The accessible nature of the service, combined with the security and quality on offer, makes it an easy recommendation. If you haven't already, you should consider switching.
Duo is the best video and audio calling service around. With seamless connectivity on even 2G networks, end-to-end encryption, fun video filters, and availability on all major platforms, Duo is the only video calling service you'll ever need.
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Harish Jonnalagadda is a Senior Editor overseeing Asia at Android Central. He leads the site's coverage of Chinese phone brands, contributing to reviews, features, and buying guides. He also writes about storage servers, audio products, and the semiconductor industry. Contact him on Twitter at @chunkynerd.