Google Duo: One Month Recap - How Does It Compare To FaceTime?



Every generation has it's own defining TV show with an idea of the future. For my parents, it was Dick Tracy and the Jetsons. For me, I look to Back to the Future, and shows like Inspector Gadget. No matter what your vision of the future might be, video chat is the common thread between them all. While video chat has been around for over a decade, it hasn't been until recent years that we've seen a focus on it. Now that we all carry supercomputers smartphones in our pockets, video chat is accessible to everyone. And with networks increasing their bandwidth, we're seeing a real use case for video over voice. The tech giants of today (Apple and Google) are dedicating a ton of resources to delivering us the future; are they succeeding? Google Duo has now been out for a month. Is it encroaching on FaceTime's market share, or is it the next Google Wave?

Since it's release, I have made a conscious effort to use Duo as my primary video chat application. I say primary video chat application, because I'm a bit of an outlier. I use FaceTime as much as I can. I love video chat, and it's my go to when I need to contact someone more directly than a text message. I will caveat that by saying I strongly dislike voice calls. So yeah, I may be a bit on a anomaly. Anyway...


In terms of interface and feature set, Duo and FaceTime are practically one in the same. Obviously, Google Duo follows the material design guidelines, which automatically makes it a pleasure to use. The UI is very minimalistic, giving you picture bubbles of your eligible Duo contacts to call. The Settings are also fairly limited, allowing you to enable/disable the "Knock, Knock" feature, limit mobile usage, and manage blocked contacts.

Google Duo - Settings screenshot

When you initiate a Google Duo call, assuming your "Knock, Knock" feature is on, your video feed is immediately visible to the other party. So while you're sitting there watching the screen waiting for them to accept the call, they can see you checking your teeth in the camera, fixing your hair, or growing frustrated they haven't "picked up" yet. It's a cool feature, but I'm sure the novelty will wear off before long.

It would be remiss not to mention the obvious feature that Duo has over FaceTime, and that is cross-platform connectivity. The Google Duo app is currently out for both Android and iOS, and both share the same UI and feature set. This is huge. In our family, I'm the iPhone guy and my brother is the Android guy. Now, my parents and I can video chat with my brother. I know this sounds trivial, and this may be a bit corny, but it does bring a family together. The first time my brother ever video chatted was me calling him when I was in Chicago standing outside of Wrigley Field. I could tell in his reaction on the call how cool it was to him; which is both a win for Duo, and a win for us to share that experience.

Screenshot of FaceTime Screenshot of Google Duo

The biggest difference I have noticed with Duo (over FaceTime) is that it is better in low light conditions. A lot of the rooms in my home have poor lighting, especially my living room. Sitting on my couch using FaceTime, I can barely see myself on screen. With Duo, the picture is brighter and details are more pronounced. I am unsure if this is Duo using the Camera API more efficiently, or if the Duo software is enhancing the image. I would bet on the latter.

I use video chat mostly when calling my parents. They live just far enough away that it isn't easy to visit on anything other than a weekend. Long story short, we don't see each other as much as we used to. That aside, video chat and FaceTime is one of the main reasons I was able to convince them to upgrade to iPhones some years ago. Talk about technology making an impact, and genuinely being able to see the "wow factor" on someones face when they use a new app; that's my parents and their phones with FaceTime. A big issue with video calling my parents, however, is that they live in a very rural area. Meaning they don't have access to reliable high speed internet, and sometimes the cell reception can be a bit spotty. It was a struggle growing up there, trying to play EverQuest, and Xbox Live.

With this in mind, one of my biggest complaints with FaceTime is that when a connection is poor, it will continue to attempt a video connection. This results in a complete loss of video and audio as it just constantly spins and says "Reconnecting...". Calling my parents with Duo, one of the first observations I made was that during a poor connection, it will simply pause the video and proceed strictly as an audio call; at least until it determines the signal quality has improved enough to reconnect with video. That being said, however, my parents have routinely complained that my video feed with Duo freezes and struggles to keep up with their bandwidth. I'm not sure if this is an artifact of the "Limit mobile data usage" option in the Settings menu, but they always ask me to call them back on FaceTime.

So while Duo has some major advantages over FaceTime, it is afflicted by the same issues we've seen in all modern video chat applications. From one good connection to another, I haven't noticed any standouts, above or below, that of FaceTime. It is a very solid first iteration from Google, and I am looking forward to the next version. Hopefully they replace the small circle feed of your camera with a larger viewport, like the scaled rectangle in FaceTime.

What do you guys think? Have you been using Google Duo? What do you like about it? What do you not like about it? Sound off in the comments below!

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