Google Duo: Bare-bones app gets the job done

I still remember the time when setting up chat/messaging clients on PCs was a chore. And last week I finally got my hands on a no-nonsense video chat client, which can be set up on phones in a jiffy. Yes, I'm talking about Duo, Google's answer to Apple's FaceTime and Microsoft's Skype.

After downloading the app, a text message was all it took to set it up. On a Nexus 5, I immediately got to know which of my friends were already on Duo and I was given the option of making a video call on the bare-bones interface. From the furthest end of the apartment, I put a call through to my wife over Wi-Fi. A caveat: Your video becomes visible to the called party as soon as the call is initiated. This is due to Google's "Knock Knock" feature, which shows the video of the caller even before the call is answered. One can, of course, turn it off, but it would have been nicer if one could turn it off for certain numbers.

I moved to the terrace, where there's no Wi-Fi reception, and the call automatically shifted to my 4G network; next, I travelled to those areas of my housing complex which have patchy reception - the video finally froze and I was on audio mode. I liked the fact that I could start talking the moment the call was answered, there was no delay like in some clients. One can also block numbers, but that has to be done within settings. And this app has no desktop equivalent.

This bare-bones app works well for video calling; it doesn't allow us to initiate audio calls. That said, it's narrow focus is its strength. But will that lead people to shift from their favourite chat clients? Only time will tell.