Messaging and video calling apps are a dime a dozen these days. One of the more popular ones is Google Duo, which lets you stay in contact with friends and family from anywhere. But how does it compare with rivals like WhatsApp, Viber, Skype, and Signal? Should you use it? We’ll work to answer both questions over the course of this page.
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 for a few years. It debuted alongside Duo in 2016, but the company killed Allo off last year due to its limited user base. You can currently use Google Hangouts as an alternative for text messaging. Hangouts is also being discontinued and replaced with Gmail Chat soon, though.
Google Duo has a few features you won’t find in most of its competitors regarding calls, though. The most interesting one is called Knock Knock, and it 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 apps let you send audio recordings and video clips via chat. 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. Like my colleague Ankit did in the screenshots below, you can also spice up a video using various filters and effects.
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 fun and convenient. The tool is also integrated into the dialer app on Samsung Galaxy S21 phones, allowing you to call someone with the tap of a button quickly.
Another thing worth mentioning is that Google Duo is ad-free. It’s not the only app of its kind without ads, but it’s definitely in the minority. Signal is also ad-free. Meanwhile, Skype, Viber, and Messenger all contain ads. There are no ads on WhatsApp now, but news of ads coming has circulatedfor a while.
When it comes to group calls, Google Duo used to allow up to 12 people to join in on the fun. That number increased to 32 since 2020. This isn’t class-leading, but it competes well. Viber supports up to 30 people, while WhatsApp allows for eight. Skype is the most generous with its support for up to 100 people.
Awesome features don’t matter if the call quality 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. We decided to put this to the test. I made video calls with Google Duo, Viber, Skype, Signal, and WhatsApp to see how big a difference there is.
Also: Hangouts vs. Skype
Based on my testing, Google Duo lives up to its promise. The video quality it offers is better than those of Viber, Signal, and WhatsApp. The colors are more vibrant and realistic too. Video is less grainy, and the connection is a lot more stable, which reduces freezes.
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 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. However, 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.
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. This means that while no one can snoop on your conversation if you’re on public Wi-Fi, both Microsoft (Skype’s owner) and Facebook can see the messages you send if they want to. Facebook has committed to introducing end-to-end encryption, but that won’t happen soon.
There’s a way to get around this, though. Both Skype and Messenger kind of offer end-to-end encryption already. You just have to enable it yourself by opening a Private conversation on Skype or a Secret conversation on Facebook. This means that the two services can be just as safe as Google Duo, WhatsApp, and the rest of the competition, given you know what to do. It’s a bit of a pain, but it’s better than nothing.
So, should you use Google Duo?
Google Duo is a mixed bag. The lack of instant messaging makes it hard to recommend to those looking for an all-in-one communication app. On the other hand, video quality makes it a great choice for frequently making video calls.
If video quality is super important to you and you’re not already using Skype, I’d say definitely give Google Duo a shot. It also comes with a few unique features many will enjoy, even if there’s nothing groundbreaking about them. Not to mention it’s a Google app and works with the same Google account you already use.
If you’re happy with your current messaging app’s video quality or want 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 isn’t on par with what Duo offers.
Another great benefit is that Google Duo now offers video calls with up to 32 participants, a helpful feature. Only Skype can beat it with its 100 participant limit.
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.
Here are more video calling app comparisons!