The IMO video calling app is a relic of a friendlier internet world, now trying to make it as a run-of-the-mill chat and messaging service. It was created in Palo Alto by one of Google’s first 10 employees, Georges Harik, at the turn of the last decade, and once acted as an umbrella to link the most popular chat services of the day–Google Plus, Yahoo, Facebook, Skype, and so on.
It dropped that unifying ability several years ago, however, when the likes of WhatsApp and Skype started making life difficult for the third-party aggregator. What’s left is a basic video calling app that has all the now-familiar features of a service like WhatsApp, without the massive empire of users.
IMO is a slim, high-clarity video caller, with the group calls, social groups, messaging, animated stickers, and “story” functions of its peers, but with an uninspired interface and some serious security concerns.
If that former ability to stage simultaneous chats across multiple apps was still around, this would be a must-have platform. Instead, IMO feels like something you already have.
The IMO Video Calling App Is VC as We Already Know It
If you’re new to the IMO video calling app, it’s hard to make a case to friends who are already using WhatsApp, Skype, or Facebook Messenger for why they should ditch their favorites and join you. The IMO setup is the same as WhatsApp, for instance–you hand over your phone number, get a security pin number (which I worryingly didn’t need to use)
and the app moves all the contacts from your phone into its own directory. Just as in WhatsApp, you add friends by SMS invite, and then parcel them off into groups for messaging and group calling.
From there, you can take and upload photos or videos to create evolving stories, just like Snapchat and Instagram, or do group messaging, like WhatsApp, or engage in one-on-one (like FaceTime) or group video chats (like Facebook Messenger). There’s even a range of animated stickers you can send around, just like basically every major chat service.
Even Skype, with its recent facelift (check out our Skype update review here), has all these functions on board now. So, how could you convince your friends to jump ship? Well, IMO does have a couple of enticing features–after all, something has to explain the 100 million downloads from the Google Play store, although many of those may stem from its former multi-app glory days.
Low on Weight, High on Quality
IMO is remarkably slim for a video calling app of its quality. The initial download takes up little more than 6MB of your smartphone’s storage space. By comparison, WhatsApp will demand more than 37MB, while even a smaller apps usually account for twice as much space–JusTalk, for instance, requires around 15MB. That low weight is a plus for anyone with an older or smaller smartphone or who has lots of storage space dedicated to photos and videos.
You can also load IMO to your Windows PC. The rush to dedicate every new app to mobile devices can overlook the advantages of video calling on more powerful desktops, but using the app on a PC is handy if you want to use a bigger screen or a webcam that’ll outshoot and out-feature any smartphone camera.
Finally, the visuals on IMO are first-rate. It’ll operate comfortably across wifi and 3G or 4G networks, and–at least in my experience–do so glitch- and freeze-free. Unfortunately, the interface is a little clumsy to use–you must navigate to Advanced Settings in order to logout, for instance, and on iOS, the actual video call screen is just a black background with chat windows (it’s better on PC). There are no extra frills, either, like screen sharing or native recording, but the pure video quality is the match of any of the apps we mentioned above.
What really lets IMO down, and the thing that will prevent you from stealing many friends away from trendier apps, is the concern over security.
End-to-End Encryption Is a Video Calling Essential
IMO does not claim to have end-to-end encryption on the transfer of data across its service, and avid readers of its policy statements and pages have found no mention of such a feature. That’s a problem, both in reality and perception. Obviously, if your uploaded
information isn’t protected by a decent security service there’s a risk it’ll be intercepted by someone with unfriendly intentions. Secondly, a potential user who hears there are security questions around an app is going to avoid it–especially when you can find all the app’s features elsewhere.
WhatsApp faced similar concerns during its initial release and had to make an announcement to the world in April last year that it had installed end-to-end encryption just to reassure its base. IMO would be wise to do the same.
If you can get past that concern–and honestly it would be easy to understand anyone who can’t–IMO is a high-quality video calling app with all the features you’ve come to expect from a modern chat and messaging service. If you’re new to video calling, keep checking for a security update, and give it a try. If you’re already comfortable on another app, stay where you are. Unfortunately, there’s no longer anything unique about IMO.