Video calling is gathering momentum as a social media tool. All the big-name platforms have it–for example, there are at least three different ways to place a video call on Facebook. At the moment, however, most social media platforms are content just to offer video calling. Few have brought any real innovation to the field, and it’s still specialists like Kik or Appear.in that provide change.
South Korean super-app KakaoTalk is one “big-name” that has recently added video calling to its list of features…but looks like it doesn’t yet know how to take it seriously. The evolving chat app is a giant in Korea, and contains its own taxi and food delivery service, shopping and travel apps, a gaming service, and every form of social media.
As a video calling app, however, it’s nothing to brag about. It’s unfortunate that since this KakaoTalk review is focused on the app’s video calling function we’ll have to highlight the limited in-call features, terrible PC display, and clunky interface. I’d much rather daydream about where a big app like KakaoTalk could one day take video calling, but we’ll stick to reality for now, and unfortunately, that reality is disappointing.
The Korean WhatsApp
KakaoTalk began life as the WhatsApp of South Korea. It was the first successful messaging service in the country, and after a merger with email and web hosting company Daum, has gone on to totally dominate the local market. It now has more than 41 million active monthly users among a national population of 50 million. Those users spend an average of 860 minutes a month in KakaoTalk.
That part of the empire still needs a little work, however.
The essentials are all there–it’s free, hosts group video chats of up to 5 people, there are several easy ways to find and add friends (including QR codes, which is a little unusual), and it has themes, avatars, emoticons, video and audio filters, and the ability to make video calls across iOS and Android–although there are more than a dozen video calling apps that can perform that trick now.
What’s lacking is the execution.
A Basic Video Calling Experience on Mobile
To begin, the interface on KakaoTalk is clumsy. There are lots of features tucked away under several different banners, but it takes some searching to find everything–the Notifications tab, for instance, is hidden away on an unmarked icon in the catchall summary tab. KakaoTalk frustratingly also separates out the video call and chat functions into separate pages. If you want to make a call to a friend you’ve just messaged, you have to exit that section, go back to your contacts, hit the phone icon and then hit a second button to decide to make an audio or video call.
The video call screen itself is very simple, and as on many platforms, the various chat and filter functions are hidden away out of sight. Once your call is up and running, your own image gets tucked up into the top left corner, and your friend’s face takes up the rest of the screen, as is now common in video calling apps. There aren’t a lot of bells and whistles to the experience, although after a few calls you’ll find the in-call chat option that’ll let you share images and external links.
The biggest disappointment, however, is the PC experience.
Our KakaoTalk Review Conclusion: Video Chat As an Afterthought
The biggest, and perhaps only, drawback to making video calls on your smartphone is the small screen size. The device must be pocket-sized to remain convenient, but that mocks the visual aspect of a visual media.
Unlike most other messaging services that have adopted video calling, KakaoTalk lets you make and receive calls from the same account on your desktop, just like Skype operates. Unlike Skype, however, KakaoTalk doesn’t let you use the entirety of your bigger screen during a call. Instead it presents the same elongated, vertical format you’ll see on your phone but restricted to the center third of your desktop. It’s a frustrating experience and renders the whole PC-smartphone link useless. What should be a great amalgam of the convenience of a smartphone and the grand, “Happy-Birthday-Grandma” elegance of a big screen is wasted.
Hopefully, in the coming years, KakaoTalk will fix that issue and give us back our big screens. Maybe, as is the hope with other big name converts to video calling, the developers at KakaoTalk just need more time to consider video calling’s potential and how the feature can add to and work with its existing–very extensive–offerings.
Perhaps we should be glad video calling is available at all on these major social networks and wait patiently for the function to evolve and add value to the app. For now, though, KakaoTalk, like many of its cousins, is a message-first, video-if-you-have-to platform. It’s not a surprise, but we’re holding on to hope that the video chat as an afterthought trend won’t last, and that soon video calling will take its rightful place as a well-developed, front-and-center feature.
Note that while this site is sponsored by Logitech, reviews contain the writer’s own opinions and are not influenced by the views of our sponsor.