Review: Google Duo for Desktop Is a Limited Experience

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Google Duo for desktop doesn't offer additional features.

This might be a little harsh, but Google’s one-to-one video app Duo is the video conferencing equivalent of two tin cans tied together with string. In a time when even social media apps feature simultaneous group calling to dozens of people, sticking with a one-to-one limit is childish.

If you’re an existing Duo user, it’s useful that the app’s connectivity now stretches beyond iOS, Android, and Chromebook to include the major web browsers. But Google Duo for desktop is a direct replica of the smartphone app with no additional features, which is disappointing considering the existing app does not allow basic functions like screen sharing, messaging, recording, or live streaming (hence the tin can analogy).

If you’re not a current member of the free service, there are far more satisfying desktop-to-mobile video conferencing platforms that deserve your attention. Duo is a sleek, high-quality, low-concept version of video calling that desperately needs to be brought up to the social standard of group-inclusive video chat. Fortunately, there are rumors that change is coming, but in the meantime, we feel that Duo is largely irrelevant.

Sleek and Clean Video Calling

Google Duo is not a bad service, it’s just a limited concept. The sleek and intuitive design of the mobile app has transitioned well to desktop, and it’s among the easiest video callers to navigate if you’re a novice video caller.

The chat window sits within a clean white background and the controls don’t extend beyondGoogle Duo answer screen screenshot searching for a contact and then pressing “Call.” Answering is even easier, as it mimics the red/green presentation of most smartphones.

If you’re an existing mobile Duo user, all your contacts should come across to the desktop version automatically in a nice syncing feature. If you’re not a Duo veteran, then you’ll have to populate the contacts using friends’ phone numbers…or take our advice and look elsewhere for a desktop video calling platform. Seriously, basic Skype is a far more effective use of desktop video calling potential; it is also free and familiar to millions and has A LOT more functions.

Yes, we’re being hard on Google Duo, but in our opinion, the platform is not a relevant video calling option while it is limited to two-person calls. Even FaceTime, which used to be a strict one-to-one experience, has embraced group calling and now offers simultaneous video chats for up to 32 people.

As we said above, there is some possible good news coming on the Duo group call front–more on that later–but if you must use Duo, there isn’t much in the way of an upside.

The Upside of Google Duo for Desktop

What Duo for desktop does, it does well. The web application has retained the mobile version’s gimmicky Knock Knock feature that lets the person on the receiving end of call see a live preview of the person trying to reach them. It’s a pleasant way to screen your calls, and it gives the initiator a quick opportunity to check their appearance before starting a conversation.

As you’d expect from a company as resource-rich as Google, the service is robust, the visuals clear, and connections stable. You also get:

  • Recorded video messages: Duo lets you record and send brief video messages in a way that works just like social chat platforms. It’s like an answering machine service for the 21st century.
  • Data saver: Duo automatically manipulates your connection to match your connectivity. If you can’t connect to a wifi network, for example, it lowers your connection to 1Mbps over a mobile network.
  • Switch perspective: You can move between portrait and landscape video chat window configuration to match the shape of an incoming call. Most mobile connections present in a vertical format, which doesn’t always fit well into a rectangular desktop window, so Duo gives you the option to view the feed as intended.
  • Desktop notification: You can configure the Duo desktop to notify you of incoming calls through your home screen. Of course, it’s the same setup Skype has been employing for more than a decade, but it does mean you can answer a call without having to get up and search for your phone.

And that’s about it.  Like we said earlier, Google Duo for desktop is only of real interest to users who want to extend the range of the mobile version. It’s hard to recommend that anyone else take up Google’s desktop offer, or Duo at all, until it introduces group calls. Which is why we’re so excited to hear…

Group Calls Are Coming!

According to internet gossip, Google has been experimenting with group calls on Duo since the beginning of the year. The server-side test phase has been reserved for a select few, but reports have leaked about the app’s progress.

Apparently, group calls will feature up to seven simultaneous callers and users can save preferred combinations of callers into group chats much the same as social callers like WhatsApp currently allow. There’s also a “dark mode” coming our way to reduce glare when calling at night.

Unfortunately, it seems the new Duo won’t allow us to add contacts to a live call. If you’re already engaged in a video chat you’ll have to hang up and start over if you want to include another caller. That’s a bit disappointing considering Facebook Messenger group video chat and others have managed the feat.

While seven is hardly an impressive number for a group call (especially given rival FaceTime’s top number of 32) it is far better than two, and in our opinion is necessary for Google Duo to become a household name. If Google can retain the clarity and simplicity of its current design over a group connection, though, we’ll happily sing its praises.

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.

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