Google Hangouts Vs. Duo: The New and the Old of Google Video Calling

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A comparison of Google Hangouts vs Duo

Google Hangouts is being shut down…soon…maybe.

The social video calling arm of Google’s video conferencing suite has been living on borrowed time ever since Alphabet’s flagship brand decided to divide the Hangouts name between two new services, Hangouts Meet and Hangouts Chat, back in 2017.

Through two years of transitioning, Hangouts has been soldiering on as a pristine if unfulfilled video calling platform awaiting its eventual demise. Google has announced October 2019 as the final deadline for G Suite users to make the move across to one of the new services, but it is expected that Hangouts will not be shut down until all those G Suiters have successfully made the switch. As a result, Hangouts is going to be with us well into 2020.

Meet and Chat don’t stand as automatic heirs to the Hangouts throne, however, despite bearing its name. Instead, true to Google’s seemingly scattered approach to video conferencing, it is Google Duo that looks like the real alternative for your social video calling needs.

Therefore, today’s comparison of Google Hangouts vs. Duo isn’t really a competition. It’s more a test of how confident we should be that Duo can not only replace Hangouts but also fulfill some of its promise.

In our opinion, Hangouts fans should be excited for Google Duo.

Google Hangouts: Video Calling Simplified

Screenshot of Google Hangouts video callWhenever the continually hinted at final end date for Hangouts arrives, the platform leaves behind a legacy of largely untapped potential. Powered by Google’s phenomenal success, the basic social video calling service became a popular venue for the great and the good of global video conferencing. It was used by movie stars, presidents, and the Pope to host personal, face-to-face conversations with the public, the press, and even astronauts orbiting the Earth.  

The platform’s success lay in its simplicity. Apart from some advanced features that appeared late in its life–such as active speaker tech that automatically focuses attention on whoever is currently speaking–Hangouts was just a video portal with a clean and intuitive interface. It was free, it was easy to use, and it worked across every digital device.

Even the product that exists now is pretty much a bare-bones, WebRTC video platform that lets you instantly connect with anyone who can click on an emailed browser link. Without being too cute about things, the desktop-only drawing function might be the only feature that will tempt you away from a straightforward, face-to-face conversation.  

The original Hangouts was simply about human connection.

While Hangouts’ business-focused replacements Hangouts Meet (video for business meetings) and Hangouts Chat (a workplace messaging platform) are fully-fledged communication solutions with workflow integration and a stack of allied analytics and third-party attachments, the original Hangouts was simply about human connection.

And in that regard, its rightful successor, Google Duo, will comfortably carry on its role as a meeting place for human beings.

Google Duo: Simple Video, with a Twist

Screenshot of video chat over Google DuoAt some point, Google decided video consumers wanted to separate their working and social lives. So, while the new pair of Hangouts platforms were given interoperable business networks, Google Duo was left unvarnished. The resulting platform left us a little underwhelmed for just that reason when it was launched at the end of 2016 (you can find our review of Google Duo here).

We don’t need file sharing and integrated workflows to impress us, but we do require our video platform to let us speak to more than one other person at once. Duo, as the name suggests, launched with a strict two-participant call limit that seemed unnecessarily limited.

Fortunately, Google has since seen the error of its three’s-a-crowd mentality and recently opened up the platform to group calls of up to eight people. That falls below the old Hangouts number of ten–and well below the capacity of Facebook Messenger and the updated FaceTime–but is enough to serve Duo’s social agenda.

Duo picks up where Hangouts left off.

While Duo has very little to offer in the way of special features, one unique offering is the “Knock Knock” feature that shows a live preview of an incoming caller on the recipient’s phone before they pick up the call. It’s like having a personalized ringtone for each of your friends–and a heads-up about their mood.

That aside, Duo has a consistent feel across its desktop and iOS versions, and enough control to maximize your reception circumstances–it’ll adjust call quality according to what your connection will handle, so it’s perfect for making video calls in low bandwidth situations–and will even switch automatically between wifi and data connections where appropriate.

Duo picks up where Hangouts left off. It’s basic, economical, and intuitive video calling that has strict social ambitions and little else. It’s up to you to decide if you need more from a video calling platform.

Google Hangouts Vs. Duo: The Verdict

Comparing Google Hangouts vs. Duo helps clarify the focus of each service and reduces confusion over Google’s constantly evolving stable of video chat apps, but there’s really no conflict between these two platforms. As we’ve mentioned, Duo is more a successor to Hangouts than a rival. And there’s no point in choosing between the two right now since Hangouts will, eventually, pass into digital oblivion. But that’s OK, because Duo is a better version of the same product.

Duo still isn’t as powerful, flexible, or well-connected as the updated Facebook Messenger.

The real dilemma is whether you should bother with either. If you’re a G Suite user with access to Hangouts Meet, there’s no need to add Duo to your collection. Meet may be intended for business use, but you can still use its mobile apps to meet face-to-face with your social circle. The business focus of Meet means the app has been equipped with plenty of screen sharing and multimedia applications that you can also put to use in chats with friends.

Duo can’t really stand up to the leading social video callers, either. Even with its expanded group call numbers, it still isn’t as powerful, flexible, or well-connected as the updated Facebook Messenger and its vast array of features, or even Facetime’s new offering.

Duo is a worthy successor to Hangouts and its goal of streamlined social video calling. If you need to stay connected and want more than basic “talking head” video, however, there are better alternatives around.

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