Google Duo vs Skype vs Face­Time vs Mes­sen­ger

Google has re­leased its video-call­ing app, Duo, to ri­val Skype and Ap­ple Face­Time. So why would you want yet an­other app on your phone? Jim Martin sees how it stacks up against the com­pe­ti­tion

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Back in May, Google an­nounced it would be launch­ing two new apps, Allo and Duo. Allo is a mes­sag­ing app, while Duo – an odd name – is for video calls. It’s also slightly strange be­cause Google al­ready of­fers a way to make video calls through its Han­gouts app. Duo, though, is a new stand­alone app that only let you video call be­tween two peo­ple.

It’s avail­able for free from the Google Play Store and Ap­ple’s App Store. When you set up the app, you’ll need to link it with a phone num­ber. This doesn’t have to be the num­ber of the de­vice it­self, so you can in­stall the app on a tablet as well as a phone.

Google Duo

Google Duo is rel­a­tively ba­sic, but that’s the idea: it’s sim­ple to use and gets the job done. Face­Time is very sim­i­lar, and works in the same way as Duo. You pick a con­tact, start a video call and then tap the screen to bring up op­tions such as switch­ing be­tween front and rear cam­eras, mute the mi­cro­phone or end the call.

There’s no group call­ing, no in­stant mes­sages, just per­son-to-per­son video calls. You can’t even move the thumb­nail of your video around the screen as you can with the other ser­vices. At least the video ro­tates if you hold your phone in land­scape mode.

Duo has a cou­ple of high­lights: the abil­ity to see the caller’s video stream be­fore you an­swer (Knock Knock) and it can switch be­tween Wi-Fi and mo­bile data with­out drop­ping the call. Knock Knock cur­rently works only on An­droid de­vices, but the ca­pa­bil­ity is built into iOS 10, so it could be added to the iPhone app soon.

There are some set­tings, in­clud­ing a ‘limit mo­bile data’ but­ton and the abil­ity to block num­bers. You can turn Knock Knock off, so peo­ple can’t see your stream be­fore they

an­swer. As Duo is new, you’ll have to ask the other per­son to in­stall the app be­fore you can call them, oth­er­wise a mes­sage will pop up say­ing “[their num­ber] is un­avail­able on Duo”. Google says voice calls are on the way.

Face­Time

Face­Time is a video call­ing ser­vice, and is avail­able over Wi-Fi and 3G/4G. You can make a voice call – Face­Time au­dio – if your re­cip­i­ent’s de­vice doesn’t have a front cam­era, or you just pre­fer not to be seen – only heard. Of­ten, the au­dio qual­ity is bet­ter than a con­ven­tional phone call.

One of the lim­i­ta­tions of Face­Time is that it’s ex­clu­sively avail­able on Ap­ple de­vices, so you’ll need an iPad, iPhone, iPod touch or Mac to use it. So you can’t use Face­Time to call your aunt who has an An­droid phone or tablet.

Skype

Skype is avail­able on vir­tu­ally ev­ery­thing, in­clud­ing some TVs. You can in­stall it on Ap­ple prod­ucts, Win­dows, An­droid, Win­dows Phone, Linux, Black­Berry, Ama­zon Fire phone (and Fire tablets). In­deed,

you’ll be hard pushed to find a mo­bile de­vice that’s un­able to use the ser­vice.

Skype has the most fea­tures, but can be a pain to use. For ex­am­ple, it reg­u­larly asks you to log in when you launch the apps, which doesn’t hap­pen in Face­Time or Duo. How­ever, Skype makes up for this by of­fer­ing group call­ing, in­stant mes­sag­ing and – if you use the desk­top apps – call trans­la­tion. It can also be used to call land­lines at low rates, and you can have a Skype num­ber which peo­ple can call, but this part of the ser­vice isn’t free.

Skype ac­tu­ally al­lowed video calls over mo­bile net­works be­fore Face­Time did, even on the iPhone.

Face­book Mes­sen­ger

Face­book Mes­sen­ger has evolved from an un­wanted ex­tra Face­book app to a gen­uinely use­ful com­mu­ni­ca­tion tool with a sur­pris­ing num­ber of fea­tures. Video call­ing has been added rel­a­tively re­cently, and even more re­cent is the in­tro­duc­tion of group calls, which work on mo­bile as well as in Google Chrome, Fire­fox and Opera on a PC or lap­top.

You can mute the mi­cro­phone and/ or cam­era as you like, and even min­imise the video call and carry on us­ing the Mes­sen­ger app to write in­stant mes­sages, send stick­ers and so on.

Qual­ity

Au­dio and video qual­ity for video calls is de­pen­dent on the speed of the in­ter­net con­nec­tion be­tween you and the re­cip­i­ent. You may have a fast fi­bre op­tic con­nec­tion, but your re­cip­i­ent might live some­where rural with a slow web con­nec­tion. You will there­fore see higher qual­ity if you have a faster link be­tween you, but there are other fac­tors in­volved as well.

One is the qual­ity of the hard­ware used: web cams vary in qual­ity as do mi­cro­phones. An­other fac­tor is im­age pro­cess­ing and the com­pres­sion used. Ap­ple has an ad­van­tage here, since it con­trols both soft­ware and hard­ware. So as well as good-qual­ity cam­eras and mi­cro­phones (es­pe­cially on the lat­est iOS de­vices), Ap­ple can also use hard­ware for en­cod­ing and de­cod­ing the video.

The oth­ers (on the whole) have to make do with soft­ware to do these jobs, which also uses more CPU power, and bat­tery power.

Skype is peer-to-peer though, while the oth­ers use their own cen­tral servers to fa­cil­i­tate video calls.

Se­cu­rity

An of­ten over­looked fac­tor in mes­sag­ing, call­ing and video chat­ting is se­cu­rity. The good news is that both Skype and Face­Time are pretty se­cure. In­deed, Skype en­crypts all video and voice calls, as it does with any files and in­stant mes­sages you share.

Ap­ple, too, pro­vides end-to-end en­cryp­tion for Face­Time and iMes­sage. This means that no one but the sender and re­ceiver can view them. Face­book only re­cently (July 2016) be­gan adding end-to-end en­cryp­tion, and only for ‘se­cret con­ver­sa­tion’ in­stant mes­sages. Video calls are not en­crypted, as far as we’re aware. Duo, how­ever, has end-to-end en­cryp­tion for video calls, a fea­ture plenty of Han­gouts users have wanted.

Ver­dict

Each of these ser­vices has their ad­van­tages, though, Face­Time is the most lim­ited as it’s to Ap­ple hard­ware. Duo is next, as it only of­fers per­son-to-per­son video calls and noth­ing else. Face­book Mes­sen­ger is fine as long as the per­son you want to call has the app in­stalled and you don’t mind the lack of pri­vacy.

A lot more peo­ple have ac­cess to Skype as it’s avail­able on so many plat­forms. Both Skype and Mes­sen­ger are good if you want to call more than one per­son – nei­ther Duo nor Face­Time have this op­tion. But Skype also has en­cryp­tion.

If you have to choose just one video call­ing ser­vice, Skype is the best. How­ever, you don’t have to choose just one: all are free and you can in­stall them all.

Google Duo

Skype

Face­Time

Face­book Mes­sen­ger

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