Now that we're deep into the holiday season, plenty of people will be talking with their families, even if they can't necessarily travel long distances to reunite in person. Video calls will be skyrocketing for the next few weeks, and for many people, that will be happening with Google Duo. The latest update to v44 is now out, and while it doesn't appear to bring any new features immediately upon installation, there are a few things spotted in a teardown that will be pretty useful when they do come to life.

Teardown

Disclaimer: Teardowns are based on evidence found inside of apks (Android's application package) and are necessarily speculative and usually based on incomplete information. It's possible that the guesses made here are wrong or inaccurate. Even when predictions are correct, there is always a chance that products could change or may be canceled. Much like rumors, nothing is certain until it's officially announced and released.

The features discussed below are probably not live yet, or may only be live for a small percentage of users. Unless stated otherwise, don't expect to see these features if you install the apk. All screenshots and images are real unless otherwise stated, and images are only altered to remove personal information.

Low Light mode

We don't always make video calls from well-lit rooms or out in bright sunlight. Sometimes that call is going to happen from a dark concert venue, a poorly lit office, or just as we're lying down to sleep. If the scene is dim, the video quality is bound to be noisy and show almost zero detail.

Despite Google's prolific reputation for working magic with the camera on Pixel phones, that doesn't mean Duo can apply all of those same tricks on videos, or especially with every device people might use. It looks like the Duo team is working on a Low Light mode that will work a little bit of illusion to up the quality of videos to bring back a little bit of the image.

<string name="low_light_notification_title">Low Light mode</string>
<string name="low_light_notification_body">Automatically enable Low Light mode for your camera in low light conditions</string><string name="pref_enable_low_light_mode_automatically_title">Low Light mode</string>
<string name="toggle_low_light_on_content_description">Button for turning low light mode on</string>
<string name="toggle_low_light_off_content_description">Button for turning low light mode off</string>
<string name="pref_enable_low_light_mode_automatically_default">false</string>
<string name="pref_enable_low_light_mode_automatically_key">enable_low_light_mode_automatically_preference</string>

The only things really made clear in the text is that Low Light mode will be accessible with a button, which I imagine will be shown right on the call screen along with the buttons for muting and hanging up on a call.

I am left with a couple of other observations. The first is that the text doesn't give any details about how the image is being adjusted or processed. It's possible this is just dragging up the exposure level of the overall image. This will certainly help, but I would like to think this is benefiting from some of the experimentation that was done a year ago that began with custom settings for color effects, exposure compensation, and white balance, then moved on to brightness, contrast, and saturation. And those may be the tip of the iceberg, and there may be special processing to highlight edges or add emphasis to peoples' faces.

My other comment is about who controls low light mode. It's notable that you only control Low Light mode on your own camera. However, in many cases it's the other person that will notice that the scene is too dark and will have to ask you to take action to enhance the image. There certainly are reasons why this option should remain with each distinct person on the call, but it seems like a strained calling experience if the person seeing the image can't do more to fix it.

Follow-up: Data Saving mode

In the Duo v43 teardown, elements of a new Data Saving mode began to emerge. As you would predict from the name, it scales down the video resolution for everybody on the call for the sake of conserving data. This will be useful for anybody on a cellular or metered Wi-Fi connection.

In the latest update, some new text adds further details about feature and a couple of its nuances, and most of it is summarized in a single line. In short, it explains that Duo already scales back on data usage over mobile networks, but the Data Saving mode will go even further and points out that it replaces the old Limit Mobile Data Usage toggle. The phrasing also explicitly points out that this applies to both mobile and Wi-Fi connections.

<string name="data_saver_feature_notice_dialog_title">New Data Saving mode</string>
<string name="data_saver_feature_notice_dialog_message">Duo automatically limits data usage on mobile networks. Save even more on mobile and Wi-Fi with Data Saving mode.\10\10This new feature replaces the “Limit mobile data usage” setting.</string>
<string name="pref_data_saver_switch_sub_title">Changes the video quality to limit data usage on mobile networks &amp; Wi-Fi. People you call also save data.</string>
<string name="data_saver_feature_notice_dialog_positive_button_text">Got it</string>
<string name="data_saver_preview_off">OFF preview</string>
<string name="data_saver_preview_on">ON preview</string>
<string name="data_saver_call_data_saver_enabled">Data Saving mode is on</string>
<string name="data_saver_call_remote_user_has_data_saver_enabled">Your contact has Data Saving mode on</string>
<activity android:name="com.google.android.apps.tachyon.settings.datasaver.DataSaverSettingsActivity" android:exported="false" android:label="@string/pref_data_saver_title" android:theme="@style/TachyonSettingsTheme" />

To reduce confusion, there are also a couple messages that will appear to let you know if your own device or another member of a call has Data Saving enabled. Naturally, Duo shouldn't be blamed for poor call quality when it's actually enabled on purpose.

Download

The APK is signed by Google and upgrades your existing app. The cryptographic signature guarantees that the file is safe to install and was not tampered with in any way. Rather than wait for Google to push this download to your devices, which can take days, download and install it just like any other APK.