While Zoom may be the defacto video calling and conferencing app of 2020, many of us are probably using it more out of convenience than anything else. And while video calling and conferencing are two distinctly different things—a set time and place call-in meeting versus a often on-the-fly call-out chat—the lines between the two are increasingly blurred with so many of us working from home.

If you're looking to get out of the Zoom bubble for your smaller work meetings or social calls with friends and family, Google Duo is actually a pretty awesome option, and we'll break down just why that is in this post.

Ease of use

If you have an Android phone, odds are good you already have Duo, and getting it set up is as simple as opening the app. It'll sign you into the primary account on your phone, request the necessary permissions, and you're off to the races. You can use it on other Android devices, too, obviously, by downloading the app from the Play Store — and on iOS, Assistant-equipped smart displays, and the web (you don't even need a phone number for the web app). The interface is about as simple as it could be, too: you have a field to start a call by dialing a number, or you can tap a contact to call them.

This simplicity is nice for everybody, but it can be essential for getting less tech-savvy users (talkin' 'bout your parents!) up and running without requiring in-person tech support.

Features

At its most basic level, Duo connects two people by video, but as of March, it supports calls with up to 12 participants (up from a previous max of 8). That's you, your parents, three of your siblings, and two of each of their children. That's not as many participants as Apple's FaceTime, which lets you conduct a virtual family reunion with up to 32 callers. FaceTime only runs on Apple devices, though, whereas Duo is available on basically anything that connects to the internet.


Our own Jules as a cat. Thanks, Duo.

Duo's got a lot of quality-of-life perks, too: calls are end-to-end encrypted so nobody else can access the content of your calls (even Google), which should be a comfort to your privacy-minded relatives. You can see who's calling before you pick up with the "Knock Knock" feature (you also see their name, of course, but it's a nice touch). It's got a killer low-light mode, so you don't need to make sure everybody on a call has studio lighting at the ready. There are all kinds of call effects, like portrait mode and AR filters, to keep calls lighthearted during these bummer times. You can also leave people video messages if you don't have time to talk, which is a nice way to brighten somebody's day.

Call quality

Calls on Duo look great as far as video chats go, (anecdotally) beating out other Android options like Skype and WhatsApp. When data gets choppy, though, the app seamlessly lowers data consumption to keep the call running smoothly — eventually falling back to voice-only if the connection is poor enough. Duo can also hop between Wi-Fi and mobile data without missing a beat, so you can keep the remote party going when you need to walk the dog.

If you've got a phone that didn't come with Duo pre-installed, you can hit the widget below to grab it.