Google Allo / Duo – phone users as guinea pigs

Google Allo is a new messaging client for regular and encrypted (incognito) chats. And includes an ‘Assistant’ who learns your choices and actions to help you better and suggest options. Right now Allo is an English only Preview Edition you can download from the Play Store or App Store (iOS 8 onwards).

The Google Assistant appears on first run. Then helps setup the app and introduce you to the basic actions. 

You can also call the assistant from within Allo by typing ‘@google’  or using this as a prefix to your question. 

  1. The Google Assistant is supposed to learn so it can offer you better suggestions. Now personally I dislike voice actuated interfaces. There’s too much room for error due to accent, stress and ambient noise. For example in my straw test I asked  the Google Assistant “how to change Allo settings” it displayed a page about aloe vera. My next try opened a page about potatoes (aloo in Hindi). Third time I asked “change settings” to see app help.

Allo displays contacts who have Allo installed or whose phones could display Allo notifications. But communication remained hit ‘n miss. The worst is not knowing if the recipient saw your message. Because these are delivered to their service but unless they have a copy of Allo or their Play Store app is running they probably won’t see your text. Allo is supposed to deliver via SMS. This is hit n miss too 🙁 I received a text from a number not in my contact list but I couldn’t reply from Allo. Replies remained undelivered. Of the 5 people I contacted

  •  1 had Allo installed already so we could exchange greetings
  •  1 saw the Google Play Store notification and texted me on Google Hangouts to ask what’s Allo
  • invites were sent to 3 but a follow up phone call revealed they received nothing 🙁

Allo cannot be set as your primary messaging app. And if you change phones you lose chat history. Even though chats are stored on Google’s servers. C’mon Google is it so hard to sync the cloud with the local store. Your other apps manage it fine?

Encrypted (aka incognito) chats are somewhat easy to setup. You click the new chat icon (confusingly this uses Android’s SMS icon. Then choose the “Start incognito chat” option.Incognito chats are encrypted end to end with message expiry option. The default is 1 hour but you can change it from 5 seconds to a day or disable altogether. Also included are options to mute a chat and delete feedback.

Allo stores all messages, except incognito ones with an expiry period, forever. A user must delete their chat history. Which is a clunky process. First click the other user’s profile icon then select the delete history option. But deleting history doesn’t delete the chat. You have to back out to the list of chats, press the user to select then choose delete from the option dialog. Whew!

Actually this odd workflow is common to the Google Messenger app used for SMS and MMS. And to the Messenger included with stock Android. Evidently a family thing :p

The Allo Preview Build also seems a resource hog. My Android phone ran slower than it usually does. But force stopping Allo seemed to speedup the phone. This is not an empirical test; just my opinion.

Allo is an interesting concept. But it makes the IMHO warty Google Hangouts seem soo much better! Also does the inconsistent interface imply this was rushed to release? Or that Allo was designed by committee?

FYI Google has multiple chat clients. Android comes with a Messenger client for text (SMS) and you can install Google Messenger (text/SMS) or Google Hangouts (text chat & VoIP). Now there’s Google Allo (text chat) and Google Duo (video chat).

So far my experiments with truth have been more successful than using Google Duo. I can only see 3 enabled contacts. Of which

  • one can only see but not hear me;
  • one can hear but not see me and I can see but not hear them;
  • and the third can do neither and each time either of us attempt to connect Duo insists on sending an SMS invite to the other!

I’m undecided if you should download either. Hold off for a few months to see if things improve.

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