If you use a Mac, an iPhone, and/or an iPad—and so does everyone else you know—FaceTime is an indispensable tool when it comes to video chatting. But this isn’t an Apple-filled world, and if you’re looking for something with the simplicity and video quality of FaceTime that lets you chat with people on non-Apple devices, then Google Duo should be at or near the top of your must-download apps list. And you’ll find that it has a heaping helping of cool tricks up its sleeve.
1. Use it everywhere
If all your friends have iPhones, then FaceTime until your face falls off. But hands down, two of Google Duo’s greatest strengths are that a) it can be used on Android devices, Apple devices, and the web and b) almost everyone has a Google account, so the most insurmountable barrier to getting started is having to download it from one of the app stores. After that, it’s ready to go almost instantly. More info here.
2. Group meetings? Yes indeed
Group calls in Duo are a pretty simple affair to set up. For now, you’ll need to initiate a group call from your phone or tablet (the ability is coming soon to the web version as well), but before you start the call, you’ll also get a unique link you can send out, which allows anyone else with a Google account to join the call with you. Note that participants are currently capped at 12, though Google has said it’ll be expanding that to 32. More info here and here.
3. Leave a message (or five)
Maybe it’s the middle of the night and you don’t want to jar your chatmates out of bed. In that case, it’s easy to send messages that they can consume once they’re awake. You can send a voice message, a photo, a video (complete with special effects), or a written note. Click on a contact and, instead of initiating a video call, tap the “Message” icon in the lower-right corner. You can also just let your buddies know you’re thinking about them by tapping the “Send a heart” button on the main contact screen instead. More info here.
4. Family fun
A new feature that’s starting to roll out to users is the doodle-riffic Family Mode. You’re able to superimpose fun animals and robots over yourself—that’s been available for a while—but there’s also a new doodling tool that lets you scribble on a virtual whiteboard with colored pencils. If it’s available to you, you can access it by tapping the menu icon during a call and then selecting “Family” from the options that pop up. More info here.
5. Boring call? Multitask
Let’s face it: not every video chat is going to be a winner. And if you’ve got an Android device with version 8.0 or higher running on it, you can shrink Duo down to the corner of your phone or tablet while you’re in a call and, oh I don’t know, peruse Twitter, play some solitaire, surf the web— anything to pass the time, really. All you need to do is tap your device’s home button during a call to enable the picture-in-picture feature. Don’t worry: if your device doesn’t support this option, your call will still work; your video will just be turned off until you open up the Duo app again. More info here.
6. Let there be (more) light!
Not everyone is video chatting from the comfort of a well-lit home studio, and this feature has a unique twist in that you initiate low-light mode when the person on the other end of the chat isn’t well lit. While the app will do its best to compensate for lighting issues automatically, if you tap the sun icon from the on-screen menu, people on the other end will appear to be brightened so you can see them better. What a time to be alive! More info here.
7. See who’s calling before you pick up
Using the Knock Knock feature is a double-edged sword. By enabling it in the settings menu, you’ll be able to see whoever’s calling you as they wait for you to answer—that is, if they have the feature enabled on their end. Likewise, if you don’t want people to see you sitting around waiting for them to pick up, you should disable this feature on your end. Do note, however, that the feature only works if both people are in each other’s contact lists, and the people being called won’t be seen until they pick up: only the caller. More info here.
8. Take a picture, it’ll last longer
Especially in these trying times when we’re substituting video calls for in-person contact, it can be a bummer to miss out on cool moments like gift openings, pregnancy announcements, and the like. One feature to kinda-sorta make up for it is Duo Moments. You’ll need to toggle it on first in the settings menu (as will the person on the other end), but once it’s enabled, you can take in-video snapshots of magical moments that place both callers side by side in the finished photos. It’s off by default, but it’s a nifty little feature once you get everyone on board. More info here and here.