Chat Without Humanity: Google Allo Is Almost Too Brilliant

You know what the worst part about talking with someone else is? Actually coming up with your own words or giving any effort. Or at least that's what Google Allo (available for free on iOS and Android), the new chat app from the search king, would have you believe.

We've been testing Allo and found that the combination of pre-baked chat responses and Google Assistant make for an auto-pilot chatting experience, for better and for worse.

After setting up Allo, which requires registering your phone number, you're on your way to care-free conversations, since the app provides a few suggested replies from the start of a conversation. Your friends don't even need to be using Allo to chat with them, as it can also send chats over SMS. On the downside, those SMS-only friends won't see the vibrant interface filled with tons of colors and images — just a lot of links.

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When I chatted with a friend, I didn't need to create any responses; I just choose between the pre-made Smart Reply options above the keyboard. Google says Smart Reply will improve over time and get to know your style, to understand if you're the kind of person who types words, or one that speaks fluent emoji.

You shouldn't try to rely on Allo for too much, as our brief time with the app proved it's not the best at identifying things. When my colleague sent me an image of his french bulldog, Allo suggested I say "Nice boston terrier." That's an All-Nope.

While Allo offers fun distractions like the Emoji Movie guessing game, its biggest strength lies in Google Assistant, a new AI chatbot that does most of the leg-work of researching things for you.

Google Assistant feels like the future of AI.

You can either chat one-on-one with Assistant or summon it to join a conversation by typing @google and asking a question. Users interact with Assistant using natural language and its prompt buttons. Adding @Google to a conversation looks a bit awkward, as it floods the screen with chat bubbles, images and options that may force some to scroll up to remember the context.

Google Assistant can tell you the weather at the moment, the forecast for the weekend and answer the question of if you need an umbrella. It can also help you find nearby restaurants and provide links to call locations, see menus and look at destinations in Street View. Google Assistant feels like what the future of AI should be, which is both speedier and funnier than Siri currently allows.

When I asked when Google Assistant was born, it replied "I try to live every day like it's my birthday. I get more cake that way." Assistant isn't going to book a Comedy Central special off of these yuks, but I chuckled.

Unfortunately, Google Assistant hits a snag on the last yard, as it's unable to do much with the restaurant plans you pick. Despite the fact that Google's Maps service features Open Table integration and Uber, you can't book tables at the restaurants you pick, nor can you arrange for a ride to destinations you find.

If you grow tired of it, you can unregister your phone number by tapping the menu bar, tapping settings and selecting Unregister phone number.

While Allo offers a fun look and Assistant is intriguing view into the future of chatbots and AI, I'm not sure if I'll continue to use it. I already chat in Apple's recently refreshed Messages, Google Hangout, Snapchat, Facebook Messenger, Slack and Twitter DMs — which makes for a lot to keep track of already. Google just threw another tool into a crowded field, so it'll be interesting to see how much adoption it gets.

Henry T. Casey
Managing Editor (Entertainment, Streaming)

Henry is a managing editor at Tom’s Guide covering streaming media, laptops and all things Apple, reviewing devices and services for the past seven years. Prior to joining Tom's Guide, he reviewed software and hardware for TechRadar Pro, and interviewed artists for Patek Philippe International Magazine. He's also covered the wild world of professional wrestling for Cageside Seats, interviewing athletes and other industry veterans.