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Google's FaceTime Rival Is Here, and It Looks Great

Apple's FaceTime feature is practically synonymous with mobile video calling -- the same way folks call every fitness tracker out there a FitBit. But the easy-to-use chat service is limited to Apple's own phones, tablets and desktops, making it tough to share those special moments with your Android friends. Enter Google Duo: a free, cross-platform chat app built to make video calling easy regardless of which device you own.

Unlike most Google services, you don't even need a Google account to use Duo; simply enter your phone number and you can call anyone in your existing contact list. Duo's interface is quite similar to FaceTime: during a call, your friend or family member will take up most of the screen, and you'll be able to see yourself in a small bubble on the bottom corner.

That's not to say Duo doesn't have some neat tricks of its own, though. The app's Knock Knock feature shows what the person calling you is up to before you even answer your call, giving you a sneak peek at the cute baby or birthday surprise that's waiting for you on the other end of the line.

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Duo is also built to avoid dropped calls, as it will automatically adjust call quality as your network conditions change. It can also seamlessly switch between cellular data and Wi-Fi, so you won't have to explain why you accidentally hung up on your spouse just by walking out of your front door. On the security front, Google says that all Duo calls are end-to-end encrypted.

Special perks aside, Duo's true killer feature is simply that it's cross-platform. Google says that nearly half of smartphone owners never make video calls, possibly due to the fact that Android users don't have immediate access to the kind of seamless, platform-wide video calling that FaceTime offers.

We look forward to finding out just how seamless Duo is, especially considering our office is split pretty neatly between Android and iOS users. The app is rolling out starting today (Aug. 16), and should be live globally in a few days.