Google Allo review: Google's bland new app is not the iMessage/WhatsApp/FB Messenger killer you are looking for
Google's latest messaging app is finally here. Yes, Google Allo is finally here and up for grabs. In case it's not available in your country or the Play Store link only allows you to register for the app, you can try sideloading it - it will work as intended. Here is a working APK file that will get you on the Allo train in no time. Needless to say, we were quite impatient to get Allo out for a spin and see if Google has finally cracked the winning formula behind Apple's mighty iMessage and if it has created an exceptional all-in-one messaging service at long last.
Spoiler alert: it hasn't. Let us tell you why.
What Allo is
From the get-go, Allo has all the basic features that any messaging app should have: group chats, tons of sticker packs, and the ability to share and doodle on any pictures you send. Then, it steps up its feature game with the built-in Google assistant bot and the well-implemented Smart Reply feature, which provides you with predefined contextual answers for every conversation and also uses Google's servers to provide you with context answers about any picture coming your way. That's... that's pretty much it in terms of features. It won't be too far-fetched to compare Allo to a slightly smarter albeit a bit less functional alternative to either Viber or WhatsApp.
What Allo isn't
is not an SMS client and does not allow you to send/receive text messages over your carrier's cellular network. True, sending a message to any of your contacts that don't have Allo installed will deliver a message with a pop-up invitation for downloading Allo to them, but don't get the impression this is an SMS. No, it's simply a message routed through Google's service and sent through a service number. Basically, you are communicating with your friend via plain messages, but your phone number won't be the one sending these. So, technically, Allo doesn't send SMS messages when the receiving party doesn't have the app installed.
Google's assistant is useful but gets old quickly
Okay, Allo would have been just another run-of-the-mill messenger if it wasn't for the baked in Google Assistant bot. Despite still in beta, it does its job nicely. You can chat with it in a separate thread and also summon it in any other conversation by typing "@google", which is pretty useful.
So, what does this Google Assistant bot thingy do? It's quite feature-rich and is basically the a hub for almost all things Google-related:
- it can tap into Google Now and set alarms, timers, reminders on your behalf;
- it can tap into Google Photos and show photos that meet a predefined criteria;
- it can tap into Gmail and show you your emails;
- it can tap into Google News and show you the recent local and international news, sports news and scores included;
- it can tap into Google Translate and interpret text or images;
- it can tell you what the weather is right now or whether it will rain anytime soon;
- it can suggest local restaurants, bars, or joints, or even what movies play in the local theater;
- it can show you the current status of a given flight or help you get a Uber/Lyft, as well as directions to a given location;
- it can tell you a joke, an interesting random fact, or even recite a poem for you if you're bored;
- it can play a 'chat', quiz, or a classic doodle game;
- it will also respond to any emoji you send with a witty remark or an... emoji;
- it can search the web for you;
- and so on.
Basically, Google Assistant is a pretty feature-packed interactive bot that feels 'complete' despite still being in open beta. Communicating with it feels natural, though not groundbreaking at all. It definitely has a bright future and we really feel that we will be seeing more of it in the coming years.
We find it pretty useful that you can use the assistant bot in any conversation or group chat and use it to deliver contextual information at the nick of time. For example, imagine you're in a group chat with your crew and you're discussing whether to head to the movie theater this week or not.
In general, you will either fall in love with the built-in Google Assistant bot and use it all the time or get bored with it in a couple of minutes. In the end, the bot knows only so many jokes.
Stickers and doodling galore
Although we are not particular fans of stickers and doodling on pictures we send, we simply can't overlook the fact that Allo is a haven for all users to which these features are a fundamental necessity. There are roughly more than 25 sticker packs available for download in Allo, and we are sure that many the app will score multiple new ones as time unravels. As far as doodling is concerned, we highly value the fact that you can both annotate an image with text in a Snapchat-esque way or simply doodle something on it.
The interface is unapologetically bland
There's no other way around that - we can't say we are fans of the interface of Allo. For one, the conversation background is not very appealing and we felt bummed that we can't customize it or any other part of the interface in any way. A pet peeve, of course, but Allo did not win us over in terms of design.
Вe know for a fact (or do we?) that Google is capable of making an appealing app—the iOS version of Inbox is a beaut—but sadly, Allo is an ugly duckling in its current iteration.
Depending who you ask, Allo will be touted as either ultra sleek or plain hideous. To us, it's something in-between. We won't lie - we expected more.
You can only use the app on one device
Similar to Viber, Google Allo is linked to your phone number. That's because the new kid on the messaging block doesn't explicitly require you to sign in with a valid Google account in order to use it. Trying to install Allo on a new device will delete all of your private conversations, group chats, and blocked phone numbers from the old one.However, if you have linked the app with a Google account, your chats with the Google Assistant will remain untouched and be accessible on your new device.
No desktop client
Sigh. A full-blown desktop client would have made Google Allo so much better. We are aware that this could happen in the future, but in its current state Allo simply can't compete with WhatsApp, Viber, iMessage on the Mac, and even Facebook's Messenger, which has been essentially decoupled from the full-blown Facebook website and can be used with a phone number only (and even has a not too shabby desktop client).
Conclusion - grim prospects
Taken in a vacuum, Allo is definitely a very good messaging service on its own: apart from covering the basics, it has some intriguing features that can easily suck you in for a while. In particular, chatting with the Google Assistant bot was great fun. However, Google Allo won't be fortunate enough to exist in such a vacuum, quite the contrary - the competition is
To Allo or not to Allo?
After spending some time with Allo and testing all of its features, we have made up our minds - while not a bad app per se, The likes of Viber, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and mostly iMessage are giant hurdles to overcome, and we don't see Allo beating any of these at their own game anytime soon. Additionally, the lack of SMS support is a gaping omission that will prevent Allo from potentially being a true competitor and a viable alternative to iMessage, because let's face it - this is what Android users have mostly been craving for.
At the moment, Allo's future looks pretty gloomy - the app is unexciting and only covers the basics. We expected way more from Google, but our high hopes remained merely wishful thinking - we will keep those in check for Google's next messaging app.