App Review: Google Duo

Three or so years or so ago, my father asked me if I’d be interested in joining in a group video chat on Oovoo. He’d seen one of his grandchildren using it, become interested and wanted to host a multiperson video chat. I agreed, because why not?, set up my iPad 2 in the dining room and joined him and several other folks for a multi-state, multi-generational, multi-platform video chat.

For him, it was a novelty and he never agreed to do another, usually under the guise of not remembering exactly how to work the software. Too bad.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the family, we haven’t done very much video chatting; my cousin Tim and I have done a couple of Facetime calls. I’ve been wanting to get him and his soon-to-be-three-year-old together on cam mostly so I can do all the stupid voices and stuff grownups do to entertain young kids. Maybe one of these days.

My little cousin also has a habit of calling me from my aunt’s phone. She decides she wants to talk to me, then tells my aunt to dial the number and off they go.

I’ve been trying to get my aunt into doing video for a long time now. We just replaced her Windows phone with an Android, so now she has Hangouts again. Which she doesn’t like. She doesn’t like anything on the phone that’s not easy. Which, for her and quite a few folks I know, Hangouts is not.

Enter Duo.

Back when Google announced Duo, they promised a dead simple video experience and Duo is exactly that. Whereas Hangouts requires you to have a friend list inside of the app, which you might or might not have, Duo only requires a telephone number and works with your existing contacts list. No Google account required. All you do is fire up the app, tap the button to make a video call, then either search your contacts or type the number you want to call.

On the other end, the recipient will see your name, number, and just as Google demonstrated back in May, video from your camera, a.k.a Knock Knock. Once the recipient accepts and starts the call, you can do the usual actions such as muting yourself and switching the camera. By default, your caller’s video plays on the larger part of the screen and your video plays in a smaller, cornered circle. You can change this and view your own video on the larger part of your screen.

However, unlike Facetime and Hangouts, you can’t turn the camera off.

One might consider turning the camera off as defeating the purpose of using the app, but you may be interested in doing a voice-only VoIP call or perhaps a call to a computer. That’s not what this is.

To that point, I couldn’t install Duo on my Galaxy Note tablet. I’m able to send and receive SMS messages from that tablet, so I imagine Duo might have worked the same way it did on my phone had the install gone through. If you want or need video calling on your Android tablet, you’ll probably have to stick with Hangouts or your other preferred app.

The install worked on my iPad, but with the device unable to receive SMS, there was no way to set up the app without an iPhone. Which I don’t have. Oh well.

As far as Duo’s settings go, you can turn off the vibration during ringing as well as Knock Knock, which will prevent video from your camera playing before the call is answered. You can also block numbers and limit the amount of mobile data used.

Video and audio quality were good over both WiFi and 4G/LTE.

Duo’s best feature is way beneath the hood: end-to-end encryption. If you have to say something you’re concerned will be intercepted, Duo’s your app. I wasn’t going to talk about saucy chat, but yeah, it’s probably good for things like saucy chat. But I’m not saying to use it for that.

A couple of items to bring up while discussing this app: carrier-supported video calling and iOS 10 VoIP integration.

I have T-Mobile and I can call other T-Mobile users as well as those whose MVNOs piggyback on T-Mobile (I’ve video called a Family Mobile user). Other carriers have video calling as well. As it stands now, I can initiate T-Mobile video calls directly from contacts or the phone dialer, which is more convenient than jumping into an app. Duo hooks into your contacts, but you can’t go into your contacts and launch Duo from there to make a call.

iOS 10 will allow people to use the app of their choice to make a call. And like Facetime and Hangouts now, some of these other apps will allow calls to and from devices like tablets and computers.

For an app like this, I’d like tighter integration into the phone’s dialer, but I can say the same with being able to launch Hangouts or whatever other app I might want to use to make a call, a la iOS 10. And in a world where that tighter integration is the norm, aside from its ease and encryption, I’m not sure long term, where Duo fits in. If the carriers allow inter-carrier video calling, how many will be willing to sacrifice privacy for ease of use?

But that’s a question for another day.

Back in today, overall, Duo does one thing and it does it pretty well. And easily, which means it might be the app that gets my auntie into video and when my little cousin is with her, I can make my stupid grownup faces and voices and entertain her.

Google Duo for Android
Google Duo for iOS

Galaxy Note 7 – On the Surface

(This is the first post in a new section I’m developing on tech, where I’ll be giving my thoughts on issues in tech, perspectives on devices, how-to’s, and other cool stuff.)

I was very fortunate that the few of my coworkers who came over to my area during the Samsung GN7 reveal came to talk to my boss. I was able to watch the entire nearly hour long program without distraction. Quite an accomplishment, I must say.

I did still remain somewhat productive, answering emails and doing a few other odd items, but then again, staying up on the latest technology should be part of my job. Even if it’s likely nobody at my job will ever get one of these things, except for me.

Anyway, onto my impressions from far away from the event and watching online and looking at YouTube videos about the phone after the fact. Yay. I should have gone to New York for this. I’ll probably end up going to something boring next time I’m in New York doing a tech event.

First Impression: It’s the GS7 Edge Note

My initial impression was that this basically the GS7 Edge Note. It very much is, both in looks and under the hood. Maybe it’s my eyes, but it looked pretty much like the S7 Edge, but with the pen dock on the bottom and a USB type-C port.

Outside of S-Pen and the iris scanning, the specs are largely the same. Same processor and clock speed. RAM. You get base 64GB of storage vs. the base 32GB in the GS7’s, but the same amount of expandable storage possibilities. Screen is slightly larger than the Edge as you’d expect.

Water resistance seems to be the same as the GS7’s, including the S-Pen. You can apparently write under water with the thing, should you so choose.

Battery is slightly beefier than the S7 Edge. Fast wireless charging is part of the deal, too.

Software wise, largely the same but with a few differences. Among them are a revamped settings menu and camera controls, but you do get the Edge apps that are present on the GS7 Edge. Even though I’ve been a fan of Samsung’s devices for a while now, it is annoying when I see them put a feature on a phone released a short while after the phone I have and that feature not make it over to my phone. I wonder if S7 and S7 Edge users will feel the same about some of the software changes.

Samsung says the HDR video playback as well as video gameplay will be superb and features like that will appeal to quite a few people who watch more video and actually play games on their phones. I’m not that person as I like tablets for watching video and consoles for playing games. They claim that games playable on this phone will be console level, but I’ve been considering the nVidia K1 (or X1) tablet for mobile gaming, should I get more serious about it. Again, I like screens even larger than phablets for some things. I need to get new glasses soon. Might have something to do with that.

The Note also comes with a secure folder, more on that below.

Despite all the similarities to the S7 series, this is still a Note, so you get …

The S-Pen

Everything you could do before with your S-Pen, you can this time around, but now, you can do some cool things with the S-Pen like create .gifs from content on your screen. The pen can translate words to different languages on the fly as well as magnify the screen. The tip has been made thinner for more precision and Samsung says they’ve improved touch sensitivity for the pen.

Actually, let me backtrack. I kinda don’t care about the whole .gif thing. I just don’t. It’s something I’d probably never use. I’m not 15 and haven’t been for more than 15 years.

They’ve also fixed an issue with Note 5’s where you could put the S-Pen into the phone incorrectly and break the pen. Never had that issue with my Note 4.

Iris Scanning

This might actually be cool all around for some folks.

MKBHD tries this out and it works well for him. I’ve been reading all along that the scanning wouldn’t work well for people with glasses and since I wear them, I wasn’t sure this would be a huge selling point for me. Besides, I’m not ready for a biometric way of opening my phone. I don’t use thumb prints now for the same reason. I’m old fashioned. I like passwords. I promise the scene in Demolition Man where Simon Phoenix carves out the warden’s eyeball for retina scan has nothing to do with how I feel about this.

I also like knowing that if necessary, I can enter my password incorrectly a bunch of times and blow up the phone, without it possibly being held up to my face to open it. When I drive, my exceedingly long password dissuades me from texting and driving as sometimes, it takes the better part of a red light cycle just to open my phone. Forget about even trying to open the thing while driving. My significant other will attest to this. I’m not turning off my screen lock or from passwords until I have to.

However, the aspect of iris scanning I do like that will ship with the phone is the secure folder. Note 7’s will have a Knox-secured folder into which users can put content and even apps and the only way into the folder is through the iris scanner. I don’t hand my phone over to people often, but in the event that I do, I like knowing I can put apps like for things like text messaging into a folder that it’s likely only I will ever have access to. I can surely see myself using the iris scanner for this purpose, even if I plan to keep using passwords to open the phone as long as they’re available. I pretty much keep just cat pictures and selfies in my phone’s gallery, but that doesn’t mean I want anyone swiping through it and if I get a Note 7, I won’t have to worry about that.

Samsung also says they’re working with several banks to bring iris scanning into the security of mobile apps. If I can add an iris scan to the login credentials of one of my banking apps, that’s certainly something I’d be interested in, as well.

Plus, there are other security minded or focused apps that require additional login credentials aside from the lock screen and it’s possible that one day, those may adopt iris scanning as an additional credential you can use to secure those apps. As others have said, this may be a gimmick now, but down the line, I’m sure it will prove to be useful for phone security.


I’m a fan of the Note series, having used Note 4 phone and the Note Tablet 10.1 (2014), even though it’s never gotten that update to Marshmallow, for a couple of years now. I love the S-Pen more than regular styluses and I’ve bought a bunch of regular styluses for use on my iPad. The S-Pen has come in handy in a few places where I’ve been without a full keyboard, where I’ve needed to jot things down that I could transcribe later.

I also did talk myself into it at the office yesterday. The CEO was in a meeting with a bunch of interns. He’d been having issues with duplicate contacts showing up on his iPhone 6. I went in there while he was talking to the interns to get the phone and assess the situation. And I may have also talked about how good the Note 7 was, relative to the CEO’s current phone and it’s likely successor; I may have also mentioned that my Note 4 was holding up well against Apple’s current generation of iPhones. And that my next phone would be the Note 7. I put it out there a little bit. Nobody’s going to remember except me, but still, I did talk a lot of trash.

So, I’m inclined to buy the phone. However, at its price point, I need to consider if the newer features are worth the super premium price. The phone itself is a huge upgrade from the Note 4, but the S-Pen functionality I can see myself using isn’t really changed. The secure folder is a very welcome addition for me, but that’s something that seems like it might actually show up in the Note’s less expensive S7 cousins.

It does have the Edge apps, which are really cool and one of Samsung’s best innovations, I think. Being able to glance and get sports scores and other information on that edge is something that’s very appealing. But are those worth the extra dollars? That’s what I need to find out.

Overall, Samsung appears to be playing both sides. It’s rolling out new features, but it’s hedging the success of the S series, even so far bringing the Note numbering scheme in line with the S7’s. Note 7 looks like it’ll be quite the phone. And like the U.S.S. Enterprise on Star Trek (prime universe), it’ll be the flagship; still though, it’s not the first of its class (if you’re not a Trekkie/Trekker, trust me on this). It feels more like the biggest variant of the S7 than the top of its own line. That’s not bad, but it’s good to know going forward if the Note will be in line with the S line of phones or if they’ll be large jumps from the S phones, as in iterations past.

During the event, they also mentioned some new VR stuff and I think some Gear Fit stuff, but I don’t care about any of that. I’d stopped watching closely as it was. I’m more concerned with how this phone will work with my current Chromebook and/or a new Chromebook I might get around Christmas time.

Looks like pre-ordering is on now. Available in stores on 8/19, should you feel like braving lines. I don’t. I’ve never gotten to the phone carrier store when they’ve had stock. It’s like millennials’ bodies are all trained to get up an hour or two earlier on phone release day or something. I like hitting that snooze button.

Will someone make a decent privacy screen protector for this phone?

Five Things – 16 June 2016


With iOS 10, Apple has made the phone carrier less necessary than ever

Apple desperately wants to wrest as much control of the iPhone from the phone carriers, and with iOS 10 it has taken another important step to making those network providers into dumb pipes.



Caught this after the initial news about WWDC. The way it’s going to function, I really like. I hope this functionality reaches the iPad, since I often use mine to make and receive calls.

But I moreso like the statement that this new functionality makes. Apple is turning their iPhone into a phone for all voice services, not just calls made over your provider’s “voice” network. If you want to use Facebook Messenger or perhaps, Viber, or some other 3rd party VoIP service, you can do that more or less the way you do now with “regular” calls over your provider’s “voice” network. Those services work now, but they’ll be more integrated into the usual ways calls are made and received.

VoIP used over data-only plans is the future. In a world where you’re Tweeting and Facebooking, watching video on YouTube or Vimeo, and perhaps FaceTiming or Duo-ing (I really am stopping here, I promise), privileging voice “minutes” will be a ridiculous and unacceptable way to pay for the usage of a smartphone (or tablet). Voice will be just another type of data that you’re consuming, not a separate and more important usage of your device.

I don’t expect the carriers to change overnight, but change they must. I imagine quite a few people my age and older (and perhaps some younger) consider the idea of paying for talking minutes to be perfectly reasonable, probably because we’ve done it for a long time and we’re used to it. Remember how we used to pay for long-distance calling? Do cell phone payment plans remind you of something?

However, much younger people (and older folks who have adapted) who have grown up on first, unlimited calling to cell phones (remember that, too?) and then, pretty much unlimited minutes to any phone, and then on top of that, all manner of video and voice chat over both cell phone data and Wi-Fi, don’t have any fond memories of opening up their telephone bill and flipping to the long distance section. Or of buying calling cards. They’ll probably consider the idea of buying a certain amount of voice minutes as ridiculous as I do now because they’re not spending most of their time talking on the phone as such. The data they use to post status updates and Snapchat is what they’ll be interested in. Cell carriers will have to adjust accordingly.

What Apple is doing now in iOS 10 is portending this future. Cell carriers will become data pipes, just like ISPs, which is probably why we see so many of them now jumping into the content generation business because soon, the real money and power will be in driving you towards their content, not just giving you the means to get online.

Even the idea of having a telephone number is becoming anachronistic to me. I was talking to a loved one a few weeks ago about giving up telephone numbers entirely. I don’t think telephone numbers will fully go away anytime soon. How will you be able to dial 9-1-1 and how will your older relatives who know dialing telephone but not using Hangouts get in contact with you? But folks of a certain age, who may or may not even use SMS, won’t give it much importance at some point. I hardly do. I just can’t get everybody to message me on Hangouts or iMessage. Which brings me to …


Seems I’m not the only one who wants iMessage on Android.

An Apple exec explains why it won’t happen. And not everyone else thinks it’s a good idea.

Apple makes a ton of money selling you hardware. And they make money selling you music subscriptions, but you can get that on Android (not that I want it, regardless of platform). The Wired article makes a business case for Apple to bring iMessage over to Android. Part of the argument is using iMessage as an enticement to come fully over to Apple. I’m not sure it would work that way –I hope it would– but I’m not sure.

I do have an alternate thought. Apple keeps iMessage inside of their walled garden. I’m sure they’d love for me to ditch my Android devices, Chromebook, and Windows laptop and gear out with a Macbook and iPhone. I might get a Macbook, but I’m never getting an iPhone as I hate them (for whatever reason). But I’m also not giving up my iPad. I’m a sort of inbetweener, platform agnostic.

I like to think of myself as a good case for iMessage on Android. Yes, I have an iPad and I would like to have one for the foreseeable future. I regularly communicate with folks in iMessage. But I don’t want to carry my iPad around everywhere. So it would be nice to be able to stay in communication in iMessage, regardless of which device I’m using. I know others who have just iPods and use those to iMessage and FaceTime their iPhone user friends and relatives, instead of being able to just pick up their Android phones. It seems like most of the people I know who don’t have iPhones or Macs but use iMessage still have some gateway device that’s brought them inside of Apple’s walled garden. Could Apple use iMessage on Android to keep you buying at least one Apple device even if you don’t want others? I don’t know. I just know they’re not thinking that way. They want you all the way in. And they’ve made billions doing that, so I don’t expect them to necessarily change.

Besides, with them now giving 3rd party apps the same sort of privileges of the phone dialer, I have to wonder how much longer messaging will be important to them in any way. Even as the messenger wars heat up. It’s hard to tell right now. But if Facebook can make the kind of money some think they might make being cross-platform, maybe that’s something that will change Apple’s mind.


I had to look up how to format a form/block letter. Might have been a brain fart, but I was drawing a blank. I should format email that way just to stay in practice. Writing formal letters might also be a fun writing exercise.


Tough news coming out of Flushing.

I’m still thinking about it and trying not to think that this is the end. If so, it makes losing last year’s World Series that much more painful. I’m sure I’ll have more to say on it later.

Ravens cut Eugene Monroe. Really welcome to Baltimore, Ronnie Stanley. You’re definitely starting.

Up off exit 16W (see, Jersey folks, I can speak your language a bit) in the swamp, Jerry Reese couldn’t see fit to do business with Ozzie and trade someone to get Monroe, so he just waited for the inevitable cut to go in and try to make a move. And that’s good for them. Their offensive line’s been trash, even if some of their fans take everything out on Eli. Two titles haven’t bought him the benefit of the doubt, unfortunately.

And the Giants are cool with Monroe’s weed advocacy. That’s always a plus. In New Jersey.

Back at Birdland, the O’s are still mashing dingers (baseball lingo). AJ had one tonight in Boston. It’s a good season to be an O’s fan again. My birthday gift to myself may be another O’s hat. Or perhaps this fine hat that also happens to have my initials as the logo.


Off to a writing conference next week. My regular blog topics, aside from Five Things, are on hold until I get back, but I will be blogging from there. I have to get up everyday at like 6:30AM, so there will definitely be something to write about.


It’s been a tough stretch of days in Orlando. Even if you’re not a praying person, please continue keeping a good thought out for that area. Same for the family of this little girl killed earlier, run over by a stolen car.


I’m sure by now all the iPad Pro owners, iPhone … latest … whichever one it is … and all of those folks looking to buy the new iPhones and iPads surely to be released in the near future with iOS 10 are all excited, anxious for the day that the new tech will grace their hands and pockets and desks and messenger bags.

However, at times like these, there are also the sad moments, the end of the line for the tech that’s served us well, but might not survive much longer into the next generation.

iOS 10 Will Make These Apple Gadgets Obsolete

Launched in 2011 as the hardware vanguard for Siri, the iPhone 4s was a big software leap for Apple. But iOS 10, which even focused on making Siri better than ever before, will not work on the iPhone 4s. Sad!


Every Device Apple’s Making Obsolete with Its New Operating Systems

Yesterday, Apple paraded out iOS 10 and the newly dubbed macOS Sierra, but what they didn’t mention was all the devices that won’t work on the new operating system.


Last time around, my poor iPod Touch was on the list. It wouldn’t get iOS 9. It would be stuck forever with the old-style app switching and the other now-dated features of iOS 8.

But that was okay. I’d used the thing as much as I could. I’ve cracked the screen. Twice. Fortunately, I had SquareTrade on it, so I’ve gotten it fixed. Even as more and more apps won’t work and the screen’s developed a roving dead area, I still use it. Mostly for music while I’m at work. I plan to continue until none of the apps work on it or the thing won’t turn on anymore.

This time around, my iPad 2 falls off of Apple’s supported devices list. I’ve been more careful with my iPad than my iPod and I’ve never done it any damage. I’ve still had a good run with it. Done a ton of video chatting on Hangouts, Oovoo, and FaceTime. And Zoom, too, I think, that one time. Read my Kindle books. Even used it to do a bunch of writing, using the Apple Wireless Keyboard. I’ve gotten my money’s worth.

And I’m sure if I felt like it, I could jailbreak either or both and get even more usage out of them.

So even as Apple is at the point of deeming these devices obsolete and moving even further into the next generation of devices, my trusted ones are still holding on and holding up under my, sometimes harsh, usage demands.  So while some might be disappointed at the twilight of their devices’ lifetimes, I’m cool.  I’m going to keep on going as I have.

I’m not an Apple purist (or fanboy), but I’m very happy with those purchases in years past. Much happier than I’ve been with Samsung (and T-Mobile) and their seeming abandonment of the Galaxy Note 4.  T-Mobile’s site has said for months now that the Note 4 will be receiving Marshmallow. I’ll believe it when I see it as well as regular security updates like newer phones are receiving.

I love Android and I don’t plan to give it up anytime soon. But I do plan to get a new iPod Touch in the future and possibly a Macbook one day, if I like the newer ones and decide to save up for it. They’re quite a monetary investment. But for the time that they’re usable, they’ll probably be worth it, even after Apple says they’re disavowing these devices’ very existence they won’t be supporting them anymore.

WWDC 2016

Not much of interest coming out of WWDC 2016. Now I’m not disappointed that I didn’t get to stream it earlier. No word on any new Macbook Pros, so not sure if I should start saving up.

OS X becomes macOS

Since I don’t own a Mac, neither the name change from OS X to macOS, nor Siri’s impending presence in the OS are really important to me. I hardly use Siri on my iPad as it is.

Hopefully this won’t become an annoyance when I have to ask people if they’ve upgraded their Macs to macOS and they look at me as if I’ve asked the question in Klingon. The folks with whom I might have that interaction do not keep up with tech news, nor do they read this site.

Apple Pay

Don’t use it or any other contactless payments system. Still not sure which one I want to use, but I’m sure it won’t be Apple Pay. I’m not getting an iPhone or Apple Watch anytime soon, if ever, and I’m not about to lug around my iPad to make payments.

Apple Pay is another one of those things that I’d probably use if it were on Android. But it won’t be.

iOS 10

The lock screen updates seem interesting. More like Android. I’ll probably take advantage a lot for news and weather.


Don’t do much with photos either way, so nothing for me here. I like Apple’s current photos app, for what it’s worth.


I’ll still use Google Maps, even on iOS. I quite like Google Maps for iOS.


Nothing I was hoping to hear. Not that I expected it. Gizmodo thinks it’s inevitable for iMessage to open up. We’ll see.

Don’t care about message animations or any of that stuff. Guess I’m not in their target audience.

The rest of iOS

Don’t use Apple Music (Amazon and Google Play) or News (Flipboard), so not interested much in their next versions of those.

Deleting Apps

I guess I’ll delete the Apple pre-installed apps that I don’t use. Their presence has never been much of a bother, so I guess to cut down on the number of screens on my iPad, I’ll go ahead and delete them when I can.

Actually, I’ll probably delete Apple Music and News first.


Don’t own an Apple TV. I’m a Roku guy. Live channels sound cool, though.


Don’t own one. Not buying one.


So far, I’ve been disappointed by both of the major developer conferences. Nothing really much of interest earlier and not only did Google not announce a new Nexus 7 at I/O, they started the countdown on my Chromebook (it’ll still be usable by the end of the year, but won’t be having access to Android apps).

Looks like I’ll be standing pat for a while longer, technology-wise. And that’s all good. I can save up for a while in case someone decides to put out something that I really want.