July 8, 2011

ooVoo Pro

Alex Colon
Junior Analyst, Mobile

I haven't had good luck with video chat apps for Android. In fact, I've gotten pretty used to writing, "we have yet to see a good video chat app for Android devices." I'm happy to say that I don't have to write that anymore. ooVoo is a terrific video chat solution for Android devices, and it doesn't stop there. It also supports group video, voice calls, and instant messaging—across iOS, OSX, Android, and Windows. That's right. Not only do you get solid Android video calling, but you can now practically video chat with anyone. All that makes ooVoo our Editors' Choice for Android video chat apps.

Availability and User Interface
ooVoo is available for free from the Android Market for a number of Android-based smartphone and tablet users. It isn't available for every Android device—or even most of them—yet, but ooVoo is working on adding support for additional devices. As previously mentioned, it's also available for iOS, OSX, and Windows, but I'm just focusing on the Android experience in this review.

On boot-up of the app, ooVoo's main interface is clean and simple to navigate. There's a Spring Board strip at the bottom of the screen with icons for your Contacts, Phone, and History. It can hook into your phone's address book to help you invite friends to join, but it's also simple to add contacts directly to the app.

You can search for users by entering their ooVoo ID, name, or e-mail address. Once you've got some friends in your address book, simply tap on their name, and you are given the option to start a video or voice call, or send an IM.


Type - Personal
Free - Yes

Video Calling and Performance
I made video and voice calls with ooVoo using three phones— a Samsung Galaxy S 4G ($149.99, 4 stars), a T-Mobile myTouch 4G (Free, 4.5 stars), and an Apple iPhone 4 on AT&T ($199, 4.5 stars)—across 3G, 4G and Wi-Fi connections. To my surprise, video and voice quality were very good across the board.
Regardless of connection, incoming video was smooth, thought it had a tendency to look soft and would sometimes pixelate. It's not nearly as solid as the quality you can get over FaceTime (Free, 4.5 stars) or Skype (Free, 4 stars), but it's certainly the best video I've seen on an app designed to work across multiple platforms. Audio quality was good too. There was a slight lag from time to time, but nothing that would impede on a conversation.

One interesting thing to note is that incoming video quality from the Samsung Galaxy S 4G and the T-Mobile myTouch 4G looked a touch better than video from the iPhone 4. I would chalk this up to differences between the front-facing cameras, but the iPhone 4 video quality looks great over FaceTime and Skype. Either way, it's not a deal breaker.

I was afraid that quality would drop significantly when switching over from Wi-Fi to 3G and 4G, but again I was pleasantly surprised. Video calls were every bit as smooth over the mobile data networks as they were over Wi-Fi.

Voice calls were just as good as video calls. Voices came through loud and clear, though again there was just a hint of delay. Still, for placing what is essentially a free phone call, ooVoo does a more than respectable job. I also didn't experience any dropped calls or stability issues throughout my testing.

Group Video Calls, Other Features, and Conclusions
The good news about ooVoo doesn't end at video and voice calls. ooVoo also offers group video calls. These aren't the same kind of group video calls offered by Fring (Free, 2.5 stars), which displays all parties on screen at the same time, Brady Bunch-style. Instead, you can chat with up to five other people at once, and, while you can hear them all, you can only choose to view one person at any given moment.

Initiating a group call is easy. Simply start up a video call, and click on the icon that appears in the lower left corner once you are connected. This will bring you to your address book and allow you to connect other people to your chat. You can also click on your phone's Options button while you are in the Contacts menu, which will bring up the option to make a multiparty call, in which you can select your contacts and call them all at once.

Once you're connected, you can switch back and forth among people you want to see by selecting names at the bottom of the screen. Again, this did not have an effect on call performance. It was every bit as smooth as chatting with just one other person. I would've preferred the option to see everyone all at once, even if they would appear tiny on the cell phone screen. Still, this decision was likely made to optimize performance.

In addition to group video calls, ooVoo also lets you send IMs to other users, which works exactly like you'd expect. You can also place real phone calls, to actual phone numbers, but you have to buy credits in order to access that option. I suspect that this isn't the reason people will be drawn to ooVoo anyway.
ooVoo is the best video chat app for Android and the best multi-platform video calling solution there is. Quality-wise, it's still not quite on par with FaceTime, but FaceTime is limited to iOS and OSX and can only place calls over Wi-Fi. Qik Video Connect (Free, 2.5 stars) supports video calls between Android and iOS devices, but it's hampered by poor video quality. Fring allows you to place group video chats with a number of people on screen at once, but it too cannot match the video or audio quality of ooVoo. So if you're looking to video chat with your Android phone, and you don't want to worry about who has what device or what type of connection you're on, ooVoo is the app to beat, and our Editors' Choice. Now let's just hope it becomes available for more devices, fast.