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October 12, 2017

Pixel, Nexus, and Android One devices are getting native video calling

by John_A

Why it matters to you

Google’s new Duo-powered video calling feature makes it easier to start chats from select devices.

Video chats with family, friends, and significant others are about to get a whole lot easier — at least for Pixel owners. On Wednesday, October 11, Google announced the rollout of integrated video calling for the Pixel, Pixel 2, Pixel XL, Pixel 2 XL, Nexus smartphones, and Android One devices.

Here’s how it works: Starting today on supported devices, you can start a video call through the Phone, Contacts, and Android Messages app. It piggybacks on Duo, Google’s video calling app for iOS and Android, but there’s work behind the scenes that removes some of the hassle. If you ring someone on a carrier that supports ViLTE (Video over LTE) calling, for instance, you’ll be automatically routed through the carrier’s dedicated ViLTE pipeline.

It’s not a perfect system. Google said it will add the ability to switch between audio-only and video calls, but not for “months.” And if you and your calling party aren’t on a network with with ViLTE, you’ll both be directed to install Duo from the Play Store.

Still, it’s a significant step for Google, which has long demurred from adding FaceTime-like functionality to Android. It planted the seeds in March of this year, when it teamed up with with spam-blocking app Truecaller to handle voice and audio messages.

“Video calling brings you face to face with your family and friends, whether you’re in the same city or thousands of miles away,” Jan Jedrzejowicz, product manager for Google’s phone app, wrote in a blog post. “We want to make it even easier to start a video call from your Android device, so we’re making video calling an integrated part of your phone,” Jedrzejowicz said.

Enhanced video calling comes on the heels of an improved Duo experience. At an April press event in Brazil, Google launched a fallback feature that helps maintain connections on unstable networks. When download speeds dip or the network becomes unreliable, video call quality degrades gracefully before switching to audio only.

“We’ve built Duo to be fast and reliable, so that video calls connect quickly and work well even on slower networks,” Google software engineer Justin Uberti wrote in a message. “Call quality adjusts to changing network conditions to keep you connected [so] when bandwidth is limited, Duo will gracefully reduce the resolution to keep the call going smoothly.”

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