Video chatting service ooVoo has revamped and re-launched their Android app with a totally new design that looks very modern and gives you quick access to many of the service’s new features. With more than 80 million users and the ability to support up to 12 people in a video call, ooVoo is a serious contender in the messaging space. But the company’s pretty new app needs more controls and a little more work to make it easier to use.
ooVoo clearly put a lot of effort into making their app look like a modern Android app. It’s boldly orange, and uses the same slim rectangle motif that Google favors with their apps. Icons for people and actions are bounded in large, finger-friendly circles.
The trouble is that all the pieces of the app don’t mesh together well. I frequently felt lost, unsure of how to get back to specific screens, and the heavy emphasis on unlabeled icons meant I didn’t always know what to expect from tapping an icon. I accidentally called contacts and sent friend requests to total strangers several times.
A great example of the problematic design is the Top 5 wheel, which is like video call speed-dial. You summon it by tapping and holding your user icon (but just tapping it opens your user options), and the faces of your chosen friends appear around your icon. That is, assuming that they’ve added icons. If they haven’t or if their icon is obscure, there’s no way to tell who you’re about to call. Simply adding labels would clear up this particular conundrum.
Chatting, Texting, Calling
With ooVoo you can send text messages, pictures, and short video clips. Mobile devices, like my Nexus 7, are limited to 21 second clips but desktop users have no limit on recording length.
When you receive a call, even when the device is locked, a custom call screen lets you accept, decline, or respond with a message. Weirdly, I didn’t receive push notifications for any of my devices when I received a text message. I couldn’t find any settings to change this behavior.
Text messaging works as you’d expect, though I was surprised that ooVoo did not appear to have custom emojis or “stickers” like Viber, our Editors’ Choice for Android messaging apps. You can easily send images, which appear smartly truncated in your conversation. When accessed from a PC, these appear as links, but more on that later.
I liked the “tap-tap-go” system for creating a new conversation, where you tap the kind of interaction—text, video chat, etc.—and then up to 12 recipients. This really puts the best features of ooVoo at the forefront, though weirdly you have to tap the “video chat” icon at the bottom of the main screen to access it.
Voice calls connected quickly over Wi-Fi, and had little lag—which is the big challenge for VoIP services. With my Samsung Galaxy S III connected to a data network, I experienced very little lag and the call quality was surprisingly good.
Video calls had about one second of lag time when both devices were connected to Wi-Fi. The picture quality was also frequently glitchy and unviewable, though the call itself was never interrupted. A lot of this depends on your particular network, of course. With my S III connected to the AT&T data network, my video was fairly clear, though again individual performance may vary.
ooVoo can also support voice calls to non-ooVoo members, but doing so requires you to purchase ooVoo credits. The website for purchasing those credits wasn’t clear on how credits, dollars, and call time were related, something I hope ooVoo rectifies in the future.
One of the features ooVoo is touting in this version of their app are Instagram-like filters that you can apply to any photo or video—live or not—in ooVoo. These were fine for short video messages and pictures, but I found that most were barely visible during live video calls due to issues with quality.
ooVoo is pushing their short video messaging hard in this latest version of the app. Not only can you send videos, but you can add one to your user screen as a sort of permanent out-going message. It’s a neat idea, but it felt gimmicky in practice and I really can’t imagine updating it often enough to feel relevant.
When I spoke with ooVoo, they talked about the seriousness with which the company approaches security. However, when I asked for specifics they declined to elaborate, citing the need for security. (Viber was likewise cagey about security when I spoke with them.) While I respect ooVoo’s abundance of caution, I’m distrustful of so-called “security through obscurity.” TextSecure uses open source tools, meaning that they’ve been verified by anyone with the interest to do so.
ooVoo’s internal security might be a mystery, but I found non-mysterious things to trouble me at how ooVoo handled my media. Every video (not video call) or image I send through ooVoo is stored on their servers, and the app lets me recycle them in other messages from the My ooVoo Media menu. In fact, every piece of media you send through ooVoo is assigned a link that, apparently, anyone can see. Here’s one. This allows the mobile versions of ooVoo to play with the desktop version, but it also means that your content is just floating around out there.Though I could not confirm it, the filenames appear to be obfuscated which mostly prevents people from simply typing in random URLs and viewing content sent through ooVoo.
When I asked ooVoo how long user data was stored, they declined to comment citing a need to protect user privacy. I have a hard time imagining a scenario where this could really be useful, and I’m bothered by the idea of my being stored in perpetuity on ooVoo’s servers. Unfortunately, these kind of security issues are par for the course when it comes to mobile messaging services.
In my testing I was able to delete my media, but I had to enter the attachment screen in a message to do so. In fact, I could not find any way to access ooVoo’s media storage options except through the attachment screen. Even after deleting the image, I found that the link continued to function (as of writing, it still works). If OoVoo is serious about this feature, they need to give their users more control over their media.
There’s no question that ooVoo has solid core features: free texting between users, 12-person video calls, and VoIP calls are all great. On top of that, they’ve clearly put a lot of work into their app, and it shows. But the navigational guts of the app need rethinking, as it currently puts flashy design over a sensible, streamlined user experience. I’m also wary of how ooVoo handles my media, and would like to see finer-grained controls for storing and deleting my stuff.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc