Google's new chat client, Allo, has been hyped to high heaven since this year's Google I/O, but the general consensus at this point is that it just isn't worth the trouble yet. It serves as a great tech demo for Google Assistant, the AI technology meant to replace Google Now. As a chat client, however, Allo falls almost completely flat. Sure, there are a number of cool things that you can do with Google Assistant, both in a chat with the bot and when talking with others. You can grab a flight, share a video more easily than normal, or take advantage of a number of other cool features with Assistant. If you absolutely must have Assistant now, or absolutely must have a chat client with AI chat bot integration in normal chats, then by all means, give Allo a go. It does, after all, have a set of quirks that set it apart from other clients, such as smart reply and the send slider for yelling and whispering. Full search from the front of the app and a better read receipts system than Hangouts ice the cake, and may be enough for some. Yet more may be convinced by exact message timestamps, a feature strangely missing from Hangouts, but integrated in a number of other chat clients.
One of the most glaring ways that Allo falls short compared to its contemporaries, which even includes Hangouts – the app it seems meant to supplant, is a lack of multi-device support. When you sign in to Allo on your phone, you'll be prompted to link up your phone number by way of SMS code verification. Linking up a tablet as well? No go. Got a new phone and want to link it up to the same account? Nope. You will lose all of your conversations, app settings and the like. Add on the fact that there is currently no web client and no way to use the app on a PC, and you have a doozy of a platform problem, for multi-device users. To make matters worse, when you send an SMS from Allo, only an Android phone will know who's sending it, and only if their Play Services are up to date, at that. An iOS user, dumbphone user, or user of any kind of web SMS service will see a five digit sender code, the sort that's commonly associated with spam. This makes contacting friends who don't have Allo kind of a bust.
With key features so lacking, one would think that Allo might make up for it by way of meaningful rich messaging features. This is, sadly, not the case. Video messaging is done on Duo, a separate app, and voice calling through Allo is not possible, despite a similarly-named app in the Play Store having group voice functionality. Short voice messages are possible, of course, but having full voice calling functionality would have been even better. The fairly broken SMS compatibility mentioned above makes it impossible to set Allo as your default SMS client in Android, though such a thing wouldn't be wise in the first place, given how SMS messages are handled. End to end encryption is included as "incognito mode", but those who care about such a feature would probably rather have it on all conversations anyway. A large number of stickers are available, of course, but that doesn't mean much to those who are looking for the more basic features that the app skimps on.
Allo, in its current form, is a bit of a tech demo. It tries to be a legitimate messaging app, but there are simply too many features missing right now for it to compete in such a crowded market. It lacks a lot of basic features that users of other messaging apps take for granted, but it offers up some quirks that have serious potential. Integration with Google Assistant is the big takeaway from the app, and even that is, at the point, a bit on the niche side. Here's hoping Google improves things significantly.