Google Allo guide: All you need to know about the new messaging app's best features, including SMS support and Google Assistant.
It's been a long time coming, but Google has finally released its new Android and iOS messaging app Allo, after committing to a 'summer 2016' launch. But it's not going to be easy for the big G to make its mark with the new app, what with the popularity of WhatsApp, iMessage, and Facebook Messenger.
Still, Allo does come with some nifty new features that just might manage to tempt users away from their current messaging app of choice. The main draw will be the built-in Google Assistant which promises to make conversations easier with its restaurant suggestions, photo recognition, and suggested responses.
But what else does Allo bring to the increasingly cramped messaging table, and how do all these new features work? Read on, and all will be explained.
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Google Allo – Downloading the app
First of all, you might still be struggling to download the app, as it seems some users are able to access Allo through the Play Store while others aren't. Google says on its Allo help pages that the app will be available in all countries 'over the next few days'.
Luckily, for those that don't want to wait, we've tracked down a couple of APKs which you can use to install the app without going through Google. Here's the two we've found:
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You'll likely need to allow your phone to accept installations from unknown sources, which you can do from your handset's settings menu. However, we recommend you turn blocking of unknown sources back on once you've installed Allo. And while the above APKs have worked for some members of the TrustedReviews team, others have found the app won't open once installed. Give it a go and see if it works for you.
Disclaimer: Always download and install .apk files with caution. It's always risky to source apps from outside of the Google Play Store, so it may be best to test an .apk file on a spare handset first. And remember to turn unknown source blocking back on once you've installed an .apk from a third-party source.
Google Allo – What is Google Assistant?
Google is making a big deal out of its new virtual assistant, imaginatively named Google Assistant. But what exactly is it, and why is it different to Google Now?
Well, the company puts it this way: "The assistant is an ambient experience that will work seamlessly across devices and contexts. The assistant is conversational—an ongoing two-way dialogue between you and Google that understands your world and helps you get things done."
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It's the technology at the centre of Google Home – the firm's new Amazon Echo-esque smart speaker – and Allo comes with a 'preview edition' of the assistant.
What does that mean in practice? Firstly, you'll be able to talk directly to Google Assistant, in your own one-on-one conversation thread. Just tap the New Chat icon and select Google Assistant from the contacts list to start a one-on-one chat with the AI.
The idea is that you don't have to leave the chat app to access information through Google. Now, it's simply a case of asking Google Assistant direct questions, and issuing commands such as 'show me pictures of the great Yeezus'.
The results will pop up directly in the Allo thread, and you can bring the assistant into conversations with your friends simply by starting a sentence with '@google'.
You can ask for things such as movie times, restaurant suggestions, flights, hotel reservations from within the conversation. You can also ask for updates on the weather, news, and sports results. Just use the @google tag at the beginning of your sentence.
Google has a list of things you can ask the assistant here. You'll also need to connect your Google account in order to use Google Assistant properly. To do this, Tap the Menu (three horizontal lines) icon then go to Settings > Google Account. It's then just a case of tapping the account you want to use, then tapping OK.
Google Allo – Smart replies
One of Allo's Assistant-based capabilities is smart replies. This feature essentially provides you with suggested responses to the last thing said in the conversation. You can simply tap one of the suggested responses to send it, making conversation easier and more impersonal than ever before.
If you like the idea of smart replies, try to use them as much as possible as the system learns over time. As Google, rather bleakly puts it: "Whether you’re a “haha” or [an emoji] kind of person, Smart Reply will improve over time and adjust to your style".
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But it doesn't end there. Allo's got some clever photo recognition tech built in, so if your friend sends you a picture of something, the app will often be able to recognise what's in the image and suggest responses based on that information.
We shudder to think of the inevitable attempts to provoke Google Assistant's crudeness this feature will produce, but photo recognition will undoubtedly save you time, especially if you invest in picking the right responses to tailor the feature to your personality over time.
Google Allo – SMS support explained
One big feature that looked set to bring a load of WhatsApp and iMessage users over to Google's alternative app was the much touted SMS support.
After all, who doesn't know the anguish that comes with having to venture back into our SMS apps whenever we want to send a message to our parents who seem incapable of understanding how to use WhatsApp even though it's exactly the same as texting.
The dream of contacting your tech-challenged relatives through the same app as all your friends looked like a real possibility when Allo was first introduced at Google I/O this year. However, it seems things are slightly more complicated than simply being able to text directly from Allo.
The SMS element of Allo essentially works like this: If you tap on a contact that has yet to sign up to Allo, you'll be informed that any messages sent to that contact will be through SMS. Once you send the message, the recipient will either receive a notification from Google Play Services (if they're an Android user), from which they can respond to the message, or, if they're on iOS, they'll get the following via text:
[Your full name] ([Your phone number]) added you on Google Allo to chat. Text HELP to learn more or STOP to unsubscribe. https://g.co/AlloSMS
The message comes from a five digit number, and after this initial message, you'll be able to keep texting the person. Messages will continue to arrive from the proxy number, however, and any time the person responds, the reply will appear in Allo. You also can't set Allo as your default SMS app.
All of which seems a tad confused, but we're hoping Google makes the whole thing similar with a future update.
Google Allo – Message status
Since WhatsApp, everyone know the tick system all too well. One tick for sent, two for delivered, and a couple of blue ticks for read. As such, you may be wondering whether Allo has a similar system and how it works.
Luckily, it's pretty straightforward. In fact, the message status system is almost identical to the WhatsApp version. One tick indicates the message has been sent, one tick in a blue circle means the message has been received, and two ticks in a blue circle means the recipient has read the message.
As with WhatsApp, the ticks will appear on the right side of each message, and when in a group chat, the ticks will only update when all members of the group have read the message.
It's also worth noting that the tick system won't work if you're sending messages via SMS to non-Allo users.
Google Allo – Go Incognito
Despite WhatsApp's recent privacy debacle, where it announced it would begin sharing user information with Facebook, owners of WhatsApp, there is one big privacy benefit to using Zuckerberg's messaging platform – namely, end-to-end encryption.
End-to-end encryption means that messages are encrypted as soon as they leave your device until they reach the recipient, making it near impossible for any third party, including the company itself, to intercept the message and see what's being said.
Unfortunately, Allo does not encrypt messages in this way by default. Google is using 'industry standard technologies like Transport Layer Security' for standard messages. Which is better than nothing, but if you want the added security that comes with end-to-end encryption, you might consider switching on Allo's Incognito mode.
Just as with the same setting in Chrome, Incognito makes things a whole lot more secure and private. Not only will messages benefit from end-to-end encryption, notifications for Incognito messages are much more discreet – revealing less information than a standard Allo notification.
To turn on Incognito mode, tap the New Chat icon then tap the incognito icon (the mini fedora and glasses). Then, just tap the name of the person you want to chat with. If you want to turn off notifications completely, just go to Settings > Notifications.
On top of that, you'll be able to set messages to expire after a set time. To do this, once in an Incognito chat, tap the timer icon in the top-right corner. You should then be able to choose a time limit for how long messages exist: Never, 5 seconds, 10 seconds, 30 seconds, 1 minute, 1 hour, 1 day, or 1 week. The setting will be the same for you and the recipient.
Unfortunately, when in Incognito mode, none of the smart reply or Google Assistant features will work, as Google will be unable to read what's being said – due to the end-to-end encryption. It seems then, you'll have to make a choice between being able to use Allo's most innovative features, or ensuring your privacy – which isn't all that great, really.
Google Allo – Fun stuff
Haven't you heard? You can now draw all over that photo of your friend's kid, or add a posh hat to that shot of your dog. It's all very SnapChat-esque, and it's another feature Google are keen to play up.
If you feel like defacing an image before sending it to your mates, tap Add (plus sign) from within a chat, then tap the Insert Photo icon (square with mountains inside). Next, choose the image you want to draw on or take a new photo using your phone's camera. You'll then be able to tap Edit to start working on your masterpiece.
Within the Edit screen, you'll be able to use the Marker tool to draw using your finger in several different colours, the Text tool to add a sweet caption to the image, and the Undo tool to cancel out any mishaps. Once the artwork is complete, just tap the Send icon.
And if that's not enough fun for you, Google's new assistant wants to play a few games with you. That's not quite as sinister as it sounds. The AI is capable of posing questions as part of a trivia game, or there's the emoji game, where you have to guess the title of a film based on a series of emojis the assistant provides.
In a one-on-one chat, just type 'Play trivia' or 'Play the emoji game'. In a chat with a friend, try typing the same but adding '@google' to the beginning of the sentence.
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Let us know if you've got any Google Allo tips in the comments.