Allo, Google’s latest smart messenger is officially rolling out on the Android Play Store and iOS App Store now in the UK . The launch comes just a couple of days after it first hit the US market.
If you have an iPhone, simply search for "Google Allo" on the App Store and it should be the first result to show up. The same is true in the Play Store for Android.
Google Allo: Getting Started
As with any app running on Android Marshmallow or later, the set up involves agreeing to a few permissions. Once you’ve agreed, you’ll get to a screen requiring access to your SIM/mobile number, which then activates the system and registers it to your number, similar to WhatsApp.
On Android, the app detects your number automatically then registers it, and there’s very little waiting time, if any. On iOS, you have to input your number manually, and then put in the six-digit code Google sends you in the following screen.
Once that bit’s done, you’re asked to take a selfie to use as your profile picture. Of course, if you want to, you can skip this stage. Taking this selfie is pretty much the last setup screen before you’re whisked off to the main messages inbox which - at the beginning - is pretty sparse.
Your first message thread is with Google Assistant, the smart bot developed to help bring search smarts to your conversations. In this thread, you’ll be asked for permission to use your location.
Google Allo: Smart replies
When it comes to artificial intelligence and machine learning, Google has been ahead of its biggest competition for some time. Using what it’s developed, Allo has a smart reply feature which offers you appropriate, contextually aware smart suggestions for quick replies.
When someone sends you a picture, or a message, Smart Reply will offer you a selection of suggestions you can choose from in attractive teal-lined oval bubbles. Just tap the one you want, and that’s your reply. No typing required.
What’s particularly great about the Smart Reply system is that, as time goes by, it learns from you. It begins to develop a knowledge of your character, and the kinds of responses you give, so that its suggestions become highly personalised and tailored to you.
Google Allo: Stickers, emoji and more
Tap the "+" button to the left of the text input field and you'll get to the media sharing screen. From here you can either snap a picture and share it, choose an image from your gallery, share your location or send stickers.
There's already a good selection of funny and expressive stickers to choose from, but you can add more, just like you can with iMessages. On the right edge of the toolbar where you select the sticker family you want to use there's a small teal icon that looks like a sticker with a "+" sign on it. Press it to download and add even more stickers.
Similar to iMessage in iOS 10, you can also markup photos you have in your library. Simply choose an image that's in your gallery and hit the little pencil icon. Once that's done, you can scribble over the picture using a selection of standard colours as well as type text on it before sending to your Allo contact.
As well as all of that, you can also add emphasis to your messages by making the text smaller or larger. All you have to do is slide up or down from the "send" icon to change the size of the font on screen.
Google Allo: Use the Assistant
With Allo being a Google product it does, of course, have a built-in search tool bot which lets you quickly and easily find things from the internet and share them instantly with your friends.
It works in the same way as a bot might in any other messaging app. Simply type “@google” followed by your request. For example, if you’re chatting with a friend about finding somewhere nice nearby to eat Italian food, simple type something like “@google italian restaurants nearby”.
When you do this, or any other location based search, you’ll get cards on your screen, similar to when you’re looking for places nearby on Google Search on your mobile.
Of course, you can search for other things too, like videos or information. Sometimes Google's Assistant bot will ask for feedback on its results, which should help the service provide more relevant responses in the future.
But it's not just about getting serious responses, you can ask it to "show me something funny" and it'll send a funny video, or tell you something interesting. It told us that the cardboard sleeve around a coffee cup is called a "Zarf". That's something we didn't know yesterday.
Google Allo: Incognito Mode
Like its Chrome browser, Google's Allo app has an incognito mode, which takes security beyond the already encrypted messages in standard chats. In incognito mode, messages have end-to-end encryption as well as message expiration and discreet notifications.
When you start an incognito chat with anyone you can set the when the chat is going to expire, ranging from five seconds to one week. Whenever you receive an incognito message, notifications won't show any personal information.
Google Allo: Sending SMS?
Google Allo is supposed to be able to send regular text messages to non-Allo users. In our testing, if you input a phone number and send them a message it may look like the message has sent, but nothing appears on the other phone if they're an iPhone user.
If they're an Android user - as discovered by Android Central - the receiver gets a popup notification telling them that [X] person is "chatting with" them using the Allo app, with the option to install the app.
That means you're going to have to convince your friends and family they need to install yet another messenger app to go alongside WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and whatever else they already use.
Google Allo: Delete chats, turn off notifications and block contacts
As with any decent messaging app, you can delete individual chats from your inbox. Simply press and hold any chat in the main inbox view and choose "delete" from the list. In this same list you can also choose to stop notifications from that conversation or block the contact.